Figure Guidelines

All illustrations whether line drawings or photographs are considered figures. GSA accepts only electronic files of figures.

For the manuscript submission process figures may only be submitted as the following file types: PDF, TIFF, GIF, or JPEG. PDF files are preferred.

Note: If your paper is accepted you will be asked for the native files of your figures meaning the file type in which the figures were originally created. See the Accepted Publication-Quality Figures section below for accepted file types.

To ensure the best possible results, please prepare art for illustration according to the following guidelines.

General Information

  • Compare the look and style of your figures with those in the GSA publication you are submitting to.
  • Keep GSA figure sizes in mind (see Sizing section below). Submit figures as close to the final desired publication size as possible.
  • If figures are reproduced without change, modified, or adapted from another publication acknowledgments must be clearly made (see Image Reproductions section below). The burden is on the author to obtain copyright permission if this is needed.
  • File naming convention should include: author surname, figure number, and manuscript number (or book id and chapter number if known).

Lines and Labels in Graphs, Maps, and Legends

  • Use clean black lines no finer than 1 point and no greater than 2 points.
  • On maps please include latitude (°N, °S) and longitude (°W, °E), a north arrow, and a scale in kilometers.
  • Graphs must have all axes and lines labeled.
  • General titles of illustrations should appear in the figure caption not in the figure itself.


  • Use a clear sans serif typeface (Helvetica or Arial).
  • All lettering should be between 7 point and 12 point type size (with the exception of A, B, C part labels which should be 13–16 pt when figures are scaled to the desired publication size. Keep these labels consistent figure to figure).
  • Try to keep all text in a figure (including axis labels, contour labels, latitude and longitude, scale text, inset text, etc.) around the same size to aid reducibility and/or enlargement.
  • Avoid making the lettering too large for the figure (this can result in a "cartoonish" appearance).
  • Place a white background behind lettering that crosses a patterned, textured, or dark area in a figure.


Figures sized to the following dimensions will fit well in most GSA publications. (Measurements below are for figure widths.)

Inches Picas Centimeters
Page width 7.125 44 18.5
Single column in 3-column layout (journals) 2.33 14 5.9
Single column in 2-column layout (books) 3.5 21.5 9.1
Two columns in 3-column layout (journals) 4.83 29 12.28
Almost full page width with caption to side 5.83 35 14.82
Page height 9.5 56.5 22.5

Build Illustrations with Inclusiveness and Accessibility in Mind

When building your figures it is important to be aware that some users/readers may have a visual disability (e.g. low vision and/or color vision deficiency [color blindness]). Designing your illustration/figure with that in mind and in a way that provides the opportunity for those individuals to process the visual content in your published work increases readability and comprehension for all.

When using color to convey meaning use a second indicator/additional styling:

  • Use labels
  • Use patterns
  • Vary line weights
  • Vary line types (e.g. solid, dashed)
  • Shapes

Preparing Images for All to See

(Excerpted and modified from: De Paor D., Karabinos P., Dickens G., and Atchison C. 2017 Color Vision Deficiency and the Geosciences: GSA Today, v. 27, no. 6, p. 42–43, Read the full text at

Color Vision Deficiency (CVD) is a common workplace disability. Summarized here are guidelines for creating illustrations that will display well for all sighted readers, regardless of their ability to perceive certain colors. (Resources where you can test images for accessibility include,,,, Sim Daltonism, and Adobe Illustrator.)

  • Select graphic styles for accessibility: Make legends clearly readable and use distinguishable colors. Compare how your data are shown in various formats (pie chart vs. bar chart, for example) and choose the presentation style that is most likely to be clear to all.
  • Redundancy: Distinguish items by more than color. Use circles and squares and solid and dashed lines. Label items directly, not in a key.
  • Color choice: Colors differing only in hue, especially percentage red or green cause problems. Dark red–dark green, blue–violet, red–orange and yellow–green confusion is common. Magenta and turquoise are good choices because people with red-green–Color Vision Deficiency (RG-CVD) can see the blue component.
  • Thickness, brightness, and contrast: People with RG-CVD cannot see thin lines or small polygons because insufficient functioning retinal cones are activated. Make lines thick and use high-contrast text, arrows, or other shapes. Drop-shadows and boxes make text stand out. Saturation and brightness variations are critical.
  • Avoid rainbow color maps: Despite copious research showing that it is the worst possible choice, the rainbow color map continues to be popular. Although violet and red are the extremes of visible light, they do not convey different magnitudes to the brain. A diverging color map does (

