Illustration Workflow

The process for creating an animation begins with organized idea that gets translated into a simple rough sketch before finalizing into a refined illustration.

1. Organize Your Idea

Before you start drawing, you want to make sure to think through your idea so you have a organized plan for what needs to be included and what the goal of the illustration is. To do this, write down answers the following questions:

  • What is the goal of completing this illustration?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What information needs to be included for the audience to care?
  • What information needs to be included for the audience to understand the illustration?

2. Create a Rough Sketch

Keeping your goal and audience in mind, draw a simple sketch. It can be as simple as boxes with words to show what icons or images should appear where. It can be something that looks more representational of what you think the final image should be. The key is to sketch in a format that’s quick and easy for you to use. The goal in this step of the process is to create a plan for the final image. So don’t use a illustration tool that you’re not familiar with at this time. Pen and paper is fine.

3. Draw the Final Illustration

Before you start drawing, consider whether you need to draw at all. There may be tools or clip art out there to help you simplify the process. Here are three options you can consider:

Use an Illustration Tool

When it comes to making an illustration Integration & Application Network at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (IAN) has a large library of stock images, icons, and symbols: There are several tools you can use that you can simply drag and drop icons to build your illustration. Infographic Apps could be useful to help you build an illustration.

Gather Clip Art and Do Your Own Layout

You can also consider editing clip art from a free or paid stock art service and arrange these pieces and add text in another program, such as MS Word, MS PowerPoint, Adobe InDesign, or another program. You can find images through stock and open source image services.

Drawing and Designing from Scratch

If you want to work from scratch, you could draw and design your illustration using professional software. To do this, you’ll need to know a little bit about layout and design, and you’ll need to identify an illustration tool you’d like to use. Adobe Illustrator is the leading vector illustration tool. Adobe Photoshop is really not designed for creating illustrations, but it can be paired with Illustrator to achieve some different effects. Here are some training videos through that might be useful, however, you will also find many more resources that tackle specific issues on YouTube.:

Infographic Apps

Infographic Builders creates full infographics and has a free version (and the least expensive paid version) of the infographic tools we’ve found.

Piktochart creates full infographics and offers a free version with images, icons, and charts that you could use.

Venngage creates full infographic stories using charts, maps, and icons. The free version has limited images and templates to choose from.

Graphs Makers builds easy-to-read graphs and charts using your data. You can build up to 10 images for free and there are paid versions for more images.

Timeline Tools

Dipity builds digital timelines in which you can add images, audio, text, links, locations, and time stamps to create an interactive timeline.

Interactive Data Tools

Quadrigram is an interactive infographic builder. You log in with a Google account and when you’re done, you can export the HTML to embed onto a website.


Clip Art and Images for Use

IAN Symbol Library. Integration & Application Network at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (IAN) has a library of symbols and images that may be helpful for building conceptual diagrams, and they are open source (meaning free for your non-commercial use):

Flickr. While not a bank for scientific images specifically, you might get lucky. From the home page type in your search terms, but then under the license drop down menu select the “All creative commons” filter. Creative commons is a copyright license that indicates the image is available for non-commercial use.

ARKive. A source of free-for-use images of animals and plants—most are photos.

NOAA Photo Library.

NOAA Fisheries Image Gallery. You might be able to find photos of species you work on here.

Paid Stock Photo Sites. Make sure you read the copyright rules. Some copyrights will cap the audience size that can view the image. For print products or unrecorded presentations, you will probably not have a problem, but for web-based resources, the number of viewers can be much less predictable over the long-term.

Theory and Background on Layout and Design

Foundation of Layout and Composition: Grids (video) by Sean Adams. The anatomy of grids and samples for posters, brochures, and websites that can be used in design. To access you will need to log-in to through your university. Sections 1 and 2 of this course will be most useful for beginners.