What sort of software can I use to make block diagrams, such as those used in machine learning papers? For example, this graph: enter image description here

From the paper: https://aclanthology.org/2020.emnlp-main.676.pdf

  • Note that software recommendations are generally on topic here. I suggested some edits to generalize the question for fields beyond machine learning.
    – cag51
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 12:36
  • 1
    And, there is now a meta discussion here.
    – cag51
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 13:49
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    Since this question is specifically about deep learning it would make sense to post it on ai.stackexchange.com. That graphic was most likely made in powerpoint.
    – Taw
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 16:00
  • @Taw I posted on the data science site and one advised me to post here.
    – user900476
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 16:23

2 Answers 2


I'll jump in with a recommendation of how I would create the picture for my paper. Of course, reasonable people might disagree.

I write my papers in LaTeX, so I generally want a system that works well with the toolflow of LaTeX. Therefore, I recommend TikZ. It's a compilation process, where you write source code for the drawing you want and then after compilation you get to see the picture you created. Then, you get to debug why the picture isn't quite right, fix your source code and repeat.

It isn't for everyone. There is a steep learning curve. But, I find there is lots of satisfaction in being able to control every aspect of the drawing. I want my arrowheads to look like this, and I can get them to look like that, not the way that the Powerpoint developers thought arrowheads should look. Same argument for colors, paths, shapes, text, shadows, alignment (especially alignment) ... everything.

And, it's free and likely to be supported for the rest of my career. Not sure I can say the same for pictures drawn in other tools that I might want to use 40 years from now.

Also, there is an excellent StackExchange group (and plenty of others) that will give you quite particular help. It's a great community!

As for the picture you show, there doesn't appear to be anything special that would make it impossible to draw in TikZ. I wish I had a bit of free time to crank out the code for it and show you it is possible.

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    I agree that this isn't for everyone. I think it is infinitely easier to make this kind of diagram in some normal GUI graphics software, where if something is in the wrong position or the wrong size you can just drag it to fix the problem. Colors and alignment are easy in Powerpoint and probably the other things are too. Visio is probably better than Powerpoint.
    – toby544
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 9:07
  • I do not know how old TikZ is, but postscript is 40 years old already, It will probably outlast TikZ, but I believe it has an even worse learning curve if you want to code yourself. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 22:29

I have made quite a few figures and graphical abstracts for scientific papers and have two recommendations that are user friendly and do not involve a steep learning curve. The first is Adobe Illustrator, a vector graphics editor with intuitive but powerful tools. It can be purchased for a monthly fee and used on most desktop computers, laptops or iPad. The second is Procreate, a raster graphics editor app made exclusively for the iPad. The app can be acquired through a one-time purchase and is a great option for those with an iPad and Apple pencil.

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