Where to find illustration and design help for your next article
By Sarah Elzay, Ph.D.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series provided by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at entomology today.
Like infographics or figures that convey a complex concept, well-done graphic summaries provide an eye-catching visual that quickly summarizes a manuscript’s main findings. Communicating science effectively is essential, and graphic summaries can play an important role in sharing research results. When shared on social media platforms such as Twitter, graphic summaries can even increase retweets and article views. Whether it increases readership or understanding remains to be investigated.
To be honest, the graphical summary is perhaps my least favorite part of writing a manuscript before publication. Preparing a manuscript is a long process, and the final graphic needed to summarize the research and hook readers often leaves me plagued with impostor syndrome.
But can it be impostor syndrome if I don’t have any training, education, or experience in graphic design? I may just be an impostor! I have never been trained as a graphic designer or an artist. It wasn’t until a decade of brute force that I learned to use R to generate numbers that, while improving, are far from exceptional. Using PowerPoint to create graphic summaries leaves me looking for a better, more professional option.
From subscription tools to paid individual designers, there are plenty of alternatives to my own low-quality designs available. Designers whose training and skills exceed mine can help me better communicate my research to the public. These alternatives cost between hundreds of dollars and only five or ten dollars, or even are completely free. This list may not be exhaustive, but I hope to share with you some alternatives that might be a good option depending on your financial situation.
High-end custom designs
One option that offers custom design work is Wiley Editing Services. It charges $500 for custom designs completed within 10 days. I haven’t spoken directly with anyone who has used this service, but it seems like a good option if you don’t have financial restrictions and need a quick turnaround. A personal hesitation is that Wiley publishes over 1,600 journals, and he surely receives at least some of the fees a researcher pays to publish in those journals. An extra $500 for a graphic summary feels like a double dip.
Another slightly more affordable option is Enago. Like Wiley, he provides an abundance of editing during manuscript preparation, including graphic abstract design. The cost is $350 with guaranteed 10 day delivery and $450 for 7 day delivery. This is another good option if you need a summary quickly and don’t have financial limitations.
A subscription service is a great option if you plan to purchase or design multiple graphics. Services like Mind the Graph have templates and artwork you can use with a watermark (free) or without (paid). It offers different levels of subscribers (student, researcher and teams/labs) depending on how many graphs or help you might want. Subscription levels are affordable ($14-25 per month, or cheaper if you subscribe for a year). Before signing up, check out the gallery for artwork that you might find useful. I didn’t find many that would be useful to me, but I could request new artwork as a subscriber. This is an important consideration for entomologists, as most of the illustrations appear health science oriented.
Biorender is another subscription service, with similar pricing, ranging from free to $100 depending on your needs. Again, check out the artwork gallery before signing up.
Many other subscription services are probably available. These services sound appealing if you have a long-term view of getting help with your own designs. The cost of these services, however, can be difficult for students. It may be helpful to speak with your PI to see if they can subscribe the entire lab or team so that you and your lab colleagues can take advantage of the services.
Vector graphics editors
For scientists who also have artistic and technical skills, vector graphics editors such as Affinity Designer, Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator, and I’m sure many more are available. These options range from free (Inkscape) to very expensive. Your institution may already be paying for a license that you could access. It’s definitely worth checking with your library or IT department. Graphic design software is a great option if you have a certain skill set. Personally not the best for my needs, but maybe someday in the future!
Hire a designer
Dozens of talented artists and designers can be hired to create a great graphic abstract. Several online platforms allow you to find and hire a designer, such as Fiverr, Upwork, Guru and many others. But, buyer beware: these sites range from highly regulated to unregulated at all, so watch out for scammers.
Of course, you can also find designers without using a platform that will take a percentage off. This is my preferred option. Through Twitter I have found countless great designers and artists who can create a graphic abstract or illustration. Just search graphic abstract designs on twitter and you’ll be inundated with tweets and threads that can help you find the right designer. A very useful thread from @IamSciComm:
I know it can be difficult to find the right scientific illustrator/graphic designer for your needs. That’s why I’m throwing a topic here for the next time you need to hire someone!
Bookmark and retweet this thread please!
— IAmSciComm – Artash (he/she) and Arushi (she/her) (@iamscicomm) June 14, 2022
Wire is a great source for finding designers. Although more expensive than a platform like Fiverr, the ability to support a designer directly seems well worth the extra cost.
Finally, you can be surrounded by talented people who can help you design your graphic summary (or other visuals). Try asking students in your department or other campus departments if they would be willing to help you design a graphic summary. This “shop local” option can be particularly accessible if you are financially limited. After asking a few students in my own department, the price was pretty low (although the estimate was rough with no finished manuscript to show them!).
Graphic summaries are a great way to share your research quickly and effectively. From hiring a designer to subscribing, there’s probably an affordable option that can get you by without spending hours on a subpar graphic resume. Contact your classmates, library, IT and PI department to find out if designers or designer programs are available to you. As I mentioned, this list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it gives you some options to consider when thinking about your next graphic resume.
Find out more in Vancouver
Finally, the ESA Student Activities Committee is hosting a mini-workshop during the 2022 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia in Vancouver, November 13-16. We have invited four speakers to share their expertise on how to create excellent graphic summaries. Please stay tuned for more details!
Good luck with your future designs!
Sarah Elzay, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in integrative biology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and the 2020-2022 Plant-Insect Ecosystems Section Representative to the ESA Student Affairs Committee. Email: [email protected]