Learn How to Create Medical illustrations

Medical illustrations are a valuable tool for health professionals, patients, and the general public alike. By creating a visual representation of a health condition, you can help simplify the human condition to not just sick patients but medical professionals too. This blog post will walk you through the process of gaining expertise in medical illustrations.

What is Medical Illustration?

Medical Illustration is the creation of artworks that represent concepts from general medicine, science and biomedical research. Medical illustrations are used in many fields of medical education, the book publishing industry, scientific journal publications, and the commercial industry (such as advertising).

Medical Illustration is a profession that primarily focuses on creating these images from the description provided by physicians, anatomists, and pathologists.

In order to complete any formal training in medical Illustration, you will need:

  • A bachelor’s degree in fine art or design with a focus on visual communication skills such as graphic design or photography
  • A portfolio of work samples demonstrating your abilities at creating various types of visualizations

Nonetheless, candidates without these underlying qualifications can still be accepted into medical illustration degree programs all over the world. Do not despair if you do not have these qualifications; we will explore alternative routes to gaining competency in medical Illustration later in this article, so do stick around.

Coronal view of the pituitary gland showing the anatomic relation of the cavernous sinus to the hypophysis

Digital Illustration of the Pituitary Gland. Pencil Art 

Tools and Skills required for medical Illustration

In order to become a medical illustrator, you must have an understanding of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and biology. It would be best if you also had inherent artistic abilities to draw via digital means or traditional means. Although this will accelerate the learning process, it is not absolutely required since even people with rudimentary skills can develop these competencies with training.

Medical illustrators use a variety of tools to create their illustrations, including traditional pencil and paper, computer software, and even 3D modeling software.

When working with traditional media, medical illustrators often use pencils and paper to create sketches and detailed outlines for their illustrations.

Once a sketch is complete, it can be scanned into the computer and used as a base to create an illustration in Photoshop or Illustrator. Computer software also allows medical illustrators to create detailed medical illustrations from scratch without having to draw them by hand. This is particularly useful when creating more complex illustrations that require multiple layers of images.

For example, if an illustrator wants to show how a heart works in relation to the rest of the body, drawing all of the parts individually may not be practical or effective—instead they can be created using 3D modeling software like Maya or Blender.

Those who wish to work as medical illustrators should be prepared to work long hours and have good organizational skills. This field is not well-paying, but it offers many opportunities for advancement

Some of the most common tools include:

  1. Pens, markers, and pencils
  2. Ink and paper
  3. Computer software like Adobe Illustrator
  4. Digital cameras (to capture photos of real objects)

Learn how to create medical illustrations

You may want to find both formal and informal training resources. Formal training can be in the form of a certificate/degree program or taking a few classes in Illustration at your local community college.

Informal learning means through an apprenticeship with an experienced medical illustrator, reading some books on the subject on your own (self-directed learning), or enrolling in a subscription-based/free online illustration course.

Formal education in medical Illustration

Medical Illustration is a field that requires a formal education, usually in the form of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The student will typically take courses such as anatomy and physiology, color theory, and art history.

Key Message : An emphasis on anatomy is important, because it is the foundation for many medical illustrations.

In addition to taking courses in the arts and sciences, students should also spend time learning about their profession through internships. These will give them hands-on experience with the equipment used by medical illustrators and help them learn how to create professional-quality work.

Formal education in medical Illustration can be obtained at a number of art schools. Medical Illustration is also taught at many universities with undergraduate or graduate programs in health sciences. Graduates of these programs are required to complete a thesis project that demonstrates their ability to create meaningful, accurate scientific illustrations. To become a medical illustrator, you will need to earn a degree in the field. Some schools and programs that offer medical illustration degrees include:

MSc in Medical Art, run by the University of Dundee

The MSc in Medical Art is a one year full-time course. It is designed to give you the skills required to work in the medical art sector, including an awareness of the importance of communication in healthcare, an understanding of how healthcare professionals communicate and use visual communication tools and techniques in their work, and knowledge of how visual communication media can be used effectively as part of patient care.

The course will give you a thorough grounding in anatomical illustration and graphic design as they are applied to clinical medicine. It will also provide you with opportunities to develop your own portfolio through practical experience gained through placements within hospitals and other healthcare institutions.

MSc. Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy

The Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy course is a one-year MSc in collaboration between the Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow. It is designed to provide you with skills and knowledge that will enable you to pursue a career in medical illustration. In this course, you will learn how to create medical illustrations by applying your understanding of anatomy and physiology, as well as other aspects of visual communication. You will also learn about the equipment used by medical illustrators, including microscopes and cameras, as well as new technologies like 3D printing. In addition to your core studies, you will complete a personal project that demonstrates your ability to apply your skills in different contexts.

Medical Art Postgraduate Programme (by MAET)

The Medical Art Postgraduate Programme, run by the Medical Artists’ Education Trust, is an online course that can help you learn how to create medical illustrations. The course is aimed at medical artists of all levels and covers topics like anatomical illustration, medical photography, and graphic design for medicine.

The first part of the course focuses on the basics of anatomical illustration and its importance in medicine. It teaches students how to create drawings using a number of different techniques in order to communicate complex information clearly and efficiently. Students will also learn about graphic design for medicine and its role in communicating medical concepts visually. In addition to these core topics, there are modules covering topics such as 3D modeling, digital sculpture, and 3D printing with scanned images. This gives students a chance to explore their creative side while still learning about how to use technology effectively within their field of work.

