File Types for Your Figures

June 29, 2018. R.T. Thomason, Ph.D.

Today’s topic is a little off the beaten path, but I thought it would be useful to discuss file types. When you hear that, you may think, oh this is something very basic, what is the big deal?! But, actually when it comes to composing manuscripts, it is a big deal. First and foremost, it is imperative that you go to the journal website and check the instructions. All journals have different requirements (even down to the exact size of the figures) and one should not assume that they are all the same.


When thinking about figure file types, there can be many options. There are .jpeg, .tiff, .gif, .pdf, just to name a few. When editing figures, I often ask for people’s raw or raw/manipulated data so that I can obtain the highest resolution image to work with. I often work in Adobe Illustrator to create and edit figures and lots of times I will have to zoom in, resize and compress figures. Having the highest resolution is crucial when composing a high-quality figure.


When talking about image saving, tiffs (Tagged Image File Format) images are the best (in terms of high resolution) and there are ways to save jpegs (Joint Photographic Experts Group), which are usually MUCH smaller in size than tiffs, and have high resolution quality but are easy to email. gifs (Graphics Interchange Format) are usually viewed as short, repeated animations (although it doesn’t have to be animated). These files are usually pretty low-resolution and I would advise NOT to use this format for your figures.


My overall advice is to go with tiff images FIRST, and jpeg second (only if you can save as a high or highest resolution). We will save pdfs for another day. Remember, you want to impress your audience with your exciting science, so do it with beautiful, clear images!