Moving tables and figures in LaTeX

Tables and figures have a tendency to surprise, by floating away from where they were specified to appear. This is in fact perfectly ordinary document design; any professional typesetting package will float figures and tables to where they'll fit without violating the certain typographic rules. Even if you use the placement specifier h (for “here”), the figure or table will not be printed “here” if doing so would break the rules; the rules themselves are pretty simple, and are given on page 198, section C.9 of the LaTeX manual. In the worst case, LaTeX's rules can cause the floating items to pile up to the extent that you get an error message saying “Too many unprocessed floats”. What follows is a simple checklist of things to do to solve these problems (the checklist talks throughout about figures, but applies equally well to tables, or to “non-standard” floats defined by the float or other packages).

  • Do your figures need to float at all? If not, look at the recommendations for “non-floating floats
  • Are the placement parameters on your figures right? The default (tbp) is usually satisfactory, but you can reasonably change it (for example, to add an h). Whatever you do, don't omit the p: doing so could cause LaTeX to believe that if you can't have your figure here, you don't want it anywhere. (LaTeX does try to avoid being confused in this way…)
  • LaTeX's own float placement parameters could be preventing placements that seem entirely “reasonable” to you - they're notoriously rather conservative. To encourage LaTeX not to move your figure, you may need to loosen its demands. (The most important ones are the ratio of text to float on a given page, but it's sensible to have a fixed set that changes the whole lot, to meet every eventuality.) latex \renewcommand{\topfraction}{.85} \renewcommand{\bottomfraction}{.7} \renewcommand{\textfraction}{.15} \renewcommand{\floatpagefraction}{.66} \renewcommand{\dbltopfraction}{.66} \renewcommand{\dblfloatpagefraction}{.66} \setcounter{topnumber}{9} \setcounter{bottomnumber}{9} \setcounter{totalnumber}{20} \setcounter{dbltopnumber}{9} The meanings of these parameters are described on pages 199–200, section C.9 of the LaTeX manual.
  • Are there places in your document where you could “naturally” put a \clearpage command? If so, do: the backlog of floats is cleared after a \clearpage. (Note that the \chapter command in the standard book and report classes implicitly executes \clearpage, so your floats can't wander past the end of a chapter.)
  • Try the placeins package: it defines a \FloatBarrier command beyond which floats may not pass. A package option allows you to declare that floats may not pass a \section command, but you can place \FloatBarriers wherever you choose.
  • If you are bothered by floats appearing at the top of the page (before they are specified in your text), try the flafter package, which avoids this problem by insisting that floats should always appear after their definition.
  • Have a look at the LaTeX2e afterpage package. Its documentation gives as an example the idea of putting \clearpage after the current page (where it will clear the backlog, but not cause an ugly gap in your text), but also admits that the package is somewhat fragile. Use it as a last resort if the other possibilities below don't help.
  • If you would actually like great blocks of floats at the end of each of your chapters, try the \extrafloats command, or in older LaTeX releases, the morefloats package; this allows you to increase the number of floating inserts that LaTeX can handle at one time (from its original value of 18 or, now, 52, in LaTeX2e).

Caveat: if you are using etex package to increase the number of registers available on old releases, you need to “reserve” some inserts for morefloats: something like:


- If you actually wanted all your figures to float to the end (e.g., for submitting a draft copy of a paper), don't rely on LaTeX's mechanism: get the endfloat package to do the job for you.

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