Dealing With Spaces In File Paths When Importing Graphics In Latex

The Problem: Importing Images with Spaces in the Filepath

When importing graphics into a LaTeX document using commands like \includegraphics, spaces in the filepath can cause problems. LaTeX interprets the space as an argument separator, causing the filepath to be broken up. This results in the graphic not being found and an error occurring.

For example, if your image file is located at "C:\Users\My Files\figure 1.png", then using the filepath verbatim with \includegraphics will not work:

\includegraphics{C:\Users\My Files\figure 1.png}

LaTeX sees multiple arguments - "C:\Users\My", "Files\figure", and "1.png" - instead of a single filepath. This causes the graphic import to fail with a "file not found" error.

The Whitespace Problem

The underlying issue is that LaTeX interprets whitespace, including spaces, as argument separators by default. So any spaces present in filepaths will cause paths to be broken up into multiple arguments when passed to graphic importing commands.

This applies not just for \includegraphics, but also for any command where you need to pass a filepath containing spaces. Other common cases include \input, \include, and the \graphicspath command.

Causes and Diagnosis

Spaces in filenames and directory names often occur naturally on most operating systems. For example, Windows file systems allow spaces as valid characters in both file and directory names.

If you attempt to import any graphic file with spaces in its filepath, you will encounter LaTeX errors along the lines of "file not found" or "cannot determine size of graphic". Checking the exact filepath of the missing graphic can confirm if spaces are present.

Using whitespace insensitive filepath conventions also avoids this problem, but is not always possible when accessing existing files. We explore solutions within LaTeX next.

Escaping Spaces with Backslashes

To prevent whitespace from being interpreted as argument separators, LaTeX provides backslash escapes. Preceding every space with a backslash tells LaTeX to treat the space as part of the filepath instead.

For example, the problematic filepath from earlier can be properly escaped as:

\includegraphics{C:\Users\My\ Files\figure\ 1.png}

By escaping every space with a backslash, LaTeX will interpret the entire string as a single filepath argument without any separation. This allows graphic files with spaces in their paths to be imported successfully.

The Manual Approach

Manually inserting backslash escapes before every space is a direct, low-level solution. But it can become tedious for longer pathnames, introducing visual clutter.

Automating the insertion of backslashes is possible with find-replace scripts in text editors. But any subsequent edits require repeating the process, making it non-trivial to maintain documents using this approach.

Implementation Tips

When manually escaping spaces with backslashes, some useful pointers include:

  • Escape every space in the filepath, without exception
  • Ensure 1 backslash precedes each space, not doubling up
  • Visually highlight escape backslashes to spot missing ones easier

Overall, this method can be brittle and tiresome for frequent graphic imports. More robust approaches exist as discussed next.

Enclosing the Path in Quotes

Instead of laboriously escaping every space, enclosing the entire filepath in a pair of matching quotes is easier:

\includegraphics{"C:\Users\My Files\figure 1.png"}

As long as the same quote character surrounds the path, LaTeX will not interpret any internal spaces as argument separators. This avoids needing to manually escape every whitespace occurance.

Double Quotes vs Single Quotes

Both double quotes (") and single quotes (') can be used interchangeably to enclosure filepaths:

\includegraphics{"path with spaces"} % using double quotes
\includegraphics{'path with spaces'} % using single quotes

Double quotes are more commonly used by convention. But single quotes also work identically for enclosing whitespace without needing explicit escapes.

Nesting Behavior

When enclosing paths in quotes, nested quotes of the alternate type can be included without needing to be escaped. This helps when incorporating quote characters from Windows filepaths:

\includegraphics{"C:\My Files\figure's 1.png"} % single quotes ok inside double quotes

Take care when directly nesting matching quotes of the same type - escapes or alternate quotes will then be needed to avoid termination.

Remember to Quote All Paths

Its easy to neglect enclosing quotes when copying example LaTeX code. Ensure to consistently quote graphic filepaths if they contain or may contain spaces in the future.

Using the grffile Package

Manually applying quotes or escapes whenever importing graphics with whitespace quickly becomes tedious. The grffile package for LaTeX helps to automate this process with a few lines of preamble code.

After importing grffile, graphic filepaths can be provided verbatim without needing manual escapes or quotes:

\usepackage{grffile}% Include in preamble
\includegraphics{C:\Users\My Files\figure 1.png} % No quotes or escapes needed

The package handles inserting appropriate whitespace protection quotes when required during the LaTeX run. This avoids having to litter graphic import statements with fixed quoting or escapes redundantly.

How grffile Resolves Paths

When LaTeX evaluates the \includegraphics command, grffile intercepts any provided graphic filepath arguments. It analyzes them, detects the presence of spaces, and automatically encloses paths needing whitespace protection with quotes during processing.

Effectively, grffile dynamically introduces quotes only for paths requiring them, avoiding repetitive manual quoting. Paths without spaces are passed verbatim without modification for efficiency.


The grffile approach remains susceptible to issues if:

  • Filepaths contain nested quote characters, unlikely on modern systems
  • Space protected paths are referenced directly outside graphic import commands

But overall the method resolves the drudgery of manual whitespace handling for most standard use cases.

Setting the Graphics Path

Specifying a graphics path directory provides another approach avoiding manual graphic filepath conversions. We set an explicit system path for graphic assets used by the LaTeX document:

\graphicspath{{Figures/}} % Sets graphics folder location
\includegraphics{figure 1.png} % Finds figures relative to path 

Now graphic filenames can be specified independently without their absolute filepath. The set \graphicspath root directory is automatically prepended during the import process instead.

Suitable Directory Structures

For this method, graphic assets need to be stored under a common root folder structured like:

    figure 1.png
    figure 2.png

The report LaTeX file just needs to set \graphicspath to the "Figures" folder storing all assets. Importing can then access files by name directly.

Cross Platform Usage

As file and folder delimiters are not specified in import statements, documents can work across Windows, Linux and macOS. The system will natively resolve valid separators when expanding the implicit paths.

Combined with editor scripts fixing \graphicspath automatically, this allows collaborating across OS platforms transparently when sharing report source files.

External Graphic Management

Decoupling report documents from absolute graphic filepath inclusion enables easier version control and external resource management. Graphic files can reside in separate repositories or DAM solutions without manual path updates.

As long as the assets remain accessible from the relative \graphicspath root, documents can seamlessly reference graphics files without requiring changes to import statements on asset relocations.

Best Practices for File Naming

Avoiding spaces in filepaths when authoring documents remains an effective strategy for sidestepping whitespace import issues:

  • Save graphic assets using alphanumeric filenames
  • Use hyphens/underscores instead of spaces in names
  • Structure projects using folder hierarchies without spaces

Combined with setting an explicit \graphicspath location, spaceless paths allow clean and stable referencing of graphic assets from within LaTeX reports:

\includegraphics{figure_1} % No whitespace issues

Refactoring Existing Assets

When dealing with legacy assets containing whitespace, find-replace scripts help to systematically eliminate spaces in their filenames and directory structures:

folder 1 -> folder_1
image 1.png -> image_1.png 

Most text editors provide find-replace utilities, including regex based solutions, to facilitate bulk cleansing of asset naming spaces systematically.

Long Term Stability

Eliminating reliance on whitespaces for asset organization avoids numerous LaTeX quirks like:

  • Needing to handle backslashes, quotes, escapes
  • Cross platform filepath variations
  • Asset movement and repository changes

The resulting simplicity and robustness justify adopting whitespace free conventions where possible when managing documents and graphic assets.

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