After completing your post-graduate education, you will be eligible to sit for the certification exam administered by the National Association of Medical Illustrators (NAMIC). If you pass this exam, you will be able to use the designation “Certified Medical Illustrator” after your name.

The Master of Arts in Medical and Biological Illustration

The Master of Arts in Medical and Biological Illustration is a two-year, full-time program located at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA. To be eligible for this program, applicants must have completed an undergraduate degree.

Students can choose from several specialized tracks during their studies that include:

  • Medical Illustration: This track teaches students to create medical illustrations for publication and use by doctors, educators and health care professionals. Students learn anatomy drawing techniques as well as how to create original illustrations using digital media tools such as Photoshop or Corel Painter.
  • Scientific Illustration: In this track, students learn how to illustrate scientific research findings using high-resolution images that are often produced for publication purposes. Students also learn about underlying processes that lead up to these findings such as collecting data from experiments or fieldwork samples such as fossils or soil samples which need visual representation through drawings or paintings.

MSc in Medical Illustration

The MSc in Medical Illustration is a two-year program designed to prepare you for a career as a medical illustrator. You’ll learn how to use your artistic skills and knowledge of scientific concepts to create visual representations of complex medical procedures, diseases, and other topics.

The program is run by Augusta University, which has been awarded multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations for its work in bioengineering and medicine.

MSc in Biomedical Visualisation

The MSc in Biomedical Visualisation at the University of Illinois at Chicago is a two-year program that teaches students to create 3D and 2D medical illustrations. The program is designed for both artists and non-artists, and it provides students with the skills they need to become a biomedical illustrator. Students will learn how to use computer software to create 3D models and 2D drawings that can be used in medicine, science and engineering.

The program has three main goals:

  1. Students will learn how to use cutting-edge technology to create accurate representations of human anatomy.
  2. Students will learn how to create visualizations that help doctors understand diseases and treatments so they can make better decisions about patient care.
  3. Students will learn how to communicate complex ideas through visualizations, so other people (patients, doctors, researchers) understand them more easily

Informal education in Medical Illustration

If you’re interested in learning how to create medical illustrations and want to supplement your formal education with informal education, there are several options available. These include:

  • Enrolling in a live course on one of the many online platforms that offer them (free or subscription-based). You may consider enrolling in this subscription based illustration course in drawing with a pencil (for beginners).
  • Taking part in an online community where you can post questions for others and receive answers from knowledgeable artists who have already been through the process.

Importance of illustrations in medicine

  • Medical education: Today, medical illustrations are an integral part of the learning process for health care professionals. As a result, they are used in most medical schools to teach students about anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Illustrations can also be found in textbooks and reference books on these subjects.
  • Patient and public health education: Illustrations have been used for many years as educational tools to help patients understand their medical conditions better. They can be found in patient handouts or leaflets that explain common illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease.
  • Foreign language education: It is often more difficult for foreign learners to learn a foreign language than native speakers because they do not have an understanding of the cultural conventions that exist within it. Medical illustrations are helpful here because they provide context for words some members of the society might otherwise find confusing.

Career options for medical illustrators

After completing your degree program, you’ll need to get some experience before applying for jobs with hospitals or other organizations that hire illustrators. You can do this by working as an intern at an illustration agency or in-house at a hospital or other institution that needs medical illustrations. You may also want to consider working on freelance projects if you’re not interested in finding employment immediately after graduation.

  • Pharmaceutical industry: medical illustrators are in high demand for pharmaceutical companies that need illustrations for the packages of their drugs.
  • Medical book publishing industry: following the trend of self-publishing, there has been an increase in demand for medical illustrations on websites and books about health issues. It pays well, but it’s not easy to get started. The competition is fierce! You’ll need to hone your skills before entering this field.

Artificial Intelligence and the future of medical Illustration

Artificial intelligence is a growing field, and it’s being used in lots of ways. One of the most interesting is the creation of medical illustrations by AI. The idea is that an AI can learn to draw based on data provided to it—so when you feed it a bunch of examples of what a certain type of disease looks like, it can then draw that disease based on your input.

This sounds great in theory, but there are challenges to be overcome before it becomes a reality. For example, if you’re trying to create a medical illustration that shows the progression of multiple diseases (such as diabetes), your AI would need to know how each disease looks at every stage in order for its drawings to be accurate. You could also use AI for things like showing how certain medications affect different body parts or organs, or even illustrating how different types of surgery work!

The example below (digital art of the human pelvis) was created by artificial intelligence in under 20 seconds. We used Open AI’s DALLE.2 platform to create this Illustration by simply typing out a simple description of the anatomical Illustration required.

Although not entirely accurate, it is quite remarkable the output generated by the AI software in less than half a minute. Since this is still in its infancy, we are hopeful that it may rival illustrations made by trained medical illustrators in the near future. Indeed, through training (machine learning through multiple exposures to variable information), AI can potentially learn to recognize anatomic details in such great detail to rival the illustrations created by seasoned illustrators. This blog post by Snell Charlie of Berkeley is really eye-opening with regards to the potential of DALLE.2

DALLE Pelvis illustration

The human pelvis, created by Open AI DALLE2


So that’s it! You now have all the tools you need to create your own medical illustrations. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. We look forward to hearing from you!

Visit the page of our favorite medical illustrator (Dr. N.L Avinindita)

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About the Author MyEndoConsult

The MyEndoconsult Team. A group of physicians dedicated to endocrinology and internal medicine education.

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