Choosing the right media for medical communications

Medical illustration and Animation

Posted: 18th May 2020-Likes: 0-Comments: 0-Categories: News, Work-Tags: anatomy illustration, communication, health
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Article written by Joanna Culley.

This article has been written to provide prospective clients the opportunity to learn about choosing the right media for their medical communications. Medical illustration is about communicating a key health related message. The discussion and choice of medium as well as the style and technique used by the artist, plays a vital role in how the message is perceived by its audience and its effectiveness in getting the message across.

Medical artists today have a whole host of media to work with. Traditional media such as pencil, watercolour, acrylics and oil paint media have been supplemented by the invention of the digital method. This medium is the invention of computer graphics software such as Photoshop and Illustrator providing an endless choice of paints, brushes, colour palettes, artists tools that are all accessible in one place.

Human figure built in a 3D format

The invention of a computer based canvas and pen used instead of a mouse that is sensitive to pressure and tiny hand movements, gives the artist a very similar experience compared to working with traditional paper and pens. The difference is that the digital canvas and pen are connected to the screen, so the drawings appears on the screen as you work. That way you already have a digital illustration ready for use within print or web.

Digital software has also progressed to such an extent that an artist can build three dimensional models of anatomy in a virtual space with programmes such as ZBrush. The illustration or graphics created in these programmes can be used to provide illustrations or ‘stills’. The resulting style of these graphics programmes is that an artist can produce hyper realistic visuals.

Digital canvas and pen

Because the graphics are 3D objects, they can be used as moving objects for video and animation. This style of medical animation is chosen when there is a need to demands a higher level of engagement with the audience and because 3D animations give the viewer a greater sense of perspective by viewing the object(s) at multiple angles.

In conclusion with such advancements in technology and computer capabilities the medical artist has high end desk top publishing facilities available from essentially a home PC.

A project needs visuals, where should a client begin?

The first considerations at the start of a project involves these key questions;

Graphic about medical illustration projects


These points give the parameters of the project, with the most important question ‘Who is the target audience‘ to remain front of mind at all times.

Method of Delivery

Next it is important to consider the method of delivery, is it for print, video, website, or illustrations for marketing materials that need to follow the brand style, or black and white instead of colour. Having an understanding of the needs of the project will lead to pointers about what medium choice will best suit the project. Some mediums will be obvious but more often than not, choosing the medium to suit can be tricky.

What medium choices are available and why is it important? Biology illustration

Choosing a medium will in some way dictate the style. This is because each medium has its own characteristics that influences the end result. Each artists working style is determined to a point by the characteristics of the materials used, and the technique applied to those materials and the artists skill in using the medium.

It is important because the medium or style of the visuals will have an affect on the success of the project for conveying the message to its audience. Cancer patients for example do not want to be supplied with visuals containing graphic material that add to their anxiety, they need toned down illustration with soft muted colours, that are engaging when a patients mind is otherwise preoccupied.

The digital method for illustration

Illustration painted using Photoshop

The digital method has an abundance of features, so an individual artists technique will dictate how the finished illustration will look. The artist creates the illustration in the same way as any new drawing or painting, an initial sketch or storyboard is drawn in pencil, it is scanned and sent to the client for review. Once approved the drawing is used as the basis for the colour version. The digital medium has useful attributes over and above traditional art because it is more forgiving with an ‘undo’ button. The illustration is completed in a computer file format, negating the need for a scanner and the need to scan work completed on paper. The digital method allows for easy duplication of illustrations, especially useful when repeating the same illustration background to create derivative illustrations. To see examples of our illustrations created using the digital method see our Digital Medical Illustrations page.

Graphic Services

Adobe Creative Suite is the ‘go to’ software programme which contains the full graphics package. As such, the work can be complemented by adding labels, using the design and layout tools to complete as posters, leaflets, banners giving the customer a ‘one stop’ service. To see what graphic services are offered visit our Graphic Design Services Page.


Muscles painted in watercolour

Muscle anatomy painted in watercolour

Watercolour is referred to as a traditional medium. The method for completion has not changed since it was first used dating perhaps to the cave paintings of paleolithic Europe, and which has been used for manuscript illustration since at least Egyptian times but especially in the European Middle Ages. To prepare the paper for watercolour painting, a sheet of paper is laid over a flat wooden board. Using a large brush, the paper is saturated with water on the front and back of the sheet. This process of soaking the paper is used to expand the fibres and by attaching it to a rigid board, allowing the paper to dry and shrink to become taut. These steps stop the paper from cockling during the process of adding paint to its surface.

Once the paper is dry, the underlaying drawing is traced onto the paper. Watercolour is applied building the colour in layers. The artist can use watercolour to create varying effects such as dry-brush (a low amount of water is used to leave brush marks), edge darkening (in which pigmentation migrates towards edges of areas of paint), wet on wet (in which a lot of water is used to create opaque effects) or dry on dry (the use of dry colour on dry paper to pick only some of the colour).

The qualities of watercolour lends itself to sensitive subjects depicting a range of human tissue properties from delicate tissues, to highly detailed and brightly coloured anatomy.  These effects give a great deal of flexibility to the artist, where the diverse properties can be used to create illustrations of anatomy, pathology and health related subject matter.

The sensitivity of the medium is also be beneficial for sensitive subject matter, such as women’s health. The choice of the medium can be a very important factor regarding the resulting style and appeal and ability to convey sensitive subject matter. To see examples refer to the Natural Health Bible for Women page.


Pencil is used every day because it is the most suitable medium to start the process of producing quick and effective preparatory sketches. It also provides one medium that does not contain any colour, which may prove to be an advantage in areas of low resources and access to colour copying facilities.

A sharp pencil point works well when marking the main characteristics of the subject matter onto the paper. Its other qualities are that it can be rendered to provide a level of detail from a linear sketch to a highly accurate and comprehensive illustration. Pencils comes in grades called the HB graphite scale ranging from 9H to 9B. The letter ‘H’ in HB stands for hardness, and the letter ‘B’ stands for black. As such, this variety from hard to soft, tones of light to dark lets the artist generate crisp detailed work when necessary, to blending and shading large areas. Invented in 1564 when a graphite mine was discovered in Borrowdale, Cumbria, England (Voice, 1949) the versatility of the pencil has secured it’s use and world-wide popularity ever since.



Animations come in 2D and 3D formats. Everything you see in traditional 2D animation has to be drawn. Usually frame by frame. The illustrated style means that varying media can be used to create the style. They can be very useful for a younger audience to encourage engagement and convey an important message hidden in a fun format.

3D animation involves building the model within the programme, that model is rigged, which means it is programmed with controls to make it possible for an animator to move the object. From there the models are completed as a whole animation using key frames. It is the manipulation of 3D models or objects for exporting picture sequences that give them the illusion of animation or movement. The difference between 2D is that models within a 3D animation can be rotated and moved like real objects.

Animation is all about providing an engaging visual experience and is a method of utilising cutting edge software and computer processing power to produce moving pictures for all types of medical marketing, presentations and websites. It is a lengthy process that the high costs do not suit most budgets. To see example visit our 3D medical animations page and 2D medical animations page.

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