If you are a project manager in pharma, medical affairs or medical education, you could be facing the challenge of choosing between hiring an illustrator for custom images and opting for quick stock images to bring your project to life. But how do you deal with that challenge; how do you know what’s best for your project?

Pharma and medical education teams are continually evolving, undergoing constant reorganization. Often project managers only have enough time to provide a sufficiently complete briefing for an illustration they need. It is also increasingly evident with their different education and backgrounds and there are big differences in people’s expectations when it comes to what a scientific illustration studio can do. This also means they can potentially judge custom and stock images as being very similar.

How similar are they? Here we unpack the pros and cons of using stock and custom scientific illustrations for your project.

To deal with time-consuming tasks of selecting artwork for a new project, a client usually has two main options for gathering the artwork needed: find illustrations online via stock sites or look for a studio that can produce custom scientific illustrations. There are essential differences between these two options and some important aspects you should consider before choosing.

Sourcing images through stock sites

This can seem like the perfect solution – after all, there are some excellent stock illustrations available. But the illusions of efficiency and quality soon fade when you consider the risks:

    1. Time. Despite the first impression that you’ll save on the budget, you will soon realize the amount of time you spend doing the actual search will counter this: one platform does not offer all images. If you are not used to dealing with images often, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of options and could lose focus quickly as a result.
    1. Style. When the project rotates around a specific medical condition or is directed to a particular audience, several works may be needed, and these will not be available from the same stock. Collecting drawings from different sources will pose a style problem, affecting the outcome and ultimately becoming a burden for the success of the project.
    1. Expert value. Stock illustrations do not have to the knowledgeable professional behind the illustration; this means you miss out on expert guidance on making the right choices considering your branding and storyboard and choosing the right visual complexity of subjects. This could make a crucial difference to your project.
    1. Uniqueness. Think about the specificity of the imagery on stock sites: it’s not very specific. Images are generic and as such are usually unable to communicate your unique message. You might need to adjust the image to suit your needs but will face the time-consuming task of having to change the one-layer stock illustration to suit your purpose.
  1. Extra costs. Getting stock images means that you are still left to pay for related services, such as layout. Plus, If you still need to tweak a detail or combine images, for example, you will have to pay to make changes at an extra cost. Consider how much energy is lost by having to rely upon three different sources to get your job done.

Contracting custom medical illustration for your project

While we agree that there is excellent stock out there, we think you custom illustration still is the way to go, for these reasons:

    1. Corrections. A custom scientific illustration project allows you to acquire many services from the same partner; with a custom illustration project, we also include corrections in the budget.
    1. Price. The end price isn’t astronomical. Many illustration studios have had to adjust to the market to produce an offer that can meet their clients’ needs, which means today’s rates are quite close to stock illustration prices.
    1. Time. With little time to allocate to projects, project managers can rely on the illustrator’s expertise, and possibly be ready to delegate a good portion of the decisions to them. This is the big bonus you don’t get with stock images – the illustrator’s knowledge will make a significant difference to the quality and outcome of your project.
  1. Selection. Illustrating anatomy and science is never simple. Our images need to engage the audience and be easily digestible for patients while educating them on a specific medical subject. We spend time researching, and, interestingly, a big part our job is to decide what information is less relevant and can be left out. We also consider it part of our service to provide the best solution – we have told a client in the past to go for information graphics rather than a traditional scientific illustration for this reason.
  2. Ethics. Consider the ethical impact of buying stock: 100% of the fee will never land in the artist’s pocket but in the pockets of the image bank data companies. In the age of corporate social responsibility, companies are thinking more and more about where the products and services they purchase come from, and their customers want to know they are making procurement decisions consciously. Acknowledging and supporting the creative origin of the illustrations you use can help you work in line with your company’s responsible procurement goals.

Think about your audience, their level of literacy, even the settings in which the final product will be handed out – all these are essential variables for producing visual work, and they impact the decisions we make as illustrators about what to show and how to show it. The illustrator’s proactive approach is necessary for achieving the right result and will ease the client’s task of deciphering the visual information we prepare for them. These are nuances that can be lost when you choose to source from stock.

What do you think about the risks of using stock and the rewards of custom illustration? Why do you work with an illustrator, or what’s stopping you from doing so? If you have a story to share, we would be pleased to hear from you.

You can find more information about our cutomized scientific illustration services here. We are specialists in creating accurate medical and scientific illustration, infographics and patient education material. In our studio, we produce illustration work for patient leaflets, charts, websites, and apps. Our clients come from the fields of scientific research, medical communication, biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and private health clinics, and from around the world. If you want to discuss a project you can do this by chatting with us here or use our 

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