Content license

Figures, tables, and images are published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license.

Do not submit any figures, photos, tables, or other works that have been previously copyrighted or that contain proprietary data unless you have and can supply written permission from the copyright holder to use that content.

This includes:

  • maps and satellite images
  • slogans and logos
  • social media content.

Read more about the content license.

Depictions of humans

Authors submitting manuscripts that include identifying or potentially identifying information must comply with our requirements for informed consent.

Identifying information includes, but is not limited to:

  • photographs
  • radiographs
  • pedigrees (family trees)
  • geospatial maps that can identify a specific location such as a house.

Read our guidelines for documenting informed consent. If you require further information, please contact the journal before submitting.

Image manipulation

Image files should not be manipulated or adjusted in any way that could lead to misinterpretation of the information present in the original image. We routinely check figures for all accepted articles. Please be aware that we may also require you to supply us with your original photographic images in the original file format and at the resolution at which they were first created.

Avoiding image manipulation

We realize that the extent to which figures can be changed as part of normal preparation can pose a dilemma. Please refer to the general guidance below on aspects to consider when preparing your figures.

For further information, image examples, and more detailed guidance we advise reading What’s in a picture? The temptation of image manipulation (reprinted in the Journal of Cell Biology, 2004;166(1):11-15).

We are grateful to staff at the Journal of Cell Biology (Rockefeller University Press) for their help in establishing these guidelines and procedures. Read more.

Common issues to avoid

The following examples are all considered to be unacceptable image manipulation:

  • The introduction, enhancement, movement, or removal of specific feature(s) within an image
  • Unmarked grouping of images that should otherwise have been presented separately (for example, from different parts of the same gel, or from different gels, fields, or exposures)
  • Adjustments of brightness, contrast, or color balance that obscure, eliminate, or misrepresent any information

Creating high-quality images

Poor-quality images may raise figure manipulation queries and/or result in requests to remake figures. Follow these tips for creating high-quality images:

  • Ensure that your images have a resolution of at least 300 pixels per inch (ppi) and appear sharp, not pixelated. Poor-quality images cannot be checked.
  • Be careful not to inadvertently reduce the resolution when creating a file in graphics editing software
When opening your image file in graphics editing software, you have the option of setting the size and resolution of the image.  Do not set the total number of pixels to be greater than that in the original image (e.g., from the digital camera attached to your microscope) while keeping the image size the same; otherwise, the computer must create data for you that were not present in the original, and the resulting image is a misrepresentation of the original data. The resolution (ppi) can be increased only if the image size is reduced proportionately.
  • Spliced gels need a thin dividing line added to indicate the alteration. It is fine to remove a complete lane and splice the remaining lanes together, but the alteration must be indicated by a thin white or black line between the juxtaposed pieces.
  • Images must contain the background “noise” they originally contained. The background should not appear as one uniform color. Do not “clean up” the background of images with rubberstamp or “wipe” tools to improve the aesthetic appearance, or over-adjust the brightness or contrast so that the background is removed.

How to Submit

The following information applies specifically to figures included as part of your main article. Supporting information figures have fewer requirements.

Upload your figure files separately, not embedded in the manuscript file. Submit each figure as an individual file.

See below for requirements and information on creating, modifying, or combining figures to comply with the specifications. Before we can formally accept your submission, these requirements need to be met.

All figures must meet PLOS requirements for content licensing and depictions of humans.

Viewing your figures in the submission system

Although our staff offer guidance and advice, PLOS does not provide graphics services.  Preparation and final quality of figures is the responsibility of the author.

You will be able to view your figures in the merged PDF the submission system creates out of your submission files.

  • This merged file does not represent the quality and layout of the figures in the final published article. It is intended for review only.
  • Figure resolution may look lower than it actually is, because it will have been downsized to reduce the size of the merged PDF.
  • The high resolution figure files are available to editors and reviewers for download through the merged PDF.
  • If your figures are legible in the merged PDF, continue with the rest of the submission process. You will be able to address figure quality concerns later in the review process.
  • Print out your figures to gauge image quality. Screen resolution is 72 ppi, which is less than 1/4 of the standard print resolution (300 ppi) and renders badly in the PDF version.
  • If you need to adjust your figures before submitting your manuscript files, click on “Edit your submission,” and replace the figure files as needed.
“View Artwork Quality” error messages: It is not unusual to encounter QC system error messages when submitting your figure files. Three of these messages can be disregarded: “AQC error,” “Testing in Progress,” and “Alpha channel.” For any other errors, please review the information below for ways to address the issue. View  our video short on how to check your image quality in our submission system.


Captions must be inserted in the text of the manuscript, immediately following the paragraph in which the figure is first cited (read order). Do not include captions as part of the figure files themselves or submit them in a separate document.

