Free Resources for Creating Chemistry Figures for Journal Publication

We recently polled authors on what their preferred program for creating chemistry figures for research publication via our @ACS4Authors account. Unfortunately, Twitter polls only allow for 4 answer choices, so we hoped to capture votes for other popular programs for creating chemistry figures by asking you to tweet at us. And tweet you did. 5,892 impressions, 233 engagements, 181 votes, 18 direct tweets and 24 hours later, here are the results:

Free Resources for Creating Chemistry Figures

No surprises here: ChemDraw wins with 59% of the vote as the most popular program for creating chemistry figures. One of the common “Other” responses you shared was Inkscape, a free program similar to Adobe Illustrator.

It’s clear that creating publication-quality chemistry figures is an essential skill for all active researchers. The task isn’t always fun, however, partially because the end result is often under-celebrated. Even when the task is unglamorous, a good publication figure is crucial to conveying your research results with sophistication and ease. To make your job a bit easier, we’ve compiled a quick reference guide to the free and paid programs you can use to craft chemistry figures, as well as a checklist to ensure all your charts, graphs, and table of contents images are up to standard.

Free Programs & Tools for Creating Chemistry Figures:

There’s plenty of free software out there for creating chemistry figures, but beware; the learning curves for some of these programs can be a bit steep:

  • Blender for animations
  • ChemSketch: Freeware drawing package that allows you to draw chemical structures
  • Embed and crop extensions: Control image compression
  • GIMP: Free image manipulation program, use with the Separate+ plugin for color conversions.
  • ImagesJ: Open Source imaging processing toolkit
  • Inkscape: Powerful open-source graphics editor
  • Matplotlib: Python 2D plotting library
  • R: Free software environment for statistical computing and graphics

Paid Programs for Creating Chemistry Figures:

Tips for Creating Chemistry Figures:

  • Start by checking your chosen journal’s image requirements. Some journals require images in different file formats and resolutions. Make sure you’re aware of the basic publication prerequisites before you start creating your chemistry figures.
  • Think about what data you’re presenting. How many variables are you displaying? What visualization techniques will best achieve your goal? Remember that the reason for creating chemistry figures is to allow the reader to quickly digest a large amount of data.
  • Consider replacing bar and line graphs with scatterplots, histograms and boxplots especially with small sample sizes.
  • Ensure all graphs and charts are properly labeled and titled. Check for units, scales and that all axes are labeled properly.
  • Make sure your chemistry figures are in high resolution and ideally use vector images.
  • Safeguard the integrity of your figures by transparently outlining how the image was created. Maybe no one will ever question your figure, but what if years down the road an influential scholar does? You need to be prepared to show your work.

For more tips concerning creating chemistry figures for publication, please be sure to check out the ACS Publications video series: Publishing Your Research 101, Episode 10: Ensuring High-Quality Graphics.