Image Reproductions

If figures are reproduced without change from another publication acknowledgments must be clearly made. The original source of re-used material must be clearly cited in the figure/table caption. If you had to secure permission for re-use of material in the caption please also note that permission was granted. The burden is on the author to obtain copyright permission if this is needed. The following conventional designations should be used:

  • “After” = possible redrafting but no information change.
  • “Modified from” = some change.
  • “Adapted from” = radical changes.

Accepted Publication-Quality Figures

When your manuscript has been accepted you will be asked to provide publication-quality graphics. We require two electronic files for each figure:

  • One in the program in which it was created (native format)
  • And an additional in one of the following formats: EPS, TIF, or PDF format.

The following native graphic file formats work best:

  • Adobe Illustrator (.ai). This is the most preferable file format but this refers to figures actually created in Illustrator not figures that were created in another program and then imported to Illustrator.
  • CorelDRAW (.cdr). Only CorelDRAW version 15 or newer is accepted.
  • Photoshop (.psd or .tif). Most Photoshop files can be used with few problems. See below text in regard to resolution.

Files created in any application other than those listed above should be saved or exported as a high resolution PDF, EPS, or TIFF.

File Types

File types fall into two main categories: vector and raster.

  • Vector art is mathematically plotted and is resolution independent. Vector art is infinitely scalable without loss of quality/sharpness (and therefore has infinite resolution). Editable text and lines are examples of vector art.
  • Raster art is pixel based and is therefore resolution dependent. A digital camera photograph or a scanned image of a photo slide or document are examples of raster files.

A vector art program file can have raster images placed/imported into them (for example when you import photos into Adobe Illustrator).

Photos/Raster Art

  • Photos (whether scanned or from a digital camera) should be between 300–600 ppi resolution at the desired print size.
  • Rasterized line art should be a minimum of 1200 ppi at the desired print size.
  • We do NOT accept low-resolution 72 ppi images (no web images).

Digital camera images: preferred as TIFF or RAW format (though JPEG is acceptable) and must be at least 300–600 ppi when scaled to the desired print size (be sure that your camera is set for highest resolution for best results).

Placed/Imported Images

All files that have been placed or imported into your figure file must accompany its respective figure file (i.e. if you import a photograph into Illustrator called photo.tif you must supply the linked photo.tif electronic file along with your Illustrator file). Otherwise the placed/imported images need to be embedded. Adobe Illustrator has a packaging feature that will gather up linked images and fonts so you have all the pieces and parts to your figure. (Go to File > Package… A dialog box will come up: Select a location on your computer to save the packaged file. Under options be sure all checkboxes are checked. Then click the Package button. Zipping the packaged folder before sending is ideal. If you don’t know how to do that that is okay).

Invisible/Hidden Elements

Many graphics files contain unnecessary "invisible"/hidden elements. These are sometimes imported graphics that the creator of the file has traced over and then set not to print or the layer it resides on is turned off so it doesn’t show. To reduce file size (thereby conserving digital storage space) as well as save time when opening and saving the file delete the unnecessary element.

Fill Patterns

  • If possible use hatched patterns instead of dot fill patterns.
  • Dot fills must be between 20% and 70% black.
  • Any fills that represent different values in the same illustration must differ by at least 20%. For example, fills that are 20% black and 30% black must not be used on the same figure, but fills that are 30% black and 50% black are acceptable for use on the same figure.

Loose Print Inserts/Supplements

Loose inserts/supplements (maps, seismic reflections, cross sections, etc.) may be included. Sheets may be printed on one or both sides in color or in black and white.

Two sizes of inserts are available: 11 × 17 inches and 25 × 38 inches.

When submitting a new or revised manuscript authors must submit electronic file(s) of the insert as a supplemental file.

Authors must pay all costs for printed inserts. These costs include press preparation, printing, folding, handling, and inserting. For questions about inserts or pricing contact:

Print Color (Books only)

Submit your figures in black and white unless you are willing to be responsible for print color costs.

For book print color costs see Publication Fees.