List of Scientific Publication Requirements for Western Blots and Gels

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You’ve worked hard on your research, so when it’s time to submit your work for publication, don’t forget to check the publication requirements for Western blots for each journal. There are almost 3,000 publications worldwide featuring Azure Biosystems products (a rolling list of publications can be found here). The imagers and systems from Azure Biosystems deliver the quality journals are asking for (Figure 1), but image capture is only the beginning. When capturing images of gels and Western blots, it is imperative to record relevant information to ensure an image meets the requirements for journal publication.

You should be aware of the specific requirements for Western blots and gels when capturing images and preparing figuresJournals provide general guidelines for file types, file size, resolution, and color mode which apply to all images, including gels and Western blots. A list of general guidelines for publishing Western blots and gels in popular journals, such as Elsevier, NatureScience, and Wiley are outlined below.

Autoradiograph of an SDS-PAGE gel using phosphorimaging from Azure Sapphire
Figure 1. The above figure was published in the Journal of Cell Biology and shows an analysis of phosphorylation levels on wild-type and mutant Dam1 complexes. (A) Autoradiograph of an SDS-PAGE gel (8–14%). (B) Coomassie blue–stained SDS-PAGE gel (8–14%). Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

General publication requirements for Western blots and gels

Unfortunately, publication requirements for Western blots (Figure 2) and gels are not always uniform. Some journals recommend formats other journals will not accept, so always check the guidelines of the specific journal you plan to submit before preparing your draft for review! Knowing this, you can plan your experiments so you don’t need to cut apart the image of your gel or blot and reassemble it to create a figure. Avoid cutting and cropping your images more than necessary. Make sure internal controls are included on every gel or blot. Multiplex fluorescent Western blots are an excellent way to image your control with one or more targets on the same blot.

Some journals accept a variety of image types in the submission stage, but impose strict formatting rules once the manuscript is accepted. At the submission stage, some journals simply require figures be legible and provided in a format that is compatible with a broad range of operating systems and visualization programs. Others recommend figures be in the preferred publication format throughout all stages of the submission process.

Once a paper is accepted for publication, the requirements for Western blots and gels become much more specific and vary from journal to journal. In general the following guidelines will help ensure your image is publication ready:

  • Capture images with at least 300 dpi and at least 190 mm wide.

    You can always shrink an image if it is too large, but you cannot increase the size of an image and many journals explicitly ban "upsampling."

  • Save a raw version of the image with no manipulations, including brightness and contrast.

  • Keep a record of the settings used to capture the image (resolution, exposure time, etc.)..

  • For modified versions of the image, keep a record of all manipulations that were performed to achieve that version of the image (brightness adjustments, channels overlaid, etc.).

Western blots captured using Azure c600, published in nature
Figure 2. This figure was published in nature and shows Western blots captured using Azure c600 from Pascini et al. Immunoblotting evaluating the tissue-specific expression of PAI-1 in the transgenic mosquito.

Journal-specific publication requirements for Western blots and gels:

  • Western blots and gels should be submitted as separate files and not embedded in the text.

  • For initial submission, several file types are acceptable, but TIFF or PDF files are preferred.

  • For publication, line art should be 1000 dpi. Color images should be 300 dpi at the final print size.

  • Figure sizes depend on the specific journal and can range from 53 mm to 174 mm.

  • Color art should be submitted as RGB.

A full list of Western blot and gel publication guidelines for Cell Press are linked here.

Elsevier as a whole provides general image guidelines, but specific journals under the Elsevier umbrella may have additional, more specific instructions. We suggest you research each journal within the Elsevier family before submission. Here are some requirements you should keep in mind when submitting a publication to Elsevier.

  • For submission, several file types are accepted, but EPS, PDF, TIFF, or JPEG are recommended for Western blots and gels.

  • For publication, line art should be 1000 dpi, images at least 300 dpi, and combination art 500 dpi at the final print size.

  • Color images of Western blots should be supplied as RGB, TIFF, or maximum-quality JPEGs.

The artwork and media policy and guidelines for Elsevier can be found here.

Journal of Cell Biology

  • Figures should be provided as individual PDF files with one file per figure.

    Other acceptable file formats for Western blots and gels are TIFF, EPS, AI, and PSD.

  • Images should be captured at a minimum of 300 dpi.

    A figure with both line art or text and photographs should be 600 dpi. The image should be saved as a TIFF.

  • Figures should be reduced to the width of a single column which is 85 mm. Max size is 17.5 cm x 22.8 cm

  • Fluorescent Western blots and other color figures should be submitted in RGB format.

A full list of submission guidelines for the Journal of Cell Biology are linked here.

In the presence of Mn2+, DNA polymerase Pol η fidelity is lower compared to Mg2+ and Mn2+ strongly increases the efficiency of incorrect nucleotide incorporation efficiency by reducing substrate discrimination
Figure 3. The Azure Sapphire Biomolecular Imager was used to image and quantify the gels shown here in supplemental figure 1 from Chang et al. (2022). in nature comms. In the presence of Mn2+, DNA polymerase Pol η fidelity is lower compared to Mg2+ and Mn2+ strongly increases the efficiency of incorrect nucleotide incorporation efficiency by reducing substrate discrimination.