At a minimum, include the following in your figure captions:

  • A figure label with Arabic numerals, and “Figure” abbreviated to “Fig” (e.g., Fig 1, Fig 2, Fig 3, etc.). Match the label of your figure with the name of the file uploaded at submission (e.g., a figure citation of “Fig 1” must refer to a figure file named “Fig1.tif”).
  • A concise, descriptive title

The caption may also include a legend as needed.

If at any point you change the numbering order of your figures, make sure you update all figure captions, citations, and files names accordingly.


You may include a legend after the figure title, but this is not mandatory. Restrict the title to 15 words or less. Place the legend directly after the title of the figure to which it belongs.

Figure legends tips:

  • Describe the key messages of a figure
  • Provide a description of the figure that will allow readers to understand the figure without referring to the text
  • Describe each part of a multipart figure with with a lettered panel label, for example, (A) or (a)
  • Define all non-standard symbols and abbreviations
  • Avoid lengthy descriptions of methods
  • Be succinct    

Figure caption including figure label, title, and legend from: Means JC, Venkatesan A, Gerdes B, Fan J-Y, Bjes ES, Price JL (2015) Drosophila Spaghetti and Doubletime Link the Circadian Clock and Light to Caspases, Apoptosis and Tauopathy. PLoS Genet 11(5): e1005171. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005171​

Figure credits

Place figure credits at end of caption.

In-Text Citations

In the published article, figures are inserted according to the placement of their first citation and caption in the article. Because of this, you must cite figures in ascending numeric order upon first appearance in the manuscript file, including text boxes, figure captions, and tables.

Lettered subparts of whole figures may be cited in any order in the text, provided the first mention of each whole figure is in numerical order. For example, you may cite any subpart of Fig 3 in any order (e.g., Fig 3C before Fig 3A), as long as Figs 1 and 2 have already been cited.

File Requirements

The following applies only to figures published as part of your main article. Supporting information figures have fewer requirements. For more information, please see our supporting information page.

The more closely your paper’s figures adhere to these requirements below, the faster and more smoothly it will proceed through all stages.

Requirements at-a-glance 

All figures

File format


File size

Under 10 MB


Submit figure rotated to orientation meant for publication


Maximum: 7.5 in (19.05 cm) W x 8.75 in (22.23 cm) H

Minimum: 2.63 in (6.68 cm) W

White space

Crop out excess white space from around image content

Color mode

RGB (8 bit/channel) or grayscale only

Text within figures

Arial, Times, or Symbol font in 8-12 point


Minimum 0.5 point

Multi-panel figures

Figure file must contain all parts in one image



300-600 ppi


Flattened, no layers

Alpha channels

No alpha channels


LZW required

Background color

White, not transparent


Text within figures

Must be converted to outlines

File format

PLOS accepts TIFF or EPS files only. To ensure consistent quality and a smooth production workflow, our systems restrict figure file type to TIFF and EPS. Read about converting different file formats to TIFF or EPS.

Should I choose TIFF or EPS? TIFF tends to be easier to work with than EPS. EPS often have missing/corrupted fonts, oversized masks, stray points, and boxes, which can result in errors and poor output. 

TIP: Many options exist to create and revise figures. In addition to commercial applications, such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, some programs are available without cost.


PLOS cannot directly publish multimedia files in articles, but encourages their submission as supporting information.

File name

Name files according to their citation in the manuscript. Example: Make citation “Fig 1” correspond with “Fig1.tif,” make citation “Fig 2” correspond with “Fig2.tif,” etc.

If at any point you change the numbering order of your figures, be sure to update all figure citations, captions, and file names accordingly.

LaTeX figures

PLOS does not accept vector EPS figures generated in LaTeX. PLOS accepts only TIFFs or EPS created in standard software.

TIP: Converting LaTeX-generated EPS figures to TIFF:
  1. Compile the LaTeX files as PDF.
  2. Open PDF in Photoshop, GIMP, or another graphics software that enables TIFF.
  3. Crop out the figure and export as TIFF.

File size

File must be 10 MB or less.

TIP: Ways to reduce file size:

  • Trim excess white space
  • Save TIFF with LZW compression
  • Set TIFF resolution between 300-600 ppi
  • Flatten TIFF. A flattened TIFF has a single layer called “background” and has a smaller file size than a TIFF with “Layer 1”
  • EPS files that are larger than 10 MB can be converted to PDF and then to a compressed TIFF. See our section below on Converting Files to TIFF or EPS.


Rotate image into the orientation in which it is to be published.

Figures will be inserted into the final typeset article in the orientation in which they are supplied. If a vertical image is submitted in a horizontal orientation, it will be set horizontally in the article.


“Dimensions” refers to the dimensions of the entire figure, surrounding white space included. For this reason, crop out excess white space. The closer figures match these dimensions, the closer they will meet expectations on publication.

