One picture is worth a thousand words – a community repository is priceless

A community repository of plant illustrations

Even though botanists won’t struggle with finding pretty images of their subjects, sometimes a photo alone cannot convey the information required in a scientific paper. This is the point at which diagrams and illustrations come in. Like many of my students do for their projects, you could create beautiful hand-drawn graphics alongside your writing. If you are looking for something more flexible and easily editable however, vector graphics are the way to go.

What is the difference between paintings (e.g. hand-drawn on paper or in MS Paint) and vector graphics (generated in Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, or PowerPoint)? Paintings are drawn on a canvas and only have one layer. It is usually hard-to-impossible to remove parts of the drawing, especially since real life still doesn’t have an ‘undo’ button. It is also not possible to resize objects after they have been drawn. Vector graphics are put together using simple lines and shapes. Each object has its own layer. Layers can easily be rearranged to the background or foreground, modified, copied, deleted or resized. This is especially important if you need your graphic in different resolutions, e.g. for print and web, as vector graphics can be scaled without a loss of image quality.

Vector graphics have a lot of advantages. There is one big drawback: they can take a lot of time to put together, and the learning curve can be steep. Producing a nice vector graphic means that you need to know your way around the graphics programme. A lot of them aren’t very intuitive though. You should know a bit about fonts and colours too, to make your graphics aesthetically pleasing. But most importantly, you need a good idea of how to translate your key message into an illustration. Sometimes, this is the part that takes the longest!

If all of this sounds like too much hassle, but you’d still like to take advantage of customised plant science illustrations, you will be delighted to hear about the new community Plant Illustrations Repository. It was launched by Erin Sparks (@ErinSparksPhD), Guillaume Lobet (@guillaumelobet), Larry York (@LarryMattYork) and Frédéric Bouché (@Frederic_Bouche) only last week. The repository features collections of vector graphics for different topics, as well as a general collection for photos of plants.

The motivation of the group was to provide a central location in which plant scientists can make their illustrations more widely available: “In an effort to promote scientific communication and the use of graphical abstracts, we have initiated a repository for community-generated pictures and vector graphic illustrations of plants. It takes a lot of effort to make vector graphics so we might as well share them among the community. Thus our goal was to provide a central location where plant scientists can contribute their images and graphics to be used or modified by others (and you get credit for it!). We invite you to visit the Plant Illustrations Repository to learn more about contributing and utilizing this resource.”

If you’d like to learn more about communicating science with graphics, check out these two excellent how-to guides by Frédéric Bouché (‘Communicating effectively with graphics‘ on the ASPB Blog) and Mary Williams (‘Images for Impact‘, Teaching Tools).

A new community repository for #plantillustrations.

How to submit

  • Log in or sign up to your figshare account (
  • Upload your illustration (details here)
  • Upload as many files as you want for the same item (e.g. different file types of the same image)
  • Fill out the title and description
  • Use the “Figure” file type
  • Add the “#plantillustrations” tag (with the “#”)
  • Publish your figure
  • Send us an email, so we can add your work to the collections

Erin Sparks is a Postdoc with Philip Benfey at Duke University. She works on understanding the development and function of maize brace roots.

Guillaume Lobet is an Associate Professor at the Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany and the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. He studies the development of whole plant models.

Larry York is an Assistant Professor at The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK, USA. His research interests lie in functional phenomics including high-throughput phenotyping of root system architecture and physiology.

Frédéric Bouché is a Postdoc with Rick Amasino at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work focuses on the identification of the genetic mechanisms controlling the timing of flowering in the model grass Brachypodium, a species closely related to wheat, barley, and oats.

Anne Osterrieder

Anne Osterrieder is a Lecturer in Biology and Science Communication at Oxford Brookes University, UK. A plant cell biologist, she loves the Golgi apparatus, lasers and cats. She has her own blog at Plant Cell Biology.

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