Emily Rice is an assistant professor at the College of Staten Island and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. She is also responsible for those parody songs that get stuck in your head.
Dearest Colleagues, I have printed my last paper conference poster and carried my last poster tube. Forsooth I have discovered the fabric poster, and I will never look back! Fabric posters are high print quality, cheaper than paper posters, and so much easier to transport. The only downside is that you need to order them at least a week in advance for the best product.
Fabric posters are increasingly popular at conferences, and there are many sources online. After being impressed by Caroline Morley’s poster at Cool Stars 18 I was ready to take the plunge for STARtorialist at AAS 225. I did some limited scoping of other fabric posters at AAS 225, and as far as I can tell the clear winner is what I tried: Performance Knit fabric from Spoonflower.
The poster arrived slightly creased from being folded in the shipping envelope, but the creases disappeared after a short time spread out on the hotel bed. The fabric is light but sturdy, smooth to the touch, and only slightly stretchy. The printed images are vibrant and crisp. Even the smallest fonts I used (24 point native, ~14-16 point in a pasted image), appeared clear and legible. The poster hung easily without drooping (proof), and I even could carry it in my bag during the rest of the conference (the best response to “Sorry I missed your poster” is definitely: “Don’t worry, I have it right here!”). If you’re afraid no one will recognize you at the airport without your trusty poster tube, you can wear your poster as a cape or a scarf! Just make sure to submit a photo to STARtorialist.
Printing via Spoonflower can be intimidating if you don’t have experience printing or buying fabric, but they have detailed instructions for creating the proper file. The most important thing is to make your file 150 dpi and the size you’d like it to print (higher dpi isn’t better for fabric printing). Fabric is typically sold by the yard (length), and the width is determined by the type of fabric. On Spoonflower the fabric widths vary from 42″ to 58″ (the performance knit is 56” wide). By creating your poster 36” in one dimension you can purchase just one yard of fabric. The AAS poster limit is 44” by 44” so I recommend making the poster 36” wide by 44” tall, then rotate your poster image for printing. If you select “Basic Repeat” under the printing options, you’ll have the top 12” of your poster repeated on the bottom – nice motivation for creating an aesthetically pleasing header. For display at AAS 225 I simply pinned the extra fabric behind the poster. Alternately you could make the poster 44” wide and trim the extra fabric. The preview feature makes it easy to check that your poster will print they way you want (see below). Best of all, one yard of performance knit fabric is just $21.60 ($24 less the 10% discount for designing your own fabric).
The downside with Spoonflower is the printing/shipping time: you’ll need to have your poster finished a week before the conference. Spoonflower’s standard printing turnaround time changes depending on their order volume. Today the turnaround estimate is 7 to 8 days, which is an eternity in pre-conference preparation time. Guaranteed Delivery arrives two days after it is shipped but doesn’t rush the printing. Rush Delivery orders placed by noon EST will be shipped the next business day so that’s the way to go. Before AAS 225 I placed my order on December 24, it shipped December 29 and arrived December 31. For one yard/poster the costs are \$3 for standard shipping, \$15 for Guaranteed Delivery, and \$25 for Rush Delivery. Shipping costs are determined by weight so combining orders can decrease the cost: I tested 2 yards (\$6, \$15, \$25), 3 yards (\$6, \$28, \$48), and 4-6 yards (\$7, \$28, $48). That can bring your cost down to $30 per poster, including Rush Delivery!
At AAS 225 I also saw a Spoonflower-printed combed cotton poster and several PosterSmith posters. The cotton fabric from Spoonflower costs slightly less, but it was thin and off-white with visible fibers. PosterSmith received positive reviews for fast printing and shipping (received in two days in rural Pennsylvania!), but the price is similar to Fedex Office ($118 for a 42” by 42” poster, shipping included), and the quality was decent but not stunning. The print looked good – vibrant colors and crisp lines – but the posters were stiff and some had creases that wouldn’t budge. Spoonflower has many more fabric options to try, but I’ll be sticking with the performance knit.
Have you printed a fabric poster from Spoonflower, PosterSmith, or another service? Share your reviews in the comments!