Biomedical Science

Tools for creating Scientific Figures and Graphs


How do I choose a tool for creating Scientific Figures and graphs


There are many different ways to represent data: pie charts, scatter plots, linear plots, and bar plots to name just a few.  There are several tools to utilize when creating figures and graphs, and knowing a few of them can save you a lot of time. Depending on the type of data and visualization you are trying to create there is a dedicated tool that will help you achieve your goal. The purpose of this guide is to introduce you with open-source tools, and licensed software at UVa that will help you create publication quality figures and graphs. 

General Considerations when deciding which tools to use.

  • Cost
  • Is the tool available through UVa Software Gateway?
  • Is the tool appropriate for the type of data I would like to visualize (charts, graphs, statistics, drawings, diagrams, sketches, 3D etc)?
  • Does the tool provide sufficient training and tutorials?
  • Learning curve, and user interface.
  • Compliance of the figures with journal specific-guidelines and style.
  • Does the tool allow integration with other tools for post-processing?
  • Is the tool used from other colleagues in the field?

Below are some recommendations of open-source tools and UVa licensed software for creating your publication figures and images.  For a full list of software titles available to students, faculty and staff at UVa visit Information Technology services website.


For plotted graphs, charts and Statistics:

OriginPro  - OriginPro is a software application that combines point-and-click interfaces for scientific graphing and analysis with a powerful programming environment. OrginPro can be configured for the each journal figure template. Available from UVa Software Gateway.

R – Open Source programming tool. Provides a wide variety of statistical (classical statistical tests, linear and nonlinear modeling, time-series analysis, clustering, etc.) and graphical techniques, and is highly extensible, but it has a steep learning curve.

Excel- Relatively easier to use than other tools, nice chart options, can produce graphics quickly when data is ready. A disadvantage of Excel is that you cannot really create eye-catching graphics, and you lose a lot of data analysis capability and figure resolution. Available from UVa Software Gateway as part of Microsoft Suite office.

MATLAB-MATLAB is a high-level language and interactive environment for numerical computation, visualization, and programming. Provides a great variety of functions and techniques for graphical display of data, good choice for creating complex graphs. Available from UVa Software Gateway.

For drawings/diagrams/sketches/images:

 Inkscape: professional vector graphics editor. It allows you to design complex figures, it is free, and a nice alternative to Adobe Illustrator.

GIMP:  An application for tasks such as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. Free and nice alternative to Adobe Photoshop.

 ImageJ- Open source tool, to prepare your images, and you can bundle it with a large collection of useful analysis tools through Fiji distribution.

GNU Plot- Open source platform, created to allow scientists and researchers to visualize mathematical functions and data interactively, but has grown to support many non-interactive uses such as web scripting.

SolidWorks- SolidWorks is a tool used for 2D and 3D drawing, parametric modeling and 3D viewing. Available from UVa Software Package



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