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Formatting Information — An introduction to typesetting with LATEX

Chapter 4: Lists, tables, figures

Section 4.4: Images

Images (graphics) can be included anywhere in a LATEX document, although in most cases of formal documents they will occur in Figures (see preceding section). To use graphics, you need to use the graphicx package in your Preamble: \usepackage{graphicx}. This package provides the command \includegraphics which is used to insert an image in a document. The command is followed by the name of your graphics file without the filetype (we’ll see in a minute why you don’t normally need to include the filetype).


In most cases you should just make sure the image file is in the same folder (directory) as the document you use it in. This avoids a lot of messing around remembering where you put the files; but you could instead put them all in a single folder and include that as part of the filename you use in the command.


If you have images you want to use in several different documents in different places on your disk, there is a way to tell LATEX where to look (see § 4.4.4).

4.4.1 Image file formats

The type of image file you use depends on which variant of LATEX you use:

  • For XƎLATEX and PDFLATEX, graphics files can be in Portable Network Graphic (PNG), PDF, or Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPG) format. EPS files will not work in PDFLATEX or XƎLATEX. If you want to use both the original LATEX as well as PDFLATEX, you will need to keep your graphics in two formats, EPS and one of the others. This is why you should avoid including the filetype in the filename you give with \includegraphics.

  • For the original LATEX which produces a .dvi file instead of a .pdf file, graphics MUST be in Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) format: this was the publishing industry standard for portable graphics for many years, and no other format will work in the original LATEX.

    All good graphics packages (eg GIMP, PhotoShop, Corel Draw, etc) can save images as EPS, but be very careful with other software such as statistics, engineering, mathematical, and numerical analysis packages, because some of them, especially on Microsoft Windows platforms, use a very poor quality driver, which in turn creates very poor quality EPS files. If in doubt, check with an expert. If you find an EPS graphic doesn’t print, the chances are it’s been badly made by the creating software. Downloading Adobe’s own PostScript driver from their Web site and using that instead may improve things, but the only real solution is to use software that creates decent output.

For these reasons, if you create vector EPS graphics, and convert them to PDF format, do not keep additional JPG or PNG copies of the same image in the same directory, because they risk being used first by PDFLATEX instead of the PDF file, because of the order in which it searches.

It is in fact possible to tell LATEX to generate the right file format by itself during processing, but this requires an external command-line graphics converter like ImageMagick, and as it gets done afresh each time, it slows things down rather a lot.

EPS files, especially bitmaps, can be very large indeed, because they are stored in ASCII format. Staszek Wawrykiewicz has drawn my attention to a useful MS-DOS program to overcome this, called cep (‘Compressed Encapsulated PostScript’) available from CTAN archive in the support/pstools directory, which can compress EPS files to a fraction of their original size. The original file can be replaced by the new smaller version and still used directly with \includegraphics.

One final warning about using EPS files with \includegraphics: never try to specify an absolute path (one beginning with a slash) or one addressing a higher level of directory (one beginning with ../). The dvips driver will not accept these because they pose a security risk to PostScript documents. Unlike PDF, PostScript is a real programming language, capable of opening and deleting files, and the last thing you want is to create a document able to mess with your filesystem (or someone else’s).

4.4.2 Resizing images

The \includegraphics command can take optional arguments within square brackets before the filename to specify the height or width, as in the example below. This will resize the image that prints; whichever dimension you specify (height or width) the other dimension will automatically be scaled in proportion to preserve the aspect ratio.

The file on disk does not get changed in any way, and nor does the copy included inside the PDF: what gets changed is just the size that it displays at in the finished document. So if you include a huge JPG but tell LATEX to print it at a small size, your PDF will still include the whole image file at full size — all that changes is the way it shows it. This is very inefficient: normally you should create images at the right size for the document.


If you specify both height and width, the image will be distorted to fit (not really useful except for special effects). You can scale an image by a factor (using the scaled option) instead of specifying height or width; clip it to specified coordinates; or rotate it in either direction. Multiple optional arguments are separated with commas.

For details of all the arguments, see the documentation on the graphicx package or a copy of the The LATEX Companion. The package also includes commands to \raisebox{1ex}{\rotatebox{180}{rotate}}, \scalebox{-1}[1]{mirror}, and \scalebox{2}[1]{scale} text as well as images.

4.4.3 Making images

There are two types of image: bitmaps and vectors.


