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Formatting Information — An introduction to typesetting with LATEX

Chapter 4: Lists, tables, figures

Section 4.3: Figures

As explained in § 4.2.1, Figures and Tables float to a vacant part of the page, as they are not part of your normal text, but illustrative objects that you refer to.

\caption{Total variable overhead variance (after 

To create a figure, use the figure environment. Like Tables, they automatically get numbered, and they MUST include a \caption (with a \label after it, if needed for cross-referencing). Like Tables, it is conventional to centre the material, but that is a personal choice.

You can see that the structure is very similar to the table environment, but in this case we have a graphic included with the \includegraphics command. Here, it’s also enclosed in an \fbox, which places a frame box around it (see § 4.6.2). Details of including graphics are in the next section: you need the graphicx package. Details of the bibliographic citation mechanism used in the caption are in § 5.3.2.

Figures can contain text, diagrams, pictures, or any other kind of illustration, even a tabular environment — LATEX is agnostic on this point, so Tables can contain an image (of a table, presumably) and Figures can contain a tabulation. What matters is that you describe them properly.

Figure 4.3: Total variable overhead variance (after Bull (1972, p 191))


The content of the Figure could of course also be textual, in the form of lists, paragraphs, or other blocks of text. For drawings, LATEX has a very simple drawing environment called picture, which lets you create a limited set of lines and curves, but for a diagram of any complexity, you can use any normal vector drawing program (see § 4.4.3), save the image as a PDF vector image, and include it in your Figure with \includegraphics as illustrated.

However, you can also create your diagrams within the LATEX document using TikZ, which is a TEX interface to the PGF graphics language. TikZ is much more powerful than the picture environment, but it’s a whole language of its own, so it needs learning. (I used it to create the labelling on the image in Figure 1.5.) There is a self-help blog at and extensive help via the TEX Stackexchange