A Medical Illustrators Tools & Equipment

Posted: 1st December 2015-Likes: 0-Comments: 0-Categories: Industry, Work-Tags: adobe, equipment, illustrators
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We often get asked about the equipment that we use for medical illustration, especially the digital medical illustrations & medical animations. We therefore thought it would be useful to show you the specifics of the equipment that we use in the studio to create the custom medical illustrations that we produce.

The focus of the creation of digital illustrations is obviously the computer – so we have taken a photo of Joanna’s digital desk where she works on her digital artwork. The detail of each piece of equipment explains what part they play in the medical illustration process.

A Medical Illustrators Tools & Equipment

Digital Medical Illustration Equipment

Medical Illustration Equipment Rundown

1. Customised Computer for Medical Illustration – Mac Pro® 8 Core
Digital medical illustrations are usually complex and detailed with multiple image layers. In order to deal with the larger file sizes and larger memory requirements Joanna uses a Mac Pro with a number of custom upgrades. For the geeks here is the tech spec is 8 x 2.26Ghz Processors, 20Gb RAM, running Mac OS10.6 (Snow Leopard). Inside it has multiple harddrives as all data is held twice within the machine to ensure data redundancy, as well as data being backed-up to harddrives outside of the studio. The system and all application files run from an OCZ® SSD (Solid State Drive) which is much faster than a standard harddrive. We use OS10.6 because some of the equipment / applications we use do not work on Lion or Mountain Lion; (OS10.7 & 10.8). This machine therefore gives us a very stable and very fast base, and with the harddrive configuration lots of data redundancy – after all you wouldn’t want us to loose your client files!

2. Apple® 27″ Cinema Display on Adjustable Arm
If you are doing highly detailed medical illustrations you need a high quality screen to work on. Apple screens are expensive but they are good. The moveable arm from Kontor allows Joanna infinite adjustment possibilities depending on what she is working on and to ensure she doesn’t get neck/back ache from long hours at the machine.

3. Second Display – Benq®
The second screen gives you a much better digital workspace for illustrating. You can have reference images, websites, email and the application pallettes all visible without cluttering the main illustration area. As this screen isn’t used for the actual creation of the illustrations the colour reproduction and clarity are not so crucial.

4. Wacom® Intos® 5 Tablet and Stylus
As Joanna frequenty works on very large illustrations she uses the largest size of Wacom tablets to be most efficient. Coming from a traditional art background it did take her sometime to adjust to illustrating in this way. The new Intos 5 series from Wacom are the best yet and a noticable performance improvement over the previous versions. This is an essential piece of equipment for medical illustration as the Mac itself!

5. Apple iPad®
As we work on a lot of projects for tablet and portable devices, both Apps and eBooks, we need to have reference devices available to use to check that the illustrations we produce work properly in the devices they are intended to be shown on.

6. Camera – Canon® 650D with Sigma® 18-200mm zoom lens
Although we have an extensive collection of reference books there is a frequent need to take photos to get the correct surface anatomy or reference materials for a project. The 650D has been perfect for taking these pictures and has the added benefit of being able to shoot HD video too. We keep the Sigma zoom lens on as it is the most flexible and we also always have the tripod mount on the base of the camera as many shots are best taken with a tripod rather than being hand held.

7. Additional Lens – Canon® EF 50mm f1.8 II
This is a great lens for colour reproduction and shooting in relatively low light because of its very wide aperture and fixed focal length. We use this lens for portrait style reference and where we don’t want to use a flash because of potential shadowing.

8. Separate Flash – Sunpak® PZ42X
Although the Canon® has a capable built in Flash its simply not good enough for most medical illustration reference. An external flash that you can tilt and adjust the diffusion of the light gives the required extra control needed.

9. Sennheiser® Wireless Headphones
These might not be seen as an essential for a medical illustrator, but when working on an intense project Joanna needs to keep her focus from being distracted by phones and background studio noise. Putting on these headphones, which do not have the restriction and potential for tangling that cabled ones have, allow her to keep her focus on the anatomy or pathology that is the focus of her medical illustration.

10. Notebook and Pencil
It doesn’t matter how much digital equipment you have, you always need a pencil and paper for creating good medical illustrations. All of Joanna’s digital illustrations start life as a pencil sketch that then get scanned in as the base for the final colour piece. Keeping the pad to hand means you can also make notes as you work.

Those items that are not shown but are essential to our medical illustration work include the following:

A. Canon® A3 (17 x 12″) Printer
Having a larger printer allows us to see how the illustrations will turn out at a larger size. This A3 photo quality printer is a must for the professional medical illustrator. We are also lucky that we have a local printer down the road that can print up to A0 for us on demand!

B. A3 (17 x 12″) Scanner
As with the printer, having a bigger scanner is much more efficient. If we are creating an illustration at A3 size then Joanna will want to sketch it at this size. Scanning and stitching an image together is possible, but not ideal, so the scanner is a vital piece of studio equipment.

C. Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) / Surge Protector
It might not happen very often, but you don’t want to be losing work or having kit put out of action by a power surge, so all of our computer equipment is surge protected and Joanna’s Mac is on a UPS for extra protection.
D. External HardDrives for Data BackUp
We realise the importance of protecting digital assets and that our clients may come back to us a month, a year or 5 years after a project has finished and ask for new illustrations that are adaptations of what we have already created. Therefore we have a strict policy of protecting and backing up data.

E. Software – Adobe Creative Suite® 6 & Others
We love the new Creative Suite from Adobe® and the option of Creative Cloud® licensing to give full access to all of the tools whether it is Premier® or After Effects® for a Medical Animation, or Photoshop® or Illustrator® which are the backbone of our digital illustration software. We do use other software, but that will have to be covered in another article!

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