TIP: The following table includes only the minimum and maximum dimensions allowed. To align your figure with the text column of the PDF version of the article, make it no wider than 5.2 inches (13.2 cm).
For all figure files




(at 300 ppi)

Minimum width




Maximum width




Height maximum for all figures (at the height maximum, the figure occupies the whole page and excludes the caption).




TIP: When adjusting the figure dimensions, be sure the Chain/Lock symbol is closed. This will maintain the width and height ratio of your figure.

White space

Crop out excess white space from around figure content. A 2-point white space border around each figure is recommended to prevent inadvertent cropping of content at layout.

Resolution and quality

Submit TIFF at 300-600 ppi (no greater) at the desired dimensions. For EPS, zoom in to view the quality of the figure.

  • The quality of your figures is only as good as the lowest-resolution element placed in them. If you created a 72 ppi line graph and placed it in a 300 ppi TIFF, the graph will look blurred, jagged, or pixilated.
  • The quality of a low-resolution figure cannot be improved by simply increasing the resolution in graphics software. To improve the resolution of your figure, you must re-create the figure from the beginning.
  • ​Resolution above 600 ppi may lead to resizing of the published figure.
  • Resolution below 300 results in blurred, jagged or pixelated published figures.

Color mode

  • Use RGB (millions of colors) for figures containing color.
  • Grayscale is acceptable for black and white figures.
  • Save grayscale or RGB files with a depth of 8 bits per channel, not 16.
  • No other color space is allowed, such as CMYK, indexed, or bitmap.

Text within figures

  • use only Arial, Times, and/or Symbol font.
  • Set font at 8-12 point to ensure legibility.
  • Do not include author names, article title, or figure number/title/caption within figure files.
  • EPS ONLY: Convert text to outlines. EPS text in other fonts may be lost or render improperly if not converted to outlines.

Lines, rules, strokes

Lines must be at least 0.5 point.

Multipanel figures

Multipart figures must have all panels contained in one, single page file. If you have a multipart figure in multiple files:

  1. Combine multiple panels into one page, or break apart into separate figures.
  2. Re-number all figures and in-text citations accordingly.

TIP: To create a multipanel figure from individual files, use a presentation software such as OpenOffice Impress or MS PowerPoint. Then convert to TIFF or EPS.

  • In setting up the page, use the values listed in Dimensions.
  • Use an Insert tool to place figures. Do not drag/drop or copy/paste images into the file, as this results in a 72 ppi image, and PLOS requires 300-600 ppi.
  • The quality of a low-resolution figure cannot be improved by increasing the resolution in graphics software. If you create a 72 ppi line graph and place in it a 300 ppi TIFF, the graph will still look blurred, jagged, or pixelated when enlarged.
  • If your figures have numerous pictures, charts, or small text, they will render best at a resolution of 600 ppi.
  • Once your Impress or PowerPoint file is complete, follow the instructions below, Converting Files to TIFF or EPS.

Additional Requirements for TIFF


Submit single page TIFFs only. TIFFs that span multiple pages are unacceptable. To combine multiple figures, see “Multipanel figures” above.


Provide a flattened TIFF with no layers. Figures with a single layer named “layer 1” or “layer 0” are in fact “layered.”

Alpha channels

No alpha channels.


LZW compression is required.

Applying LZW Compression:
  • In GIMP, do not “Save As”; use “Export” and select TIFF as the format. Select LZW compression.
  • In Photoshop, select “LZW compression” and “Discard Layers, and Save a Copy.”

Background color

Create figures with a white background. Do not use a transparent background. Figures with a transparent background may not display well online.

Converting Files to TIFF or EPS

If your original figures are not either TIFF or EPS, you can make high-quality figures by saving them as PDF, then converting the PDFs to TIFF or EPS.

Caution: If the original image was not created in a dedicated graphics software (such as Adobe Photoshop, Inkscape, etc.), do not “Save As” directly to TIFF or EPS; the quality will be too low for our requirements.

Convert to PDF

The first step to converting a figure file type into TIFF or EPS is to convert your original figure file into a PDF. PDFs can be generated in a number of ways. Here are two common methods.

“Print” as PDF

This will not actually print your file, but will open a window that will allow you to save the file as a PDF.

  1. From your figure file, select the “Print” command, then the PDF creation tool instead of a printer.
  2. Click on Printer Properties to open a window containing tabs. Select the “Layout” or “Paper/Quality” tab and click on “Advanced…”
  3. Under the Graphic menu item, change Print Quality to 300 ppi and click “OK” to save the setting.
  4. Click “Print” and save the resulting PDF.

“Save As” PDF

  1. With your figure file open, go to “File” > “Save As.”
  2. Enter a name for the file in the File Name field of the “Save As” window.
  3. In the pulldown “Format” or “Save as type” menu select “PDF.”
  4. Click “Save.”

