Preparing Efficient Figures for Initial Submission

Science uses a completely electronic review process. To expedite decisions on manuscripts, both manuscripts and figures are converted to PDF files for initial evaluation and review. We ask that authors prepare art in electronic formats and at resolutions that allow us to create manageable PDF files.

The formats and resolution of figures that we request for manuscripts in the initial-submission stage differ somewhat from those we request for figures accompanying revised manuscripts after peer review. The guidelines on this page should allow acceptable figures to be prepared for both stages with minimal extra work. (We also offer detailed guidelines for preparing figures accompanying submission of a revised manuscript after peer review.)

Format for Submission

As is noted in our general instructions for preparing your initial manuscript, for initial submission we ask that, if possible, figures be included with text and tables in the manuscript file. Allowable formats for submission of manuscript files are .pdf, .ps, .eps, .prn, .doc, .docx, or .wpd (see below). We prefer that the submissions be a single Microsoft Word file (doc or docx format), and figures can be embedded directly into Word files where they are cited (see our Word template) If figures must be sent separately, please save them in .pdf, .ps, .eps, .doc, or .docx format and either upload them at the same time you upload the manuscript text file. Large figure files should be sent on a CD.

Electronic figures and hard copies should be sized to fit on single 8.5" × 11" or A4 paper. To keep file sizes reasonable, please save art at a resolution of 150 to 300 dots per inch (dpi) for initial submission. (A higher resolution and a different suite of acceptable file formats applies for revised figures submitted after peer review. Also, please note that we cannot accept PowerPoint files or files that are not readable by Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Freehand, or Adobe Illustrator.)

Suggestions for Preparing Figures

[Note: These suggestions also appear in our instructions for preparing art and figures for revised manuscripts after peer review.]

Figure layout and scaling
In laying out information in a figure, the objective is to maximize the space given to presentation of the data. Avoid wasted white space and clutter.
  • Titles or labels not absolutely necessary for understanding the figure should be removed and explained in the caption. You should, however, include the figure's identifying number (e.g., "Fig. 1") on the same manuscript page that includes the figure.
  • Keys to symbols, if needed, should be kept as simple as possible and be positioned so they do not needlessly enlarge the figure. Details can be put into the captions.
  • Panels should be set close to each other, and common axis labels should not be repeated.
  • Scales or axes should not extend beyond the range of the data plotted.
  • Do not use minor tick marks in scales or grid lines. Avoid using y-axis labels on the right that repeat those on the left.

Use solid symbols for plotting data if possible (unless data overlap or there are multiple symbols). Size symbols so that they will be distinguishable when the figure is reduced. Line widths should be legible upon reduction (minimum of 0.5 pt at the final reduced size).

Color-mix and contrast considerations

  • Avoid using combinations of red and green together.
  • Please do not use colors that are close in hue to identify different parts of a figure.
  • Avoid using grayscale.
  • Use white type and scale bars over darker areas of images.
Typefaces and labels
Please observe the following guidelines for labels on graphs and figures:
  • Use a sans-serif font whenever possible (we prefer Helvetica).
  • Capitalize the first letter in a label only, not every word (and proper nouns, of course).
  • Units should be included in parentheses. Use SI notation. If there is room, write out variables -- e.g., Pressure (MPa), Temperature (K).
  • Variables are always set in italics or as plain Greek letters (e.g., P, T, μ). The rest of the text in the figure should be plain or bold text.
  • Type on top of color in a color figure should be in bold face. Avoid using color type.
  • Use leading zeros on all decimals -- e.g., 0.3, 0.55 -- and only report significant digits.
  • Use capital letters for part labels in multipart figures -- A, B, C, etc. These should be 9 pt and bold in the final figure. When possible, place part labels at the upper left-hand corner of each figure part; if a part is an image, set labels inside the perimeter so as not to waste space.
  • Avoid subpart labels within a figure part; instead, maintain the established sequence of part labels [e.g., use A, B, C, D, E instead of A, B, C(a), C(b), C(c)]. If use of subpart labels is unavoidable, use lowercase letters (a, b, c). Use numbers (1, 2, 3) only to represent a time sequence of images.
  • When reproducing images that include labels with illegible computer-generated type (e.g., units for scale bars), omit such labels and present the information in the legend instead.
Modification of figures
Science does not allow certain electronic enhancements or manipulations of micrographs, gels, or other digital images. Figures assembled from multiple photographs or images, or non-concurrent portions of the same image, must indicate the separate parts with lines between them. Linear adjustment of contrast, brightness, or color must be applied to an entire image or plate equally. Nonlinear adjustments must be specified in the figure legend. Selective enhancement or alteration of one part of an image in not acceptable. In addition, Science may ask authors of papers returned for revision to provide additional documentation of their primary data.