12 September 2022 by Keiland Cooper

Creating pretty figures


For communicating science, a picture tells a thousand words. Indeed, almost everyone knows that one group that time after time comes out with stunning figures. Moreover, it’s hardly ever just for looks. Having high quality figures can help you tell your story, and more importantly, help the reader learn your science. Here are a few useful sites that have helped me improve my scientific illustrations.

Science specific

Smart Servier hosts a lot of well illustrated Medical images

Scidraw also has a lot of great science vectors to use.

While Biorender is mostly a paid science illustration service and repository, it can be affordable to some labs and has a top notch and growing suite of illustrations and tools.

Using a similar business model to Bio-Render, Mind the Graph also holds great scientific illustrations.

Phylopic is an awesome repository of free silhouette images of animals, plants, and other life forms along the taxonomic tree.

The CDC also has a repository! phil.cdc.gov has science and health images with open licenses.

More general science images can also be found at scienceimage.csiro.au

Also worth knowing about scientificstock.com

For neuroscience, some may be interested in the scalable brain atlas.

General tools

The Noun Project has icons for just about everything

Pixabay is a repository of pretty good stock photos and vectors.

As does Freepik

And stock vectors at Vecteezy

Wikimedia also has open license photos

A really cool project is Dimensions, which is a database of dimensioned vectors documenting measurements of multiple objects

And Undraw has business-like clip-art you can change the color of

Some tools

An easy way to remove image backgrounds is picwish (if you don’t want to fire up Photoshop)

That said, it will pay well to learn Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Free open-source alternatives include Gimp or Inkscape


There are also paid services that will help design your figures for you. I’ve never used them, but they’re usually individual artists or agencies, such as Catalyzing Science, or Somersault

Some good articles

A nice blog post about science illustration services

A nice list of other science illustration tools

Have a tip you think I should add? Please let me know here!