If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent hours trying to channel your inner artist to visually communicate your science in captivating ways – and failed. I’m a scientist, which means I’m generally good at solving problems, generating hypotheses (that are usually always wrong) and performing experiments. To be honest, I know my talents and artistry is not one of them.

I can write a paper to explain what I’ve found (even if it means I cleaned my apartment 3 times before I actually sat down and wrote it), but when it’s time to illustrate my science – I’m intimidated.

Let’s be honest: when a new paper is published, I scroll right to the figures. I always look for a visual summary that will deliver the core findings of the paper to me in ~3 minutes or less. I’d like to pretend I read every single paper from introduction to conclusions, but I don’t – I just don’t have time. This is why your visual abstract or summary is so important. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that anyone will ever see.

What if I told you that you can create a visual abstract that looks like it was created by a professional medical illustrator, all on your own, in a fraction of the time it takes to draw it on PowerPoint or Illustrator? What if I told you that you can sign up for free* and make 5 figures? You might be thinking, “But wait, what about the really specific cell type or equipment that I use, can I draw that?”. The answer to all of those questions is yes: BioRender is a web-based platform where scientists bring their findings to life – visually.

*Free version allows for educational use but does not provide permission to publish in journals. See current plans and pricing for details.

The secret to BioRender’s magic is their icon library 🤩. There are over 20,000 icons created by professional illustrators and vetted by the experts (you): all you have to do is drag and drop. Ion channel? BioRender’s got you. Phospholipid membrane with membrane invaginations for endocytosis? Check. There are over 12 categories of icons, and did I mention they’re customizable? Because they are. You can choose different styles, colours, and more. Whatever your figure needs, BioRender has it. And if it doesn’t? You can request a custom icon! That’s right – all you have to do is reach out to their team and their illustrators will create the icon you need, when you need it, just for you.

I discovered BioRender and (cue intense music) never opened Illustrator again. Gone were the days of drawing awkward shapes in PowerPoint and wasting an hour in Illustrator trying to find the button that does the one thing that I did one time, but can’t remember how to do. Actually, I deleted Illustrator, because having BioRender means that I don’t need it.

#sorrynotsorry, Adobe, BioRender is this scientist’s favourite illustration tool, and I just don’t need you anymore.

Sign up for BioRender and change your figure-making life here. I can’t wait to see what you create. Tweet it to me @thoughtsofaphd!

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Rohit Goswami says:

It is however, NOT free for use at all. At-least, not if you intend to publish with it. The terms of the free tier are very clear: https://biorender.com/pricing/

Does not provide permission to publish in journals

Thanks for pointing that out. Biorender is free and can save up to 5 images, which can be used for educational purposes like classroom instruction, lectures, seminars, etc. But you are correct in highlighting that a plan must be purchased to allow for use of images in a journal publication. The post has been updated to clarify that point.

Let us know if you have any other suggestions or tools that can be used to help create scientific illustrations! I’d love to hear what has worked well for you!

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