Making interactive figures for journal articles

This mini-site is dedicated to assembling directions for making some styles of interactive figures that can be embedded in journal articles (as opposed to being separate figures that are downloaded separately). The focus is on tricks to get into pdf files, as most users will download a pdf instead of view an html version (which remains frequently quite ugly despite CSS and style sheets and HTML5.0). It should also be possible to do this within html versions of papers (indeed, it should even be easier), but until publishers release single download versions of papers or the web interfaces to papers improve on formatted pdfs, it seems more sensible to focus on the pdf opportunities.

A 2013 article in PLOSone (that I missed until recently) documents embedding 3-D images in pdfs

Why do this? Why spend the time and trouble to make such figures? Well, for one thing, they can permit several figures to be combined as one, making it easier to have more material in a paper. In many cases, this allows the reader to explore the data more thoroughly than with static images. Ideally, this permits a stronger line of communication with the reader, allowing your work to have greater impact.

A summary of ideas (as time permits, I'll rewrite the external link material into how-tos with a more common setup):

On a related note, I've been starting to keep a list of interactive figures online that might provide ideas on what could be done (many of these are implemented in HTML5, I think, and so cannot simply be placed in a pdf).

Please send mail to if you encounter any problems or have suggestions.

C. H. Jones | CIRES | Dept. of Geological Sciences | Univ. of Colorado at Boulder

Last modified at April 29, 2016 12:28 PM