The Physics Teacher®

For Contributors - Formatting Figures

Initial Submissions vs. Production Quality

When you initially submit your manuscript to TPT, it should be a single .pdf file incorporating all figures. Each figure should preferably appear near where it is first referenced—not at the end of the manuscript.

If your manuscript is accepted for publication, the editor will ask you to submit figure files according to the guidelines below. It may save you much grief if you are aware of these guidelines from the beginning.

File Formats

Graphs and diagrams (line art) should be saved in a vector graphic format: .eps, .ps, or .pdf. If a bitmap format must be used, resolution should be at least 600 dpi at their final printed size. Photographs should be exported in .tif format and then edited as needed, and should be at least 300 dpi at their final printed size. Screenshots should be saved in .png format using their original resolution.

Production-ready PDF graphics

For accepted manuscripts, a PDF source file for graphics is not preferred. However, properly prepared PDF illustration files may be used in the production process of your accepted manuscript if you follow these guidelines:

PDF should only be used as the source file for graphics when the preferred formats (PS, EPS, or TIFF) cannot be generated.

In the PDF graphic, the resolution of any shaded or photographic images needs to be 600 dpi.

Within the PDF illustration, resolution of line art with no shading should be 1200 dpi.

All fonts need to be embedded in the PDF.

When creating a PDF through your application’s print command, select “High Quality Print.”


0.5-column figure: 1.5–2.4 inches wide

1-column figure: 3.5 inches wide

1.5-column figure: 5.5 inches wide

2-column figure: 7 inches wide

Maximum height: 9.5 inches

Note that we rarely publish figures at full-page width or height.

Graphs and diagrams

Graphs should be plotted inside a frame, with tick marks around all sides and clear labels on both axes. Be sure to place labels where they don't cross over any of the plotted data. Numerical axis labels should use a consistent number of decimal places (for example, 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0; not 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2). Beware that it is difficult to create professional-looking plots using Excel; better choices include Matlab, Mathematica, SigmaPlot, Origin, gnuplot, and Matplotlib. For diagrams, we recommend Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape over PowerPoint.

Fonts and Text Labels

If you need to annotate a photo with text, it is best to import it into a graphics editing program like Adobe Illustrator and make the annotations there. Save the resulting image in .eps format. Then the photo will still be a bitmap, but the annotations will be resolution-independent vector graphic elements.

TPT suggests the use of Adobe Illustrator (Paid, OS X, Windows) or Inkscape (Freeware, OS X, Windows, Linux) for creating acceptable illustrations and Adobe Photoshop (Paid, OS X, Windows) or GIMP (Freeware, OS X, Windows Linux) for editing acceptable images.

Fonts used to label figures must be easy to read, appropriately sized (minimum 8 point at the size you expect it to publish; 2.8 mm high; 1/8 in. high), and consistent. When saving a figure as a vector graphic, be sure to tell your software to embed the fonts in the file. Even then, try to avoid using nonstandard fonts. Sometimes it is best to convert the fonts into outlines, if your software offers this option.

If your figure includes variables that might be confused for another letter, such as lowercase ell and capital eye, please use a serif font, such as Times New Roman.

Capitalize the first word of each text label, but for a multi-word label, capitalize only the first word and any proper nouns (as in an ordinary sentence).

Multipart Figures

A figure may be divided into parts, labeled (a), (b), and so on (use lowercase labels). Usually it is best to combine the multiple parts, including the labels, into a single figure file. Alternatively, you may submit multiple figure parts as separate files, with names of the form Fig1a.eps, Fig1b.eps, etc.

Color in Figures

TPT encourages the use of color to enhance the clarity and aesthetic appeal of figures. All figures submitted in color will appear in color in the print and online versions of TPT. However, some readers may be color-blind or may print out a PDF in black and white, so it is helpful if color is not the only mechanism used to convey essential information. For example, in a graph showing multiple curves, you may refer to a curve as the "red dashed line." Labels and arrows can also be used to clarify what would otherwise be apparent from color.


Although final figures in TPT typically do include a border around the figure, this will be added in production; do not include it in the image you send.


Submit the figure with the orientation in which it should be published.


Include the figure legends in the manuscript rather than in the separate figure files.

Ensuring Quality Images

Note that saving a low-quality image at a higher resolution will not improve the quality; you must save it with high resolution (or as a vector image) from the source. Before submitting files, please view the images at 2–3 times the size you intend them to be published and check that everything looks sharp, with no pixelation or fuzziness around text or objects. If it does not, you may need to go back to the source and save it again, following the above instructions.