Graphic Design Basics

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When presenting a talk or a poster, or designing illustrations for papers, graphic design is critical. Good design will make your results more pleasurable to look at, and will make it easier to follow.


Colors can make an image more visually appealing and capable of containing more information, but poor use of color is worse than no color at all.

Text color

Black text on a white background are the default colors in many programs, so changing the color can be an effective way to make a presentation feel less boring. However, you must be careful with your color choices, as several color choices can make your text either illegible or unpleasant to look at.

Several color combinations are shown below, along with comments on their advantages and disadvantages.

Sample Comments
Black on white This color scheme is generally the default in various presentation software. It is quite legible.
White on black Black (or dark) background can be perceived as being more sophisticated, but some people may find it less pleasant to read than black on white. Additionally, after seeing for a while, afterimages of dark lines can appear.
Dark blue on white Changing black-on-white to be a dark color-on-white can add a little touch of personality while causing almost no changes to readability.
Red on black This has less contrast than white on black, and can lead to cyan afterimages
Light blue on black A roughly 70% bright pale color on black can be nicer to look at than either pure white on black, or a very saturated color on black.
White on olive Also, changing a black background to be a dark-colored background can improve legibility.
Blue on black Blue on black is almost completely illegible. The human visual system is least sensitive to blue light and resolves it at a lower resolution, making this very hard to read.
Yellow on white For similar reasons, yellow on white is very hard to read.
Magenta on green Cyan on red is very unpleasant to look at because cyan and red are at opposite positions on the color wheel, causing them to look very harsh when put together. Most other pairs of complementary or nearly-complementary colors will look unpleasant.
Similar brightness The human visual system is more sensitive to changes in brightness than changes in hue. As such, text with a similar brightness to the background can be nearly impossible to read. Tools such as [1] can let you test color pairs to see how they look together, and to see what the perceptual difference is.

Color schemes

In posters, presentations, or graphics, you may well need to have multiple, distinctly-colored objects. Choosing the right set of colors can make your work look far more professional. Tools such as Adobe's kuler allow users to design aesthetically pleasing color schemes and share them with others.

TODO: Talk about not thinking blue and red are same brightness