Quick guide to create journal-quality figures: basic protocol

I am a Mac user since almost two years. In the first months, I had to create a set of figures for submitting an article. I was lost because I didn’t knew how to create line art figures at a 1000 dpi resolution.

That’s why now I am posting a basic protocol to create quality figures for a paper, to those who are at the first steps in Mac.

Basic Protocol 1: Create a quality chart

You need to have iWork (buy it, it is worth the money) and Photoshop. Also “Preview”, included in Mac.

Step 1: Creating a chart. In Numbers, you can create the chart according to your needs. In this example, I created a bar chart, with error bars. Numbers automatically place the chart below the datasheet. Activate the “Print view” option in the “File” tab (Note: since I have Numbers in Spanish, I don’t how if the translations are correct… I include a screen capture to illustrate).

Step 2: Export as pdf. Once you created the chart, go to File>Print. In the “Print” window, go to “Open with Preview” in the “PDF” button. This step is just to check that the chart is correctly placed in the page. Once you are satisfied, in Preview go to “Save as” and save the page as a pdf.

Step 3: Open Photoshop. Go to “Open”, and select your pdf file. This will open a window, where you can select the pixels/inch that you can input to the document (see next figure). Once you have the pdf in Photoshop, you can crop the image.

In the next figure, you have a close look at the chart I created, with a 50% view, opened at 1000 pixels/inch (as many journals ask for line art). You can see how simple is this approach.

Step 4. Composition of multiple figures. For a typical journal figure (with subfigures a, b, c and so on), you can do the following: create the charts in Numbers, and make copy & paste in Keynote or Pages (I prefer Keynote). Then, print the Keynote slide as a pdf (if you need to include a photo, like an immunofluorescence or a western blot), you can obviously leave a blank space, and then import the picture into the pdf file opened in Photoshop.

You may ask: “Why not Office?”. The answer is very simple. In iWork, you can modify the charts as you like, and the font size remains the same as you modify the chart’s size. In Office, usually if you paste a chart in Word, then modifying the chart’s size can be tricky: font size change, for example. Besides, iWork do beautiful charts with a vector style.

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