Preparing Figures

Figure preparation

Graphic File Formats

We recommend using Adobe Photoshop to crop and size photographic elements and Adobe Illustrator to prepare and assemble final figures for publication.

EPS and TIFF are the industry-standard file formats required for publication. Avoid, when possible, using MS PowerPoint to prepare your figures. JPEG, GIF, PNG, Excel, and Word files, etc. are not recommended formats for preparing your figures.

If you are not using an industry-standard graphics application, (e.g. Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop) then PDF is the recommended file format. PDF files must be generated from the original figure at a high-quality setting from the originating application. The PDF file format maintains design integrity to ensure what you send is what is received as it eliminates most instances of software and hardware incompatibility issues between Authors and APS.

Information about these program types, and other imaging software, can be found by clicking on the following links:

Figure Size

Figures should be generated at the size they are to appear in the journal (printed 1:1), when possible. Figures should be sized according to the table below. Please arrange elements and type to leave the least amount of white space. Figure panels should be clearly labeled with boldface uppercase letters (A, B, C, etc.). Figures submitted outside these specifications will be sized at the APS Art Department's discretion.

No. of Columns






≤ 8.9

≤ 21

Double (side legend)

4 – 5

10 – 12

25 - 30

Full Width

6 – 7.15

15 - 18

36 - 43

Maximum depth




Font Size

Use Arial, Helvetica, Times or Times New Roman and Symbol only, if possible. This reduces the number of dropped characters / missing symbols. Choose one font and use it consistently throughout figures. Keep font size between 5-14 points.


NOTE: Resolution requirements only apply to pixel-based (raster) images (i.e. TIFF, JPEG). These are most often photographic captures. They do not apply to vector-based images (i.e. EPS, AI, PPT, PDF) UNLESS they also contain raster images.

Always prepare photographic elements (raster-based) at print publication-quality resolution.

  • Color and grayscale photographs ONLY: 300 dpi
  • Color and grayscale photographs with text or line art/graphic elements: 600 dpi
  • Line Art: 600 – 1200 dpi

Important: You must not increase the resolution of a raster image once it is set. Attempting to increase the resolution will artificially add "data" and "noise" to the image which will decrease the quality further.

Use of color for data presentation

Color is considered "scientifically necessary" when there is no other way to show the data in the figure. The use of color is not always scientifically necessary when showing graphic representations of data. Please submit in color only if you intend for the figure(s) to be published in color. All color work submitted to APS must be saved as a RGB file (not CMYK). Final decisions regarding the necessity of color use will be made by the Scientific Editor of the individual journal in conjunction with APS Publications.

Color figures are subsidized by APS at a cost to authors of $200 per figure, assuming that color is scientifically warranted and page charges are paid. Scientifically unnecessary color figures are not permitted in the Journals, and in such cases authors will be required to provide a black & white version suitable for print publication.

Examples of scientifically necessary vs. unnecessary color.  

If the first or last author is an APS member in good standing, a special discount for color charges may apply (see Cost of Color), color figures that are scientifically necessary are published free of charge. Membership is not a criterion for publishing a figure in color.

For more information, see Cost of Publication.

Use of Previously Published Illustrations

Previously published illustrations may be included in Review articles if scientifically appropriate and permission is obtained from both the original author and publisher. Authors are responsible for:
1. obtaining and including permission letters with their accepted manuscript in advance of publication, and
2. for providing publication-quality electronic files of the previously published illustrations.
These are best obtained from the original publisher or original author. Previously published images downloaded from the Internet are not acceptable for publication.

Still have questions about preparing your figures? Contact the APS Art Department.

Data Presentation

Electrophoretic gels, blots, and other digital images

Technology has made, and continues to make, the publication process faster, more accessible and robust. Technology and applications, such as Adobe Photoshop, also have made it easier to manipulate data. All accepted materials are evaluated for compliance with APS policies on image assembly and presentation.

Each gel or blot should contain a molecular-weight size marker. Each panel should retain space above and below the band of interest from the original image. It is not appropriate to crop the panel right on the band itself. All micrographs should include a scale bar. Moreover, the submitted images should faithfully represent those originally-captured. Therefore:

  • Authors should not move, remove, introduce, obscure or enhance any specific feature within an image.
  • Authors should not adjust contrast, color balance or brightness unless applied to the entire figure. However, these adjustments must not obscure, eliminate or misrepresent the originally-captured information. Any non-linear adjustment should be disclosed in the legend.
  • Authors should not quantitatively compare samples from different gels/blots; if this is unavoidable authors must state in the legend that all samples were derived at the same time and processed in parallel.
  • If gels, blots, or fields are grouped or rearranged, then authors must insert spaces or dividing lines to indicate these changes and disclose the arrangement in the figure legend.
  • Where scientifically necessary, appropriate loading controls specific for the experiment presented should be inserted into submitted figures. If the experimental design means that the same loading control is appropriate for more than one analyte presented in one or more figures, ordinarily it is not necessary, or desirable, to present the loading control in every panel. If an image of the same loading control must be repeated in multiple panels, this must be disclosed in the relevant legend(s).

These policies are adapted from The Journal of Cell Biology (Instructions to Authors, 2011) and Nature (Online Instructions to Authors, 2011).

Any question of improper manipulation that is raised during the review or editing process will be brought to the Editor and Publications Committee Chair for review. If called into question, authors should be prepared to provide the following information:

  • Original, unedited data/captures
  • Acquisition software
  • Information on image-processing software, as well as details regarding the operations performed

Acceptable Use of Photographs

Use of photographs to demonstrate experimental staging, tools, and apparatus in an experimental procedure should be kept to a minimum.

Photographs should show only the portion of the animal relevant to communicate the orientation of the body for the procedure.

Drawings and diagrams representing experimental procedures should be used in place of photographs whenever possible.

Photographs should avoid showing people handling animals, although gloved hands in the perimeter of an image may be allowed in close-up photographs.


Unnecessary Color

Examples of scientifically necessary vs. unnecessary color.