Microsoft Office tools are not the best choice for scientific publications, but sometimes you have to use them. Some journals actually require Word documents, and many of my collaborators simply don’t do LaTeX. The process outlined below is they best way that I’ve found to make high-quality plots and charts with Microsoft Excel. High-quality graphics with consistent size, aspect ratio, typeface, and font size will make your publications look much more professional. You can do this with Excel, but it requires some effort. You will need to install the free Bullzip PDF Printer before you begin.
1. Create and format the chart correctly in Excel. It’s better to insert a “floating” chart in an existing worksheet, as shown below, rather than creating a new worksheet that contains only the chart. Set the size of the chart by right-clicking near the edge of the chart and selecting Format Chart Area. Then select Size and set the actual size and aspect ratio that you want (try 3 inches by 4 inches). If you want a set of plots to have consistent formatting, it is very important that they are the exact same size in Excel! If the finished plots must be different sizes but have the same formatting, make the outer dimensions for all the charts big enough to accommodate the largest plot. Then shrink the plot within the frame, leaving whitespace which will be cropped out at a later step. Also set correct font sizes, line widths, colors, etc.
2. Select the chart and print. This will print the chart, by itself, on its own page. When the Excel print dialog opens, select “Bullzip PDF Printer” instead of your normal printer and press Print. The Bullzip dialog will open and allow you to choose options for printing to a file. Choose a TIFF file in the General tab and set the output file name. Then go to the Image tab, select tiff24nc (24-bit RGB) and set the resolution to at least 600dpi. I have not gotten the other TIFF formats to work correctly. Press the Save button when finished. The resulting file will be quite large because it is uncompressed.
3. Open the saved file in an image editor such as the GIMP. You will see that the chart has been printed on a large white page. Use the crop tool to eliminate the extra whitespace around the chart. Then choose “Save As” to save the image. After you choose a file name, another dialog will appear to select TIFF options. Choose “LZW” compression–it’s lossless, which is good for plots and line art.
Here is a link to the finished TIFF image. This method is much more reliable and consistent than copying and pasting plots from Excel into Word or Powerpoint.