By Thomas

A few weeks back I wrote about the “epicness” and literary quality that is hidden behind the technical terms in which scientific ideas (i.e. hypotheses or theories) are presented.

A picture is worth a thousand words“, so a good way to present your scientific idea to the community are figures. Of course, figures in scientific papers (e.g. data plots, model visualisations, maps) are subject to the same modus of presentation as a scientific text:

Anxious to be accurate, clear and as plain1 as possible.

I often come across figures in papers, which not only tell their part of the story very well, but also look like they were done by a professional designer.

Up to and through my master thesis I always used a combination of Excel and relative simple graphic programs to create my figures. Consequently, they often looked like I let my 5-year-old self do the job.

To be able to create better looking figures in the future I started using Adobe Illustrator a while back. To get a feeling for the program and to learn the basic tools2, I decided to create a map of the Apollo 16 landing site, from which most of my samples are coming from.

Using images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera at different times of the day and a Traverse Map of the Apollo 16 mission I created Figure 1. I marked different craters (red), added the traverse of the astronauts during the mission (orange) and marked the sample locations of the samples I`m working on with different colored dots.

Apollo 16 Area_v1-02
Figure 1: Apollo 16 Landing Site.
Red Areas: Craters; Orange Lines: Apollo 16 Travers Paths; Colored Dots: Sample Locations

Not very impressive, but a start. The nice thing with Illustrator is, that you can save every detail separately and change their appearance later. So I hope, when I learn to handle to program better, I can go back and improve the figure more and more.

But now to the fun part: As I mentioned, the program is new to me. So I started browsing through the menu and play around with the different options. And there are a lot of options – probably more aiming at people doing professional graphic design.

Nevertheless, I started applying different filters, graphic features etc. to the various layers of my figure. The result (Figure 2) can`t probably count anymore as a geological map of any sort, but looks quite “arty”.

Apollo 16 Area_ArtedUp-02-02
Figure 2: ArtedUp Version of Figure 1.

I guess a lot of you have some nice Illustrator files lying around. So if you want to let your creative site out for a walk, dig up some files and Art’em’Up!

If you are pleased with the result, feel free to send them to, and we will display them here.


1 That doesn`t mean scientific figures can`t be detailed. They just eradicate every unnecessary detail.

2 Thanks for the introduction, Paula!