Technical/scientific illustrator
Visual Arts & Trades

Technical/scientific illustrators prepare detailed drawings for technical or scientific publications such as text books, reference manuals, training materials and technical websites.

Work Activities

They present accurate technical, scientific or medical information in a way that makes it clearer or easier for people to understand. They may be for:

  • Instruction or maintenance manuals and wall charts
  • Circuit diagrams
  • Slides for use in presentations and lectures
  • Reference and general interest books
  • Educational materials

They may specialise in one area such as botany for encyclopaedias, engineering, science or medicine.

Typical job responsibilities include:

  • Liaising with clients, editors, authors or designers about project requirements (or brief) and suitable illustrations and layouts
  • Undertaking relevant research
  • Studying an item to decide how best to illustrate it – such as engineering drawings, diagrams and plans
  • Hand drawing, painting or using computer graphics software to produce illustrations
  • Producing detailed artwork for medical textbooks, such as how the skeletal system works or cross sections of human organs
  • Creating posters or promotional material for pharmaceutical companies or for health information
  • Using specialised computer software to produce 3 D models and graphics, and slides for use in presentations and lectures

Personal Qualities and Skills

Key skills for technical/scientific illustrators

  • Excellent drawing skills
  • For technical illustration, knowledge of biology, anatomy and physiology
  • Knowledge of and skill in using specialist design software, such as CAD or 3D packages
  • Good observational skills and a good eye for detail, design and colour
  • Attention to detail
  • A good imagination, to decide on suitable illustrations
  • The ability to work under pressure to meet deadlines
  • For technical illustration, the ability to read and interpret technical drawings

You will also need to have:

  • Patience and good concentration skills
  • Good communication, presentation and negotiation skills
  • Confidence and self-motivation
  • Ability to work to deadlines and meet budgets
  • Business and marketing skills, if you are self-employed

Pay And Opportunities

Typical employers of technical/scientific illustrators

Employers include publishers, advertising agencies, the broadcasting industry, architects and contractors. Some work for publishing companies which can sometimes be on 2-3 year contracts.

Some technical/scientific illustrators work on a self-employed basis, and will use agents to help them gain commissions and short-term contract work.

Vacancies are advertised on all the major job boards, on Universal Jobmatch, and at Jobcentre plus.


Qualifications and training required

The usual route into this career is via a foundation course in art and design, followed by a degree or HND course. Entry requirements for foundation courses are usually:

  • 1/2 A levels (or equivalent). You will need an A level in Art or in an art-based subject
  • 4/5 GCSEs at grade 4 or above, including English and maths.

For an HND or degree in graphic design, illustration or art and design, preferably with a specialism in technical or medical illustration, the entry requirements are similar:

  • 2 or more A levels (or equivalent) usually at grade B and above
  • 4/5 GCSEs at grade 4 or above, including English and maths

To enter any course in art and design, you will need a portfolio of your work

An advanced apprenticeship is another route in. The entry requirements are usually 5 GCSEs at grade 4 and above, including English and maths, or to have completed an intermediate apprenticeship.

Training is usually through experience, on the job.

The Association of Illustrators (AOI) and the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC) run training events and seminars for members.

Medical illustrators can take a part-time postgraduate diploma offered by the Medical Artist's Educational Trust. This takes 2-5 years to complete while working. Successful completion leads to professional membership of the Medical Artist's Association of Great Britain.

You can register for the Council for the Accreditation of Medical Illustration Practitioners (CAMIP). This is not mandatory, but CAMIP are currently working with the Academy of Healthcare Science to develop an accredited register.

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