I have been working on a paper that is now ready for submission. I put a lot of time into polishing my figures in Illustrator, which are very detailed bioinformatics visualizations. I sent the figures to the main responsible PI. The PI has now sent me a draft of the manuscript, with the suggested arrangement of the figures. All in JPEG format. A scrutiny of the person's publication record implies that this is also likely to end up being the case for the final product. I realize that the paper has the potential to go fairly high in terms of impact, if appropriate work was put into the presentation. To be frank, none of the more respectable journals today will accept figures presented in this fashion, and if they do it would demand a lot more in terms of the underlying science than some PDF-using competitors might get away with. So, with a reasonable fear of triggering certain latent ego issues (which appear to be quite common among PI:s in academia), how would I go about convincing this fairly established and high profile PI (as an unsignificant Phd student) to fully switch to vector based figure layout?

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    The canonical and rather obvious answer would be "send them a neutrally worded email suggesting that they export their figures in vector format, and include a link to an editorial policy page of one of the journals you are referring to in which they specify what formats are permissibe for figures", but the fact that you are asking the question suggests the underlying ego issues are somehow too severe for this approach to work. Can you maybe give us a hint what you expect to go wrong with such an approach or with other similar approaches, to help us brainstorm the issue?
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 9, 2017 at 23:55
  • Can't you just reproduce their arrangements using your formatting model? Feb 10, 2017 at 0:10
  • Asking for an opportunity to reformat all the figures would likely be interpreted as saying"hey, you've been doing it wrong your entire career, let me show you how it's done." Although, It could have been a good option if I was the one who would be uploading the manuscript for submission in the end. Feb 10, 2017 at 1:45
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    I struggle with this everyday. Same with convincing people not to use PowerPoint to make professional figures. What worked best for me was to show example of papers where the images were blurred or did not zoom well on PDF. This got my point across. Not sure how well it work with a PI with ego issues though.
    – syntonicC
    Feb 10, 2017 at 1:47
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    @mts It stands for "principal investigator". It specifically used for the researcher in charge of a grant and is used by funding agencies. It is often used interchangeably with "advisor" or "supervisor". It's used in academia but I don't think it's popular in all fields.
    – syntonicC
    Feb 10, 2017 at 21:52

2 Answers 2


From the comments I gather that you are afraid to criticise your PI for producing low quality images, which is natural.

I think that a good course of action here would be an e-mail where you tell your PI that your journal requires vector based images. Then you say that you know that he is a busy man and that you are willing to reproduce his images in Illustrator if that is okay with him (assuming the pictures are easily reproducable). That way he will probably thank you for going the extra mile and taking work off his shoulders.

I would refrain from telling him to make better pictures himself, because he has probably done it the same way for decades and it is hard to change such habits.

Good luck with your publication!

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    What ended up working was to first make an effort to really polish the images regarding my parts of the article, partly to demonstrate how vector based drawings can improve the quality of the figures and partly do demonstrate experience with this. Then I made some polite suggestions on general ways to improve the figures first sent by this PI. He then made the suggestion himself that I could try to implement these improvements, which I happily accepted. While I can't promise the end product will be amazing, at least awareness has been raised and the opportunity given. Feb 26, 2017 at 20:45

While this specific instance obviously has been dealt with, others might find the following useful.

It is professionally acceptable, usually even desired to establish work delivery in certain file formats.

Ideally this is done before work is started or as concerns become apparent.

I see no issue if the quality requested by OP (with third parties like publications in mind) enhances the overall presentation.

In fact, I'm in agreement.

Print publications not only frown upon using lossy compression formats, they have standards regarding resolution as well. Vector formats can be scaled without images becoming pixelated, so are superior to bitmap formats with insufficient resolution.

So to clearly answer the question at hand as well: Politely and neutrally suggesting to adhere to the standards required by print media (as mentioned, research on the site of the journal in question or industry standards) should be enough to convince anyone to prefer certain file formats.

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    Reading this answer, I wonder whether you arrived here from the sidebar and think you're in the Graphic Design stack. In particular, I can't see how "contract negotiations" fit into the context of one co-author convincing another to change workflow. It's a collaboration, not a client-contractor relationship. Jul 3, 2018 at 7:44
  • Fair point, I misunderstood their relationship. Will edit.It makes however a lot of sense (even among Co-authors or colleagues) to clarify these topics beforehand or as they appear to be of concern, don't you think? There should be no ego or the like be an issue if this is done early on, with the final quality in mind and has merit in the context of the work. Jul 3, 2018 at 8:37

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