How to create scientific artwork – tips and tricks for scientists

How to create scientific artwork – tips and tricks for scientists


Scientific artwork is translating a
scientific content into a visual, approachable and easy to understand
concept. Any kind of art design illustration which helps communicate
science in the best way possible. Ideally it works on all different communication
channels, it’s made for a certain audience, and it’s easy to understand.
Think of like an illustration you look at and you only have two seconds to look
at it, and you look away and you still got the key message – that’s a good
scientific illustration. There are all different kinds of scientific
illustrations based on hand drawing, pixel based, vector based, everything
which helps to make the scientific content approachable is good. We use for 2D illustrations mainly Adobe
Illustrator, Affinity and Inkscape. Illustrator is vector based, and vector
based literally just means they’re not pixel based and you can scale them up as
much as you want to. The most important information is that you have in mind
whatever tool you’re using, you use a file format which works across all
platforms. When you create a visual artwork make sure that you understood
the visual concept. It helps to summarise the concept in one or two sentences,
to basically find the storyline. I would define a concept in three steps, so
basically you first think about who you’re talking to, then what you want to
say – the key message – and then how you’re going to say it. So these are the three
key things in the concept and the concept is key where you start, meaning
if it’s peers in your own group you can use a very complex language – that’s words
but that’s also the graphical elements you use – but if you talk to the
public, for example, you have to decrease the complexity and you have to increase
the context. Once the concept is approved start
sketching by hand, and ideally test with some colleagues if the concept and the
illustration is well understood. I would draw first
and I would limit myself to maximum of three colors, just to be clear on
actually thinking about the concept rather than making it pretty first. And
if you then have in your drawing answered all the questions you had then I would
move on to a digital program like, for example, Illustrator. The colors in a
graphical abstract should be applied coherent, distinct and subtle. Ideally the
colors in the graphical abstract match the colors in the scientific paper. I
would be still really careful of how many colors you use, because they can
just clutter things up and not help your story. But if you limited yourself in the
beginning in the concept you’re more likely to succeed also in the final
illustration, because you’ve already done your illustration and it works with only
three colors.

Dereck Turner

1 thought on “How to create scientific artwork – tips and tricks for scientists

  1. Lore Murdock says:

    How interesting! Thank you for sharing this. Good, clear communication in any field is a vital part of it's success

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