Embedding figure text into a Latex document

Often times we have to create plots and schematic drawings for our publications. These figures are then included in the final document either as bitmaps (png, jpeg, bmp) or as vectorized images (ps, eps, pdf). Some inconveniences that arise due to this process and are noticed in the final document are:

  • Loss of image quality due to resizing the figure (bitmaps only)
  • Different font type and size from the rest of the text
  • Limited resizing possibility due to text readability
  • No straight-forward method to add equations to the figure

If the document is being created in LaTeX, it is possible to overcome all these inconveniences by exporting your figure into either svg or postscript formats and converting it into pdf+Latex format with Inkscape. This format allows the LaTeX engine to understand and treat figure text as any other text in the document and the lines and curves as a vectorized image.


The process for creating of a PDF+LaTeX figure is described below:

1 – Create your figure and save it in either svg or postscript format. Inkscape, Matlab, GNUPlot, and Python are examples of software that can export at least one of these formats. If your figure has any equations, remember to type them in LaTeX format in the figure.

2 – Open your figure with Inkscape, edit it as you see necessary (figure may need to be ungrouped), and save it.

3.0 – If you are comfortable with using a terminal and the figure does not need editing, open a terminal pointing to the folder where the figure is and type the following the command (no $). If this works, you can skip steps 3 and 4 and go straight to step 5.

$ inkscape fig1.svg --export-pdf fig1.pdf --export-latex

3 – Click on File -> Save As…, select “Portable Document Format (*.pdf)” as the file format, and click on Save.


4 – On the Portable Document Format window that will open, check the option “PDF+LaTeX: Omit text in PDF, and create LaTeX file” and click on OK.


Inkscape will then export two files, both with the same name but one with pdf and the other with pdf_tex extension. The pdf file contains all the drawing, while the pdf_tex contains all the text of the figure and calls the pdf file.

5 – On your latex document, include package graphicx with the command \usepackage{graphicx}.

6 – To include the figure in your document, use \input{your_figure.pdf_tex}. Do not use the conventional \includegraphics command otherwise you will end up with an error or with a figure with no text. If you want to scale the figure, type \def\svgwidth{240bp} (240 is the size of your figure in pixels) in the line before the \input command. Do not use the conventional [scale=0.5] command, which would cause an error. Some instructions are available at the first lines of the pdf_tex file, which can be opened with a regular text editor such as notepad.

Below is a comparison of how the same figure would look like in the document if exported in PDF+LaTeX and png formats. It can be seen that the figure created following the procedure above looks smoother and its text style matches that of the paragraphs above and below, which is more pleasant to the eyes. Also, the text can be marked and searched with any pdf viewer. However, the user should be aware that, since text font size is not affected by the scaling of the figure, some text may end up bigger than boxes that are supposed to contain it, as well as too close or to far from lines and curves. The former can be clearly seen in the figure below. This, however, can be easily fixed with software such as Inkscape and/or with the editing tips described in the following section.



If you noticed a typo of a poorly positioned text in the figure after the figure has been exported and inserted in your document, there is a easier way of fixing it other than exporting the figure again. If you open the pdf_tex file (your_figure.pdf_tex) with a text editor such as notepad, you can change any text and its position by changing the parameters of the \put commands inside the \begin{picture}\end{picture} LaTeX environment.

For example, it would be better if the value 1 in the y and x axes of the figures above would show as 1.0, so that its precision is consistent with that of the other values. The same applies to 2 vs. 2.0 in the x axis. This can be fixed by opening file fig1.pdf_tex and replacing lines:




Also, one may think that the labels of both axes are too close to the axes. This can be fixed by replacing lines:

\put(0.02933333,0.434){\rotatebox{90}{\makebox(0,0)[b]{\smash{$x\cdot e^{-x+1}$}}}}%


\put(0.0,0.434){\rotatebox{90}{\makebox(0,0)[b]{\smash{$x\cdot e^{-x+1}$}}}}%

With the modifications described above and resizing the legend box with Inkscape, the figure now would look like this:


Don’t forget to explore all the editing features of inkscape. If you export a figure form GNUPlot or Matlab and ungroup it with Inkscape into small pieces, Inkscape would give you freedom to rearrange and fine tune your plot.


4 thoughts on “Embedding figure text into a Latex document

  1. Cool! I believe it’s also possible in Matplotlib and Matlab (partially) to generate Latex output in titles/axis labels by using dollar signs in the string, for example:
    plt.title(‘$Q$ vs. $t$’)

    I’m not sure if it can do tick labels though. That example does look nicer overall.

    • I didn’t know Matplotlib had such a feature. Thanks for the addition! GNUPlot can understand part of latex equation syntax too, but it’s very incomplete.

  2. Pingback: Embedding figure text into a Latex document | Software Engineer InformationSoftware Engineer Information

    • I understand your point. However, the intent was to show that exporting a figure in latex has its rough edges too, as I mentioned in the text between figures when I said that “Still, because of the scaling, the box containing the legend became too small to fit the text inside it, which could be easily fixed with Inkscape.” I will update the post to make this point more clear, so that it doesn’t come across as lack of care on my end. Thank you for the insight.

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