Why Export Is Messing Up My R Plot

R Programming

Have you ever spent a significant amount of time crafting the perfect R plot, only to have it look completely different when you export it? I know the feeling all too well. Exporting R plots can be a frustrating experience, but fear not, as I’m here to guide you through this common issue.

The Export Problem

When it comes to exporting R plots, there are a multitude of file formats to choose from, such as PNG, JPEG, PDF, and more. The problem arises when the plot that looked pristine within R suddenly appears distorted or pixelated after exporting it to a different format. This can be a major setback, especially if you were preparing the plot for a presentation or publication.

Understanding the Cause

The root of this issue often stems from differences in resolution and rendering between RStudio’s plot viewer and external file formats. RStudio’s plot viewer is optimized for on-screen display, while file exports may require adjustments to ensure that the plot maintains its clarity and integrity across various platforms.

Solving the Dilemma

Luckily, there are several strategies to address this export conundrum. One effective approach is to adjust the width and height parameters within the ggsave() function or any other export function you are using. By specifying the dimensions in pixels, inches, or other units, you can better control how the plot translates to different file formats.

Additionally, selecting the appropriate resolution (measured in dots per inch, or dpi) can make a significant difference in the exported quality of the plot. Experimenting with different resolutions and observing their impact on the exported plot can lead to a clearer understanding of which settings work best for your specific visualization.

Considerations for Publication

When preparing R plots for publication, it’s essential to keep in mind the specific requirements of the target journal or platform. Some publications have strict guidelines regarding resolution, color modes, and file formats. Being mindful of these specifications from the outset can save you a great deal of time and frustration in the long run.

Embracing Vector Graphics

If you’ve been primarily exporting your plots as raster images (e.g., PNG, JPEG), it may be worthwhile to explore the realm of vector graphics. Formats like PDF and SVG preserve the scalability and clarity of plots, making them ideal choices for publication and presentations. Embracing vector graphics can significantly minimize the distortion and pixelation often encountered with raster images.


While the export process can be a source of frustration for R users, understanding the nuances of resolution, dimensions, and file formats can lead to significant improvements in the quality of exported plots. By experimenting with various settings and considering the requirements of your intended audience, you can tackle the export dilemma with confidence and enhance the visual impact of your R visualizations.