Choosing the right media for medical communications

Tips on using Medical illustration and Animation within Medical Communications

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. Including medical illustrations within written communications will increase a viewers understanding and are almost an essential element if it’s a health or medical related message you want to convey.

This overview therefore is about medical illustration, the choice of mediums available to create medical illustrations and animations, as well as the styles and techniques offered by medical artists. These are all factors to consider when marketing to an audience and increasing message effectiveness when it involves medical, health, or scientific subject matter.

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

Human figure built in a 3D format

The invention of a Wacom and stylus pen, a computer based canvas and brush 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 appear 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.

Wacom – Digital canvas and pen

Graphics created as a 3D object can be used as moving objects for video and animation. This style of medical animation is chosen when a higher level of  engagement is required with the audience, for example a patient education videos that explain a surgery procedure. Here, 3D animations give the patient or viewer a greater sense of perspective by viewing the object(s) at multiple angles and from that gain a real sense of the surgery. This type of education is valuable because it allows the patient to gain a better understanding and from that reduces anxiety about their procedure.

In summary these advancements in technology and computer capabilities mean that the medical artist now 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

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

The medium you choose will have an affect on the success of the project for conveying the message to its audience. Cancer patients for example would be better supplied with illustrations that are soft in style as opposed to hyper realistic material that would add to their anxiety, they need toned down illustration with soft muted colours, that are still engaging and educational when a patients mind is otherwise preoccupied.

The digital method for illustration

Illustration painted using Photoshop

The digital method has an abundance of features and variable materials, so in this instance an individual artists technique will influence on how the finished illustration will look.  Check out an artists gallery to see if you like their general style of illustrating.

A medical artist will creates new illustration in the same way, an initial sketch or storyboard is sketched, it is sent to the client for review. Once approved the sketch 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, 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. This medium was first used in Britain several hundred years ago and its origins lie further back in the history of European painting. For example, pigments, consisting of earths or vegetable fibres ground to powder and bound with gum or egg, were in use in the Middle Ages.

Today, 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 allows the paper to dry and shrink to become taut. These steps stop the paper from cockling during the process of adding water and 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 can portray delicate human tissues, to highly detailed and brightly coloured anatomy and pathology.  The diversity of the medium give a great deal of flexibility to the artist, using its unique properties to create anatomy paintings, and especially useful when conveying issues of a sensitive nature. The watercolour medium has been shown to be successful depicting women’s health for example, refer to the watercolour illustrations created for the publication for the Natural Health Bible for Women


In this studio pencil is used every day, because it is the most suitable medium producing quick and effective preparatory sketches. It also provides a 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 format of 2D animation means that all styles of illustration and media  can be used to create the animation. This means the choice of media can be chosen to suit all audience types,  such as a young audience. 2D animations are especially effective when an important message can be conveyed whilst 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 model or 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. Due to its complexity and lengthy processes, it requires higher budgets that does not all client budgets. To see examples visit our 3D medical animations page and 2D medical animations page.

We hope you found this article useful, if you need to contact the team please email

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