Use Color – It’s Free

There was a time not so long ago that a color figure in a paper in JGR Space Physics would cost the author hundreds of dollars. It got cheaper the more color figures that you had in the paper, but the initial cost was large. It could easily go into the thousands.

I recently came across a reprint order page from 2004. That’s only 11 years ago, and yes, they still sent out the reprint order page that included the pricing for color images in the paper. Here is what it was back then:

Color printing surcharges:

  • First color page: $700
  • Second color page: $400
  • Each additional color page: $100

Color separations (required for all color figures):

  • Each color piece: $250

Color corrections (if needed):

  • Each color piece: $250

Yes, the color separation fee was its own charge in addition to the cost of each page with color in the paper. If you could double up with two small color figures on the same page, well, that was a big cost-saving rearrangement of the final layout.

My student just had a paper published with 12 figures, all color. Some were single-panel figures that might have squeezed onto the same page as another figure, but they were not all next to each other the figure order, so I doubt it. That would have cost $5100 just for the color, assuming no “color corrections” had to be done to make them compatible with the print version of the journal.

Today, the color charges for this paper were…yes, you guessed itzero. Because there is no print version of the journal anymore, a color figure is one Publication Unit, just like a black-and-white figure, a table, or 500 words of manuscript text.

I hope that you are getting my point: color doesn’t cost you anything anymore. Colorize your plots. Please, colorize your plots. Solid lines with different colors is much easier to interpret than black-and-white lines with different linestyles. Can you decipher this plot:


Yes, that’s really a figure out of one of my old papers. The three lower linestyles in the legend are very difficult to distinguish in the time series curves. Free color would have solved this issue.

I still see quite a few manuscripts come into JGR Space Physics with black-and-white figures that would greatly benefit from the use of color. My guess is that this usage of black-and-white is a mental holdover from the days when color cost a lot. It still does with some journals. That’s no longer the case with JGR Space Physics, or any AGU journal. Color figures are the same cost as black-and-white figures. There is absolutely no reason to hold back.

So, please use color wherever needed to make your plot more readable. It’s free!


2 thoughts on “Use Color – It’s Free

  1. Pingback: Carefully Plan Your Figures | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

  2. Pingback: Supporting Information | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

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