Nature

  • For the initial submission, it is preferred that Western blots, gels, and other figures be included in the text.

  • For the final submission, figures should be submitted as separate files from the text.

  • For the final submission, images can be in a number of formats, though a TIFF format or PSD Layered Photoshop (PSD) are preferred.

  • Western blots, gels, and other images should be in a high resolution of 300–600 dots per inch (dpi

    Figures should be 89 mm for a single column and 183 mm for a double column, with the full page being 247 mm.

  • Fluorescent Western blots, or other color images, olor images can be submitted in either RGB or CMYK format.

    RGB is preferred.

All of the guidelines for preparing figures for publication in Nature can be found here.

  • Figures should be embedded in the text (e.g., in the MS Word or PDF file) for submission.

  • For figures containing line art, vector-based files such as PDF or EPS are recommended.

    Lower-resolution (150 or 300 dpi) is sufficient for initial submissions.

  • Once a manuscript is accepted, figures for publication should have a minimum resolution of 300 dpi at their final print size, which is usually 5.5 cm or 12 cm.

  • Western blots and other images can be supplied as TIFF files. Color art should be submitted as CMYK.

A complete list of instructions for publishing Western blots and gels with Science can be found here.

  • Accepts a variety of file types and sizes when a manuscript is initially submitted for review, but recommends submitting high-quality figures in the preferred file formats so the figures do not need to be converted later on.

  • Preferred image file types are TIFF, PNG, or EPS.

  • Images should have a minimum resolution of 300 dpi at the final print size.

A PDF of the electronic artwork guidelines for Wiley Press are posted here.

Best practices for preparing gel and Western blot images for publication

Creating figures from images of gels and Western blots presents a challenge. Authors must balance presenting the most relevant lanes and regions of a gel or blot with providing an accurate representation of the “big picture” of the experiment. Careful attention in the experimental design phase can help simplify this process. When planning the layout of the gel, think about how the data will be presented in an eventual figure and arrange samples in a logical manner. Do not include extraneous or unrelated samples in between the samples you plan to compare.

Whenever possible, comparisons should only be made between samples run on the same gel. Internal controls, housekeeping protein standards, or total protein stains should always be processed on the same gel as the experimental samples. Therefore, in the planning phase, consider ways to optimize the amount of data to be generated from running just one gel. If one gel is not possible, make sure to include a control on each gel.

A recent publication by Kroon et al examined published Western blot figures and found a majority are cropped, missing essential information about the methods, and do not supply the original images as supplementary information. This reading provides recommendations to make Western blot figures more informative and reproducible, such as minimizing cropping and including (and labeling) molecular weight markers in all images.

Two scientists smiling holding Azure pub mugs
Are you getting ready to submit your paper for publication? Congratulations! We want to recognize your hard work. If you have published using an Azure Imager, post your publication on social media using the hashtag #ImagedbyAzure and tag us, we'll send you a pub mug to show off!

Editors at the Journal of Cell Biology published an article in 2004 addressing the temptation to alter or “beautify” images and describing acceptable and unacceptable manipulations of digital images. It provided an overview of the guidelines for blot and gel images that had been published to date by a variety of journals. Adjustments applied evenly across the entire image such as adjustments to brightness, contrast, or color balance are generally acceptable; however, it is always preferable to use an image that does not require such adjustments. For example, if your bands of interest in your Western blot are faint, it is better to take a longer exposure for publication rather than choose to digitally adjust the faint image to increase perceived band strength.

Nonlinear adjustments to an image should be avoided if you’re submitting to a journal. If they are used, carefully document the adjustments that were made. Some journals will require that these adjustments be described in the methods or figure legends. It is never acceptable to digitally alter the data in an image of a gel or blot; do not adjust contrast to hide background or faint bands. Those “nonspecific” bands may indicate your Western blotting conditions were not ideal and you need to change your blocking buffer or adjust your antibody concentrations. Alternatively, such bands maybe contain data whose importance will only become clear in the future. Maybe that “extra” band is actually an isoform of your protein, or a cleavage product.

Always save the original images used to make a figure. Some journals will request original images during the review process. Some journals, like the Nature portfolio journals in the life sciences, require original, unprocessed images of gels and Western blots used in figures be published as Supplementary Information (Figure 3).

Journals vary in how they prefer to receive figures in initial submissions. Always look up the specific requirements for the journal to which you are submitting, including required naming conventions for figure and image files. In summary, remember to capture high-resolution images (at least 300 dpi) and to carefully record your imaging settings. If you adjust an image, keep track of exactly what changes you made and always maintain a copy of the original raw image.

If you’re looking for an imager that’s reliable and provides sharp, clear images with every scan, look no further than a system from Azure Biosystems. Browse this list of available systems and choose the system that works best for your studies, like the Azure Sapphire Biomolecular Imager. The Sapphire is a next generation NIR fluorescent scanner equipped with lasers that delivers unmatched flexibility and performance for phosphor imaging, Western blots, animal imaging, in-cell Westerns, and more. Learn more about the Sapphire by clicking here.

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