Formatting Figures for PLoS ONE with Illustrator on OSX

Posted 30 Aug 2012 in OSX hacks

We in the Bergman Lab are big supporters of the Public Library of Science, and increasingly have been submitting papers to PLOS ONE over the last few years because we believe this journal represents the true values of science: openness, technical rigor and objectivity. Because PLOS ONE uses a streamlined production process, their author guidelines are very strict, with article formatting responsibilities falling on the author that would be traditionally handled with the help of a copy editor.

One area of PLOS ONE article formatting that I have found particularly difficult in the past is to get the exact figure specifications that pass the automated checks of the PLOS ONE Editorial Manager system.  Personally, I find the guidelines for figure preparation for PLOS ONE to be somewhat bewildering. In my first few submissions, I wasted substantial time uploading files that failed the automated checks and/or I had nerve-wracking requests to change figure formats at the post-acceptance stage, where I did not get another chance to look at the manuscript before it goes live. After some trial and error, I have gotten my head around what actually works to prepare figures for a trouble-free PLOS ONE submission. So to save a headache and speed up the publication process for one or more scientist out there (and so I have access to these notes out of the office), I’ve typed up a protocol that should work for preparing PLOS ONE-ready figures using Illustrator on OSX.

1. Prepare your figure in your favorite sofware (R, Illustrator, etc) and Save.

2. Open/Import into Illustrator.

3. In Illustrator, under the “File” menu, select “Export…”. You will now see a window entitled “Export”.

4. Select “TIFF (tif)” from the “Format” dropdown menu. You should see something like this:

5. Click “Export”. You will now see a window entitled “TIFF Options”.

6. Set the “Color Model” drop-down menu to “RGB”.

7. Click the “Other” radio button for the “Resolution” setting and set to 500 dpi.

8. Select the “Anti-Aliasing” check-box.

9. Select the “LZW Compression” check-box. At this point you should see a screen something like this:

10. Click “OK”.

You should now have a 500 dpi .tif file that is ready to upload with minimal (to no) complaints by the PLOS ONE Editorial Manager, and hopefully your next open-access manuscript will be speeding to publication soon.

Notes: This recipe was developed using an Illustrator 11.0.0 on a MacBook Air running OSX 10.6.8. Please don’t laugh at my ancient software – I find upgrading is the enemy of efficiency.


  1. Glad to stumble upon this. I found that TIFFs made in Graphpad Prism were not accepted. Opening them in Photoshop and saving as a TIFF with LZW compression, interleaved pixels & Macintosh byte order did the trick though…

  2. caseybergman

    Thanks for the added tip – little timesavers like these should be of use to many.

  3. Using Illustrator CS6 (16.0.0), the instructions above still work modulo changes to the dialogue boxes, but can be improved with the following modifications:

    1) Crop your image to the size you want in Illustrator and then check the “use artboards” box in the export window. This will preserve the dimensions of your artboard and prevent any unwanted cropping of whitespace.

    2) select “Art Optomized (Supersampling)” for the Anti-aliasing option.

    3) select “Embed ICC profile”

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