We all have to use visuals from time to time. We need to draw figures to help communicate paleogeographic reconstructions, system evolutions, and geological cross sections. What software do you use to do this? I end up using Powerpoint more often than I would like to admit. I would never use it for a complicated figure, but you just cannot beat the convenience of Powerpoint for being able to put together quick sketches, to write notes, to separate versions of figures on separate slides, to make quick-and-dirty animations, to share editable figures with other people. Anybody who has spent significant time drawing up figures would have eventually upgraded to one of the professional vector packages. What I have been using since the early 2000s is Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator has a learning curve, but once you figure out how to use it, you can do plenty. You have full control over shapes of lines and polygons. You can use layers which can be locked and hidden. This is in fact the greatest advantage of Illustrator over Powerpoint. Layers are a must for a complicated figure. The image below is an example of a block diagram that was drawn in Illustrator. It is very difficult to draw such a figure without using Layers. Real geology occurs in a three dimensional world, and there is only so much block diagrams drawn up in a vector-based software designed for 2D can do. Enter SketchUp! This is a relatively easy to use software that many of you may not be familiar with. It does not take long to start building 3D objects, and it has a free version that will do almost everything that you will require. You will need to devote some time to figure out how to use the software effectively, but it will be worth it. There are great resources on the internet. Watch free SketchUp training videos, which are very easy to find, and you will very quickly understand the basics. Note that you will be working in a fully 3D environment. Unlike static block diagrams, you will have full control over viewing angles and perspectives. The element 3D models in the figure below from Vakarelov and Ainsworth (2013) were drawn in SketchUp. If you have ever wanted to show how a feature changes in shape over time, I would strongly urge you to give animation software a try. I have used Adobe Flash CC for showing paleogeographic evolution through time and for reconstructing channel point bar migration. I have used it for drawing up conceptual figures for mouth bar evolution. This was something that I discovered myself about a year ago. Why do I find it so useful? It allows me to easily show incremental changes to shapes in a very controlled way. You can sort of do this in Powerpoint by copying and pasting drawings from slide to slide, you can try to do it in Illustrator by using layers, but once you start doing this with software that is specifically designed for animation, you will not be able to go back. Here is an example where the evolution of a migrating channel from the Danube delta is illustrated in Adobe Flash CC. Note that that the software allows you to view the area below as an animation in which you can follow the evolution of the channel and the formation of its point bars (and counter points bars). The image below is part of a series of conceptual cartoons showing the evolution of wave-dominated mouth bar element sets internal to a mouth bar element complex. Animation software allows putting together models like these that are built as part of ‘thought exercises’. This is done by deciding how the shape of the sediment body will change in each successive time increment, rather than trying to predict the final architecture from the get-go. I would be very interested in finding out about what software you are using. Are there tips and tricks you would like to share? Click on the ‘FOLLOW’ button on the top of the page if you want to be notified about future articles. Source.