I am curious if one is allowed to hire an illustrator to draw images for a paper (e.g. a cartoon of some chemical reaction). Should this person be included as an author or in the acknowledgements? Or is this outright not allowed?

  • The nature of authorship varies by field. What field are you in? And have you asked your advisor?
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 4:53
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    I don't see how this would remotely qualify for authorship, but then again I know the sciences grant authorship for practically everything these days lol. In the humanities, you would just give them an acknowledgement, but you need to be sure that you get them to agree to give you the copyright or a perpetual license so that you won't have trouble getting your work published. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 4:59
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    Some (wealthy) universities have staff graphic artists who do this. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 5:08
  • @guifa: "included as an author in the acknowledgements" presumably means being acknowledged as the author of the image only, not listed as an author of the paper.
    – nengel
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 5:12
  • @nengel the OP says "included as an author or in the acknowledgements* Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 5:19

2 Answers 2


It is entirely reasonable to hire a graphics designer or similar artist to make illustrations for scientific manuscripts, and I do in fact know people who have done so. For example, many journals now invite one to submit a "striking image" to be the splash graphic for the paper online, and this is a great place to get an artist involved.

An artist working on graphics for a paper would typically be given credit in acknowledgements but not be a co-author, since they have not made a contribution to the scientific work. There might be cases where "graphic design" might expand to become "visualization and analysis of data" worthy of an authorship, but those would likely be rare and relatively easy to distinguish.

The primary complication that this can add is one of copyright, as some journals require you to note images that need to have their copyright handled separately from the body as a whole. If you make an arrangement where the artist transfers the copyright to you, however, you can likely transfer it onwards to the journal without problem.

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    In the old days before computers and everyone thinking they were graphic artists, universities and research labs had artists on staff to produce graphs, diagrams, and whatnot. That was their job, and they were paid to do it, but were not authors of the resulting paper. (See any paper published until, say, the early 1980s, and I can guarantee that the graphics were not done by the researchers).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:50
  • @JonCuster ... or if the graphics were done by the researchers, one can certainly tell it is non-professional. :-)
    – jakebeal
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 14:02
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    My first involvement in a research publication was preparing figures for a faculty member’s paper. I got an acknowledgement and a few bucks for my efforts.
    – aeismail
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 19:15

Seems entirely reasonable to hire an illustrator. In an ideal world, professionals who specialize in illustration would do the illustrations, freeing up researchers to do their research.

Authorship and acknowledgement seem like fundamentally cultural issues. So, it's probably best to contact the journal that you'd like to submit the paper to to ask them for guidance before hiring an illustrator.

Once you know what the journal'd require, then you might make compliance with those requirements part of the contractual terms when hiring an illustrator.

Anecdotally, I don't think that the journals I've submitted to before cared about where the illustrations came from; or, at least, they never asked. And when submitting patent applications, patent attorneys seem to have people on-staff who redraw the figures you provide them in the stereotypical rustic style that I guess the patent office expects, even when the provided figures would seem clearer and more professional.

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    To be fair about patent applications, I suspect that they're intentionally trying to meet-but-not-exceed the legally required disclosure necessary for protecting intellectual property. I mean, if you're writing up a patent, the idea's to get legal protection for the ideas by complying with the requirement to publish them; I suppose more fiscally minded folks see there to be no reason to go beyond that in providing additional information or ease in the public disclosure.
    – Nat
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 5:20

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