I am aware that software such as ChemDraw, ChemDoodle or MarvinSketch can be used to draw skeletal formulas and the like. But what can I use to draw (in a similarly professional way) reaction schemes, including the skeletal formulas, arrows, reagents/conditions above the arrows etc. such as

enter image description here

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think there's a question on it, see this page. $\endgroup$
    – Zenix
    Apr 9, 2020 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ All of these packages and many others allow for reaction schemes to be drawn as well as just the molecular structures. $\endgroup$
    – matt_black
    Mar 25, 2021 at 10:29

3 Answers 3


$\mathrm\LaTeX$ to the rescue

I reproduced these reaction schemes with $\mathrm\LaTeX$ using the following particular packages:

  • chemfig for drawing 2D chemical structures (note that I enabled sans-serif font for the labels like the original did);
  • chemmacros for the typesetting of chemical formulas and chemistry-related notations;
  • siunitx for handling physical quantities (here, temperatures);
  • stix for loading STIX fonts, which in my opinion are the best choice for technical writing due to canonical and coherent appearance of the glyphs and great coverage for special symbols.

All of this is free for any type of use, works on all major operating systems used in production and the source code is available.


reaction schemes compiled with pdflatex

Source code

% !TEX program = pdflatex

    modules = all,


    angle increment = 15,
    atom sep = \bndlen,
    bond offset = 1pt,
    double bond sep = 3pt,
    cram width = \cramwid,
    compound sep = 5.0em,
    arrow coeff = 1,
    arrow offset = 12pt,
    scheme debug = false,
    bond join = true,
    chemfig style={line width=\lnwidth},
    arrow style={line width=\lnwidth},


        i) \ch{Hg^2+}, dil.~\ch{H2SO4}\\
        ii) \ch{AgNO3}, \ch{NH4OH}
        iii) \ch{Zn}-\ch{Hg}, conc.~\ch{HCl}]}[,2.5]
        ii) \ch{AlCl3}]}[,1.5]


        i) \ch{H2}, \ch{Pd}-\ch{BaSO4}, quinoline
    ii) dil.~\ch{KMnO4}~(excess), \SI{273}{\kelvin}]}[,3.5]


        i) alc.~\ch{KOH}\\
        ii) \ch{NaNH2}
        iii) red hot iron tube, \SI{873}{\kelvin}]}[,3]

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ While the chemistry-related syntax requires some training to understand in reading (and eventually, in writing), I was able to copy-paste the code above in one of the LaTeX-online windows of learn-latex.org* to successfully replicate the representation. So possibly overleaf.com does so like cocalc.com did, too. *) This primer still lacks a translation into Russian. $\endgroup$
    – Buttonwood
    Mar 25, 2021 at 21:37

Yes you can draw schemes like the one in your question with them. In no particular order of importance:

  • For one, it is a matter of knowing what the programs may offer and choosing your tools accordingly. A side-by-side comparison (e.g., this one) may help for this. Equally, it is helpful to test programs listed (e.g., here) for their improvment since last time of consultation. Don't hesitate to test programs with a different philosophy than the mainstream ones (e.g., winplt) you may see in the working group across the aisle.

  • Familiarize yourself with the documentation of the software. Chemdoodle's manual is more than 300 p., replicate Chemdraw tutorials like the ones by Pierre Morrieux / ChemdrawWizzard (e.g., here). Then, test them with own examples, draw the same molecules with either of them to spot similarities and differences.

    You equally may use more than one program, too. As e.g., the .mol2 format is a widely understood format, you could build the molecules in question with the SMILES string from a database in one program, and save the intermediate in this format. Subsequently, you may finalize drawing and exporting the image as .pdf in an other.

  • Often, it is a matter of style, litteraly. Journals have their style sheets (e.g., JACS & Org. Lett. differ from Synthesis, or Helvetica Chimica Acta, or RSC). Of course you may use these standards even if you don't publish now in these.

    Equally, working groups may have, sometimes inherited / influenced from the PI's time as a post-doc, their style adjusted bond widths, fonts, colors. So you recognize quickly e.g. Nicolaou's highlighting cyclic systems. Or the systematic color scheme used in Kurti / Czako «Strategic Applications of Named Reactions in Organic Synthesis» (a review) to guide the reader about reagents, bonds formed, etc. pp. You may define a personalized style file as well.


You can do all of what you stated on ChemDraw.

Skeletal drawings using the appropriate tools on the sidebar, and for text, there's a box where you can type in reagents and superscript/subscript letters. The same box which you would use to add a different element too (I think, can't access ChemDraw just now to double-check sorry).

For neatness, there is the align tool to make the reagents and reaction arrow look uniform (as well as align the arrow with the reactants/products).


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