Bitmap images are made of coloured dots, so if you enlarge them, they go jagged at the edges, and if you shrink them, they may go blurry. Bitmaps are fine for photographs, where every tiny dot is a different colour, and the eye won’t notice so long as you don’t shrink or enlarge too much. Bitmaps for diagrams and drawings, however, are almost always the wrong choice, and often disastrously bad.


Vector drawings are made from instructions, just like LATEX is, but using a different language (eg ‘draw this from here to here, using a line this thick’). They can be enlarged or reduced as much as you like, and never lose accuracy, because they get redrawn automatically at any size. You can’t do photographs as vectors, but vectors are the only acceptable method for drawings or diagrams.

Figure 4.3: The vector diagram from Figure 4.2 shrunk and enlarged

diagram diagram 

Vector graphic packages are also better suited for saving your image directly in EPS or PDF format (both of which use their own vector language internally). All the major graphics-generating packages in all disciplines output vector formats: AutoCAD, ChemDraw, MathCAD, Maple, Mathematica, ArcInfo, and so on. EPS was for decades the universally-accepted format for creating vector graphics for publication, with PDF a close second. PDF is now the most common format, but most of the major graphics (drawing) packages can still save as EPS, such as PhotoShop, PaintShop Pro, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, and GIMP. There are also some free vector plotting and diagramming packages available like InkScape, tkPaint, and GNUplot which do the same. Never, ever (except in the direst necessity) create any diagram as a bitmap.

Bitmap formats like JPG and PNG are ideal for photographs, as they are also able to compress the data substantially without too much loss of quality. However, compressed formats are bad for screenshots, if you are documenting computer tasks, because too much compression makes them blurry. The popular Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) is good for screenshots, but is not supported by TEX: use PNG instead, with the compression turned down to minimum. Avoid uncompressible formats like BMP as they produce enormous and unmanageable files. The Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), popular with graphic designers, should also be avoided if possible, partly because it is even vaster than BMP, and partly because far too many companies have designed and implemented non-standard, conflicting, proprietary extensions to the format, making it virtually useless for transfer between different types of computers (except in faxes, where it’s still used in a much stricter version).

Exercise 14: Adding pictures

Add \usepackage{graphicx} to the Preamble of your document, and copy or download an image you want to include. Make sure it is a JPG, PNG, or PDF image if you use XƎLATEX or PDFLATEX; or an EPS image if you use standard LATEX.

Add \includegraphics and the filename in curly braces (without the filetype), and process the document and preview or print it.

Make it into a figure following the example in § 4.3.

Be aware that some DVI previewers are not able to display all types of graphics, and some cannot display colour. For best results, use PDF or PostScript previewers.

4.4.4 Graphics storage

I mentioned earlier that there was a way to tell LATEX where to look if you had stored images centrally for use in many different documents. The answer is in a command \graphicspath which you supply with an argument giving one or more names of additional directories you want searched when a file uses the \includegraphics command.

Put the path in an additional set of curly braces (this lets you add more paths later: each in their own subset of curly braces). I’ve used the ‘safe’ (MS-DOS) form of the Windows My Pictures folder in the example because you should never use directory or file names containing spaces (see the sidebar ‘Picking suitable filenames’).

Using \graphicspath does make your file less portable, though, because file paths tend to be specific both to an operating system and to your computer, like the examples above.


If you use original LATEX and dvips to print or create PostScript files, be aware that some versions will not by default handle EPS files which are outside the current directory, and will issue the error message saying that it is ‘unable to find’ the image. As we mentioned above, this is because PostScript is a programming language, and it would theoretically be possible for a maliciously-made image to contain code which might compromise your system. The decision to restrict operation in this way has been widely criticised, but it seems unlikely to be changed. If you are certain that your EPS files are kosher, use the R0 option in your command, eg dvips -R0 ... dvifile

  1. You may find a lot of old files which use a package called epsf. Don’t use it: it’s obsolete. 

  2. LATEX will search for the graphic file by file type, in this order (check for the newest definition in your pdftex.def): .png, .pdf, .jpg, .mps, .jpeg, .jbig2, .jb2, .PNG, .PDF, .JPG, .JPEG, .JBIG2, and .JB2. Thanks to Enrico Gregorio and Philipp Stephani on comp.text.tex for locating this for me. 

  3. Some commercial distributions of TEX systems allow other formats to be used, such as GIF, Microsoft Bitmap (BMP), or Hewlett-Packard’s Printer Control Language (PCL) files, and others, by using additional conversion software provided by the supplier; but you cannot send such documents to other LATEX users and expect them to work if they don’t have the same distribution installed as you have. If you use original LATEX, stick to EPS