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Guidelines for Preparing and Submitting Figures 

Guidelines for Preparing and Submitting Figures
Visual Presentation of Data

Stacy Christiansen

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Guidelines for Preparing and Submitting Figures

The preferred format for submitting figures varies among scientific journals. Authors who submit figures with a scientific manuscript should consult the instructions for authors of the publication for specific requirements. For example, some journals require all files to be submitted through a Web-based submission system, others may request email attachments, and still others may prefer to receive materials in hard copy. When high-resolution graphic files are required that are too large to be sent via email or a Web-based system, the images may be loaded onto a fixed medium such as a CD. The following guidelines apply for figures submitted to JAMA and the Archives Journals.

Graphs, line art, diagrams, charts, and other black-and-white figures should be submitted as an electronic file (acceptable formats include EPS, GIF, JPG, and TIF, as well as images pasted into Microsoft Word or PowerPoint as long as the vector digital file is available upon acceptance).

Photographs, photomicrographs, or radiographs (whether in color or black and white) should be submitted as high-contrast, right-reading glossy prints. Color illustrations can be submitted as color transparencies, color slides, color prints, or in a digital file (EPS, JPG, TIF) along with corresponding color prints. Transparencies should not be submitted in glass slides. If color prints are submitted, the print should be made oversized, and the negative of the print also should be provided. Polaroid-type prints and color laser prints should not be used for reproduction because the results inevitably are poor.

Providing digital files with adequate resolution is the primary key to printing high-quality images. Most digital submissions are rejected because of low resolution. The canvas size of images should be at least 5 in wide (depth is not important). Generally, digital images should have a resolution of at least 350 ppi. To ensure that color will be clinically correct, calibrated color proofs should be submitted along with the digital files. The availability of computer software for generating figures, such as statistical or graphic design programs, has simplified the creation of figures in digital format. However, the ability of publishers to use author-generated electronic files containing figures for importing, reproducing, and incorporating into production software varies considerably. Authors should consult the instructions for authors or the editorial office of the publication for information about preferred and compatible formats for submission of figures in electronic files.

Clear, sharp images are essential for accurate reproduction. Dust and scratches usually can be removed, but if details are blurred in the original, details will remain blurred in reproduction. Good exposure is another important consideration in providing the best-quality prints and transparencies. If necessary, several different exposures of the same image may be submitted, and the best candidate for image reproduction will be selected.

All figures should be numbered according to their citation order in the text. For figures submitted as hard copy, a label with the figure number, name of the first author, short form of the manuscript title, and the proper orientation (eg, “top”) should be affixed to the back of the print. Writing directly on the back of the print should be avoided because it may damage the print.

Proper locations for visual indicators (eg, arrows indicating the area of interest in an illustration or photograph) should be identified clearly. This can be accomplished by providing (in addition to the required clean, unmarked copies of the illustration or photograph or copies of the 35-mm slide) an extra paper copy of the illustration or photograph with locations for indicators marked directly on the paper copy.

Titles and legends for figures should be included at the end of the text and should not appear on the illustrations.

Suggested specifications for submission of digital images have been formulated by a working group of the International Digital Enterprise Alliance. The guidelines, Digital Image Submission Criteria (DISC), are available at

Journal editors should establish clear guidelines about the acceptable amount of image manipulation (eg, cropping or contrast adjustment). The consequences of excessive image manipulation, regardless of intent, should be made clear to authors.18

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