Scientific illustration: what it is, characteristics and job opportunities

Scientific illustration

Within the illustration there are many specialties, one of them being scientific illustration. Do you know what this discipline refers to?

If you have decided that you want to be an illustrator, and you are discovering that there are several aspects in which to specialize, knowing scientific illustration can help you to know if it is what you like or not. How about we tell you all about her?

What is scientific illustration


Scientific illustration could be defined as that specialty that is characterized by visually expressing, as explicitly as possible, an image. In other words, it is about making illustrations that have an informative rigor and whose objective is to get as close as possible to the real model of what has been drawn.

For example, imagine an illustration of a fox. You know it can be done in many ways. However, the most realistic could be considered a scientific illustration, because it represents it as accurately as possible.

Another illuminating example can be the drawing of a heart. Like the previous object, it can be done in many ways. But one that is realistic, like the one we have in our body, with great detail, it would be a scientific illustration.

What is the origin of scientific illustration

Scientific illustration is not something that was born not long ago, far from it. It has actually been around for many, many years. But if we get very specific, we could say that we owe this specialty to John Curtis who, in his publication Illustrations of British Entomology, we were able to see examples of this type of illustration.

Now, before him (and we are talking about 1801), there some who comment that the first scientific illustration that existed was in 1250, when Albertus Magnus drew the leg of an owl and with it explained how it worked.

What is scientific illustration used for?


Now that its concept is more clear to you, Can you glimpse the uses that are put to it? Being a very informative technique, the most important thing in these images are the details, and the fact that it is a faithful reflection of reality. Therefore, this type of illustration is mainly used in two situations:

To create perfect models: for example, of plants, animals, of the human being... Each one has its peculiarities, so scientific illustration is responsible for creating models that are perfect and based on the characteristics that what you draw should have.

To represent things, situations or places: for example, an animal's leg, the respiratory or reproductive system, the way stomachs work in cows... These are things that we cannot see but we do know how they work and, therefore, you can learn about them through pictures.


Did you know that within scientific illustration there can be several types? Well yes, the truth is that yes. It is possible that right now you are thinking about the one that focuses on microscopic (or internal) parts, on parts of the body, on animals, on plants... And you will not go wrong.

Specifically, there is a classification of six types, which are the following:

biological: for biological illustrations and the relationships that occur between them.

botanicals: for the plants.

zoo: for the animals.

medical: specialized in offering medical knowledge.

technique: Ideal for engineering and industry.

historical: for historical situations, places, objects…

What characterizes scientific illustrations

Right now, about scientific illustration, what you may be thinking is that it is not creative at all, but is based directly on realism. But the truth is that it is a half truth. And it is that, depending on the use that is going to be given to these illustrations, you can think of creating them with more or less realism, adaptation, etc.

To give you an idea, think about how to teach children the importance of their teeth. If you make it too realistic, the most likely thing is that that little one will be very afraid of what they are going to do to him. Besides that he can be disgusted by what he has.

On the other hand, if you adapt and "sacrifice" some realism for creativity, things can change.

Another characteristic is that, except in those situations that we have seen, it is not normal for a person to invent anything. That is, you have to be as detailed as possible to capture in the illustration what you want to show everyone. It is through these images that he will give the knowledge that is sought.

I want to be a scientific illustrator, what should I do?


If after doing your research you've come to the conclusion that you'd like to be a science illustrator, the next step you should take is to figure out what you're going to need to be.

In this sense:

You need to have a good documentation base. Whether it is about medicine, about animals, plants… This will make you be in contact with professionals such as doctors, veterinarians, botanists... Sometimes, taking some courses can help you to have more knowledge of what you want to draw.

Have knowledge of drawing and painting. Because don't lose sight of the fact that you are an illustrator, not just an amateur or individual who likes to draw things.

See other illustrators. Keeping a close eye on the competition is something very important to keep in mind. It is not only to see their work, but also to see what techniques they use, where they move...

And of course, one of the most important parts is the fact that you should practice every day without failing a single day, because only then will you be really good at what you do.

Job opportunities for a scientific illustrator

Once you know what you need to dedicate yourself to scientific illustration, the next question that will arise will be related to future work. That is to say, where to work as a scientific illustrator.

En este sentido, The market that most demands this type of professional is the publishing and educational market. We refer to textbooks, children's narratives, etc. who are the ones who use these images the most.

Guides to botany, zoology, and In general, anyone who needs realistic and scientific illustrations should trust your expertise.

You already know scientific illustration. Do you see yourself developing your career in this field?

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