Figure size and aspect ratio for scientific publication


In my field of study (Physics), we mainly use EPS/PDF/PNG for figures in scientific publications, which are typically published embedded in text on a PDF of 1 or 2 columns, typically generated by LaTeX.

Specifically, we typically use an option in LaTeX to shrink the figure to fit the column.

To give you some context, a figure typically includes some or all of the following:

  • Drawings (circles, squares, arrows, etc)
  • Plots (axes, legends, lines, points, labels, etc.)
  • Symbols (Greek letters, math symbols, etc.)
  • Text (i.e. from a font)

Every time I start a new figure, I struggle (e.g. Illustrator) when it asks me for the figure size and aspect ratio. Here is why: when it contains text I frequently end up having to scale up/down any text/symbols until they are readable on the final publication, which I find a waste of my time.

Given my lack of knowledge on this subject, I'm asking this community for help:

  1. Is there a natural figure size that I should use for this situation in such a way that the text that I see in the editor is the same as I see it in the figure embedded?

  2. Is there any default aspect ratio that I should use? I read somewhere that the golden ratio is often used, but I didn't found any reference supporting why.

If it helps, as an example, I'm asking how should I fill this window enter image description here

6/17/2015 7:59:00 AM

There is no typical answer for your question, there is no rule, however you can follow you own methodology for the work, working with a template and graphic, text and paragraph style to ensure a consistency and unity for your work.

For the aspect ratio: you should gather all your illustration graph and plots and find the best way to present it preserving the text size in XY axes and legends. and try to classify all of those illustrations into categories depending on their layout ratio 1:1 1:1.5 1:2 1:3 and vice versa.


For the layout: does all the plots and illustration are text wrapped? or not? there is some plots that it should be drawn completely in one page or more? do you have any folded plots? try to answer all those questions and classify your illustration according the layout.

here is some layout idea for one column width and 2/3 column width

enter image description here

In both methods you have to make all your illustration in one drawing style defining text, paragraph and graphics style to apply to any object you will draw or write so when the time comes to exports those plots it will be the same in text size and the same in line weights and colors.

6/17/2015 9:22:00 AM