Strategies For Managing Floating Figures In Latex

The Floating Figure Problem

In LaTeX, figures and tables are typically set as "floating" objects that move to the top or bottom of the page based on the optimal placement chosen by the typesetting algorithm. However, this can sometimes cause figures to appear far away from their first mention in the text, making it difficult for readers to connect references to the figure.

Several factors determine figure placement in LaTeX:

  • LaTeX tries to avoid leaving large blank spaces at the top or bottom of pages.
  • It tries to place figures at the top or bottom rather than in the middle.
  • It avoids placing floats before their first reference in the text.

These heuristics can result in seemingly odd placements in complex documents. Solving this "floating figure problem" requires strategically controlling exactly where LaTeX should display the figure in relation to the text.

Strategies for Controlling Figure Placement

There are several techniques for precisely controlling where LaTeX will place your floats like figures and tables:

Using the figure Environment

The simplest method is using the standard figure environment provided by LaTeX. This encapsulates the figure and allows adding parameters to control placement:

\begin{figure}[placement specifiers]

The [placement specifiers] field accepts the following options:

  • h - Places the float here at the precise location in the text.
  • t - Places at the top of the page.
  • b - Places at page bottom.
  • p - Places on a special page of floats.

For example, to force a figure to appear right after its first text reference, you would specify the [h] option:

  \caption{An example image}

Adjusting Float Parameters

In addition to placement specifiers, LaTeX offers additional parameters to fine-tune how floats are handled:

  • \renewcommand{\topfraction} - Max fraction of page for floats at top
  • \renewcommand{\bottomfraction} - Max fraction of page for floats at bottom
  • \renewcommand{\textfraction} - Min fraction of page for text
  • \renewcommand{\floatpagefraction} - Min fraction of floats for float pages

Tuning these parameters allows restricting how much space LaTeX can use for floats on pages with actual text content. For example:


Would limit floats to 70% of the top or bottom of pages with text while ensuring at least 10% text content on those pages.

Forcing Figures to Appear In-line

To completely stop a figure from floating, you can force it to be rendered in-line with the surrounding text:

  \caption{An example image}

The [H] option overrides the float behavior and makes the figure appear exactly where it is defined. This ensures readers see it immediately with the related text.

Positioning Multiple Floats

When several floats stack up one after another, LaTeX will often override specified placements trying to avoid half-empty pages with orphan floats. To better control the sequence of multiple figures, you can manually stagger the placements:

  Figure 1

Text referencing Figure 1.

  Figure 2 

Text referencing Figure 2. 

  Figure 3

This forces LaTeX to try placing the first figure at "here" first, then the top, bottom, special float page, before moving on to the next figure. The order and combination of placement specifiers is important for controlling sequences of multiple floats.

Troubleshooting Misplaced Figures

Sometimes you may find figures ending up in bizarre locations despite careful placement specifications. Here are some things to try in such scenarios:

  • Use the flafter package - Automatically places figures after first text reference.
  • Set \raggedbottom - Allows more space for floats at bottom.
  • Increase float page fractions - Encourages creating dedicated float pages.
  • Specify [p] for troublesome floats - Forces the figure to land on a float page.

With trial and error, you can often coerce LaTeX into proper behavior even with complex float content.

Example Codes for Common Float Configurations

Here are some examples of LaTeX code snippets for handling some typical float placement scenarios:

Figure right after text reference

  \caption{Figure placed right here} 

Two figures one after another

  \caption{First plot}

\begin{figure}[htbp] % Stagger placement specifiers 
  \caption{Second plot}

Figure at end of a section


  \\ Text summarizing section...

  \caption{Final summary figure}

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