How to improve your figures

Your manuscript can be more attractive!

© 2014–2017 The Ecological Society of Japan

Last updated: 28th Jun 2017


You can download the PDF version from here.


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1. Typographical rules

2. Formatting rules

3. Construction guide

4. Guides for multiple panels

5. Reducing unnecessary panels

6. Notes for color illustrations

7. Guides for making files

8. Guides for tables

9. Legends/captions


1. Typographical rules

(i) Space

- Space is needed between a value and a unit.

400m → 400 m

50% → 50 %


- Spaces are needed before and after mathematical symbols: e.g. +, −, ±, >, =, ...etc.

1.3±0.3 → 1.3 ± 0.3

a=b → a = b


(ii) Dash & minus sign

- Use an en-dash rather than a hyphen for a range of values.

0‐100 → 0–100

2009‐2011 → 2009–2011

- Use a minus sign "−" for negative values and negative exponents.

- Do not use a hyphen as a substitue.

‐1 → −1

ha‐1 → ha−1


(iii) Unit

- Surround a unit in round parentheses, rather than square brackets.

Nitrogen[%] or %Nitrogen → Nitrogen (%)

- Use negative exponents rather than slashes for units.

g/cm3 → g cm−3

- Do not use the roman letter "u" as a substitute for "μ".

1 um → 1 μm


(iv) Multiplication sign

- For the multiplication sign, use "×", rather than an asterisk "∗", a centered dot "⋅" or the roman letter "x".

a∗b or a x b → a × b (or "ab")


(v) Upper/lowercase

- Use lowercase letters for character strings, except for the initial letter.

leaf weight

LEAF WEIGHT → Leaf weight

Leaf Weight


(vi) Period/comma

- Use periods for decimal points. Do not use commas as substitutes.

0,3 → 0.3

0,05 → 0.05


2. Formatting rules

(i) Font type

- Use a sans-serif font. Helvetica or Arial is preferred.


- Use the same font type throughout the figures.


(ii) Font style

- Use normal font (e.g. not italic, not underlined).


(iii) Font size

- Minimum font size is 8 pt or more in printed size.


(iv) Line width & color

- Line thickness should be 0.75 pt or more.


- Use black color for axes and frames.


3. Construction guides

(i) Bar-plots, scatter-plots, line graphs...etc.

- Show categorically defined tick-mark labels horizontally, if possible.


(ii) Geographical maps

- Objects should be clearly distinguished from their background.


(iii) Photographs

- When you insert texts or symbols on a photograph, use an easily distinguishable design.


4. Guides for multiple panels

- Provide panel labels for each panel.

-- lowercase roman letters,

-- with round parentheses,

-- use more than 10 pt in bold face,

-- place the top left corner (as much as possible), and should be aligned in vertical/horizontal.

- Align figure parts (e.g. panels, panel labels, axis labels, graphic legends, statistical significance codes...etc.) among panels.


- Make the size of the panels as uniform as possible.


- Consolidate the axis labels (and tick-mark labels) if possible.


5. Reducing unnecessary space

- Adjusting layout of panels.

- Adjusting shapes and sizes of panels.

- Adjusting the position of the legend.


6. Notes for color illustrations

- Color figures are published in online with free of charge. However, they appear in grayscale in print. If authors agree to pay the color printing fee (950EUR + 19% VAT), color figures in print can be accepted.

- Please convey the same information to readers both in online and print publications (using symbols, line types, patterns and shape; choosing colors with distinctive brightness, etc.).

- Please make figure captions sufficiently understandable without referencing colors. Only in unavoidable case, "Color figure online" can be added at the end of caption.



7. Guides for making files

(i) Figure size

- Figures should either match the width of the column (8.4 cm) or be 12.9 or 17.4 cm wide.

(ii) Saving figures

- Save figures in separate files.

- The file name should include the figure number.

- Save figures composed of multiple panels as one file. Do not separate the files.


(iii) File format

- Acceptable file formats are TIFF (for rasterized illustrations) and EPS (for vectorized illustrations).

- EPS (vector illustration) is recommended for a figure constructed of dots, lines, polygons, and/texts.

(iv) Resolution

- For TIFF files, figures should be created in good picture quality and sufficient resolution (≧ 300 dpi).


8. Guides for tables

- Do not use vertical lines and color.

- Use the same font type as in the main text.

- Use normal font style for the title and header of the table.

- Show numerical values within their significant digits.

- Align the values (see below).

- Basic typographical rules are the same as those for figures.

- Align columns as follows.


9. Legends/captions

- Figures and tables should be self-explanatory, i.e. their contents should be understandable without reference to the main text.

- Provide graph legends as necessary.

- Explain the parts of a figure in its caption.

- Abbreviations/acronyms should be defined in each figure/table.

- Abbreviations can be used for common statistical measures/methods as follows:


- Do not abbreviate genus names at the first mention in each figure/table.

Ecological Research Editorial Office
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