Many scientific journals accept only black & white articles.

Does this mean that only monochrome (black and white only) articles or also grayscale (gray is OK) article are OK?

The same question holds for books.

  • 2
    What did your editor say when you asked them?
    – 410 gone
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 12:13
  • 1
    @EnergyNumbers They have not (yet) replied
    – porton
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 12:23

3 Answers 3


I have a confession to make. I absolutely ignore it when a publication tells me they want grey-scale or black and white.

Yes, they want it because somebody is going to put something on some dead trees, they're going to be cheap about it and not use color, and somebody might actually pick up a dead tree and see my mangled image. But either they're also going to put it in a PDF, or else I'm going to put a pre-print in a PDF and that PDF is going to go online in all its radiant rainbow glory, and that is what people will actually read.

So [CENSORED] monochrome. That is so 20th century.

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    Good point. I prefer to read on the computer. But quite a few people I know prefer to print the pdf and read that. And many people prefer to print black and white. Commented May 2, 2015 at 12:45
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    @JeromyAnglim Color printers are very common, and if a figure doesn't render well in B&W, you can always look back at the PDF. There are just too many things that color is useful for to throw it away so lightly.
    – jakebeal
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 12:50
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    I generally agree, but I do also check that my figures are still (at least mostly) readable in monochrome before submitting. Not only do some readers like to print things out on paper, but there's also the little issue of colorblindness to consider. Commented May 2, 2015 at 19:06
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    Extending what @IlmariKaronen says, I would argue that complete disregard for what something looks like when projected to grayscale will often lead to poor colormaps, especially for colorblind people but even for everyone else. Matplotlib has an awesome guide to the basics.
    – user4512
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 19:44
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    I can't say where to draw the boundary (and I suspect it's the wrong question to ask anyway), but here's a nice page on designing colorblind-accessible figures. IMO, the key take-home message should be that good use of color can make your figures easier to read, but color (hue) should never be the only thing that conveys any important distinction, at least not if you can avoid it. See the good/bad examples in particular for some very useful design tips. Commented May 2, 2015 at 21:56

In general some degree of half-toning will be used, meaning that a limited set of grey scales can be output in the printed journal, so figures supplied in greyscale should come out in greyscale. Figures supplied in colour may (i) upset the editorial staff or software (extra hassle for you); (ii) be chargeable (to avoid this you may have to resubmit figures, extra hassle); (iii) reduce to greyscale rather inconsistently with what you expect. So if you submit colour figures (and I generally do), you may as well go for good clear distinctions between data sets, and print B&W yourself to check.

It is very possible (and in some cases required) to produce most figures in a way which either doesn't hinder the B&W reader too much, while still aiding the reader who works in colour. Two examples:

  • lines on a graph can be dashed etc. as well as coloured, with colours chosen to render different shades of grey.
  • colour maps can easily be chosen to be continuous and monotonic -- though this isn't usually the default.

Both of these approaches are a small step towards helping colour-blind readers as well.

You can't assume your readers will work on screen -- an interesting paper may want to be annotated (I've not yet found a pdf-markup solution that comes close to pen&paper for this). Paper copies are also easier on public transport unless you have a very good and large tablet. It's also not uncommon for B&W printing to be easier (less far to go the the printer) and much cheaper (or uncounted and essentially free) than colour.

Much of this was going to be a comment presenting the opposite point of view to @jakebeal, but another couple of sentences made it an answer.


First, off: I am not sure that many only accept monochrome or B/W (usually implying grey-scale) figures since trends quite some time are for digital publication only (where colour or B/W, technically, is an irrelevant question).

The question about true Black and White versus grey scale is a matter of technique. In the analog days of printing grey-scale images had to be rasterized and this may have been a problem for some reproducing grey-scale illustrations. Today rasterization is done digitally within the printing process and should not pose any problem. It is therefore relatively safe to say that providing grey-scale illustrations will be fine. As I stated above B/W includes grey-scale nowadays and since quite a long time back.

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