Convert PDF into TIFF

  1. Open your figure file in either of the following options:
  • Option 1: Open the PDF directly in your graphics software.
  • Option 2: Right-click on the PDF's filename, select “Open with…,” and select the name of your graphics software.
  1. Use the tools in a standalone graphics software (Adobe Photoshop, Gimp, etc.) to adjust your figure to the PLOS figure requirements:    
  • Set resolution to 300-600 ppi.
  • Set bit depth to 8 bit.
  • Crop unnecessary white space, leaving a fine (2 point) border.
  • Size the image with proportions constrained using the Dimensions chart above.
  • Remove alpha channels using the channels or transparency tools.
  • Flatten the image.
TIP: If your figure is dense with information or has very small type (especially gene sequences) set resolution to 600 ppi, but no greater, as this will merely produce a larger file, not one that is better in quality.
  1. Save the file using LZW compression.            
  • In GIMP, do not “Save As”; use “Export” and select TIFF as the format. Select LZW compression.
  • In Photoshop, select “LZW compression” and “Discard Layers, and Save a Copy.”    
  1. Use PLOS figure file naming conventions when saving your TIFF.

Convert PDF into EPS

Because fonts are embedded in PDFs, font substitution may be a problem (this will be obvious when the PDF is opened in the vector graphics software). For this reason, we recommend that both conversion steps be done on the same computer.
  1. Open your figure file in either of the following options:
  • Option 1: Open the PDF directly in your graphics software
  • Option 2: Right-click on the PDF's filename, select “Open with…,” and select the name of your graphics software.
  1. Convert text to outlines.
When you convert text to outlines, the text is converted to lines and fills.  This helps avoid font problems, making the layout process faster and more accurate.
Caution: You will not be able to edit text after it has been converted to outlines, so make sure the text is correct before converting.
  • “Select All.”
  • In Inkscape, press “Shift + Ctrl + C.” In Adobe Illustrator, select “Create Outlines” from the Type menu.
  • Clean up the image by deleting any random boxes or blue dots outside the document bounds.
TIP: If persistent font problems occur during your conversion of a PDF to EPS, consider converting the PDF to TIFF instead.
  1. Size the image with proportions constrained, using recommended dimensions.
  1. Save your EPS file using the PLOS figure file naming conventions.
TIP: If the EPS file is over 10 MB, convert to a flattened TIFF with LZW compression.

Figures created in Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office products are not ideal for creating or editing figure files. If this is unavoidable, read the notes below, then follow the instructions for converting figures to TIFF or EPS.


  • To add artwork to your PowerPoint slides, use Insert > Picture > From File.

  • Do not copy and paste a figure from another application into PowerPoint.This will result in a low-resolution figure.


  • Excel may be used to generate charts, graphs, or histograms from cell data, or to make tables.

  • Do not use Excel to create or adjust figures. It does not handle figures of dedicated graphics applications.


Do not use Word to adjust image size. It automatically down-samples figures and embeds them in the document at a resolution well below our required 300 ppi.


Paint cannot create high-resolution TIFFs.

Other software

Numerous programs can create figures but are not dedicated to working with graphics. These may be limited in their capability to create TIFFs or EPSs that comply with PLOS specifications. Such applications include: ChemDraw, Haploview, PyMol, R, ImageMagick, Corel Draw, GeneSpring, Matlab, Origin, Prism, Sigmaplot, and Stata.


Please check usage rights. Many maps from SEDAC are under open access licensing. All USGS maps are in the public domain. World of Maps contain links to public domain maps.

A map that is free to download may be restricted in other ways. Do not use Google, Mapquest, or other copyrighted maps.


Stereograms are figures with two almost identical pictures placed side by side which, when viewed through special glasses or a stereoscope, produce a three-dimensional image.

Image modified from Figure 2 in Dodson ML, Walker RC, Lloyd RS (2012) Carbinolamine Formation and Dehydration in a DNA Repair Enzyme Active Site. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31377. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031377

TIP: For best stereogram viewing results:

  • Size the figure itself to the dimension you wish it to display in the PDF printout; we recommend that it be set at the maximum width (7.5 inches [19.05 cm]).
  • Size the stereograms so that the center of each of image is 63 mm apart in the final PDF version.
  • Use the term “stereogram” in the figure title.

Supporting Information Figures    


Supporting information figures are held to the requirements of all supporting information files, and need to be uploaded as separate files. For full details, see our supporting information page.


If supporting figures will be published with your paper, include their captions at the end of the manuscript file. Use the same formatting for the captions of the figures in the main body of your manuscript.

In-text citations

Unlike figures that are part of your main manuscript, supporting information figures do not need to be cited in the text. Additionally, citations for supporting information figures need not be in numerical order, as is required for regular figures.


If you still have questions about how to prepare and submit your figures, please contact