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How to learn anatomy with a coloring book

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.” - Georgia O’Keeffe, American artist

Colors are a very effective and vivid way of interacting with our brains. Often people use extensive explanations and paragraphs to describe a particular situation or a topic. It seems as if words are sometimes simply inadequate to convey a message efficiently in a way that facilitates retention. It is as if the brain finds it difficult to assimilate it. However, by drawing a picture or a sketch, it automatically “speaks a thousand words”. Make it colorful and you could say things that words cannot and help the brain remember them in the future.

Learning anatomy is a tedious task. It might be extremely interesting, but reading through pages and pages of writing can sap the energy out of anyone. You might argue that anatomy books and atlases have illustrations to aid understanding and to make the subject less dry, which is totally true. However, while understanding is the critical first chain in the link of learning, memorization is the second. To be able to recall the information later on you need to also memorize it. Just like a chain is as strong as its weakest link, any interruption can pose a barrier to your anatomy learning.

Memorizing anatomy from blocks of texts requires time and a lot of repetition which cannot be replaced. However, there is a way to reduce the hardship and that is by using an anatomy coloring book. This article will describe how this asset can facilitate retention in an easy, fun and effective way, similar to a road that paves your way towards your goals, providing a smooth and enjoyable journey.

Learn anatomy with a coloring book

What is an anatomy coloring book?

When you hear about a coloring book, you might start thinking of mermaids, fairies and animals which more than likely were a daily appearance in your childhood life. However, in contrast to your favourite juvenile book, an anatomy coloring book has a different and distinct format. Naturally, black and white anatomical diagrams waiting to be colored still dominate. However, rather than being randomly arranged, they are organised very precisely and logically. The subject matter inside the book is organised into sections, with each section containing many topics. Each topic is presented on a single page full of anatomical illustrations and specific terminology associated with these drawings. A column of text is written on the following page after each topic, providing more details in a written rather than visual form. In addition, the pages containing the illustrations are not presented arbitrary but in a precise order to facilitate learning by building knowledge and understanding.

Anatomy color book

At the top of each topic or page, there is a mini-guide called coloring notes. Think of this as an instructional list explaining in what order to assemble the pyramid of learning as efficiently as possible. This column explains in what order to colour the structures and what type of colour to use for each. Once again, just like the sequence of topics have a logic, the order of colouring of diagrams in each topic has a similar logic. The ultimate aim of both is to facilitate learning and understanding by building it from the ground up.

An anatomy coloring book also has a backbone, called a coloring system, onto which everything is constructed. To follow it, you basically need to fill the outline of a structure and its respective term with the same color in order to relate them. The black and white images can be matched by a numbering and/or lettering system accompanying both the terms and structures. Alternatively, the structures are labelled. A second aspect which you need to do to follow the coloring system is to use different colors for different sets of terms-structures. Subtypes of the same term-structure can be distinguished by using different shades of the same color obtained by varying the pressure of the pencil’s point for dark or lighter shades. In simple terms, use the same color for related features and different colors for different sets of features.

Therefore, what may appear as a deceptive coloring book, an anatomy coloring book is structured in a very specific way, encouraging you to follow an exact set of rules to fully take advantage of its capabilities.

Why use a coloring book?

While an anatomy coloring book might not be your top pick when choosing study resources for anatomy, you should take it into consideration because it offers several advantages:Learn Anatomy with a Coloring Book

  • Promotes memorization
  • Creates visual relationships
  • Incorporates kinesthetic learning
  • Easy and fun

Remember when you were trying to memorize the brainstem in neuroanatomy through written means - do tectum, cerebral peduncles, pontine tegmentum and olives bring back nightmares? Hopefully you used colored diagrams as well since scientific research has proved that colors help memorization. More specifically, they do this by increasing the brain’s level of attention, or stated differently, colors attract attention. In turn, the more attention is focused on a stimuli, the higher is the chance to be transferred to memory. Also, colors enhance memory through mental arousal, which was shown to be essential in keeping information in the memory system.

Coloring also creates visual relationships. In other words, it creates motorways between the mental cities found inside your mind. A lot of study strategies encourage students to create relationships when learning new information because it is better for long-term retention compared re-reading and repetition. A coloring book automatically does this for you by presenting a structure and its associated term on a single page and instructs you to color both of them using the same color. It basically anchors two features, providing a common point for both. Our brains think in images. While other sources like anatomical atlases also illustrate structures associated with terminology, they lack consistency. The colors used vary an incredible amount. In contrast, a coloring book asks you to use one single color, creating a connection inside your brain which allows you to recall it later on.

Don't have a coloring book? No problem! Here's your head-to-toe atlas reference for the human body. Perfect for revision! 

During learning, the mind and body are very intricately connected. Specifically, performing an action while simultaneously seeing improves memory of that fact. Coloring also provides this, killing two birds with one stone. During coloring, the eyes are visually stimulated through illustrations and colors while the brain is aroused from the hand gestures. The brain learns a lot better from a multimodal source of information. Facts are stored better if they come in more than one way so coloring benefits both visual and kinesthetic learners by automatically providing a second door for information to enter.

While the advantages outlined above are extremely important, the following one should not be overlooked. Coloring is easy and fun. Anatomy, although interesting, can become dull and boring if you only use one method of learning every single time and you constantly repeat it. Coloring partially eliminates the mind numbing text, essays and explanations required to describe and understand anatomical structures.

So you know that coloring is a great way to aid your anatomy learning. But what exactly should you be studying? Find out with our Human Anatomy Study Guide. 

Disadvantages of a coloring book

Learning anatomy with a coloring book will not solve all of your problems because there are several challenges associated with it.

  • Big time investment
  • Previous required knowledge

No-one is denying the fact that coloring anatomical structures is fun. You also learn, create relationships and memorize in the process. However, as easy as it sounds, transforming a white space between two lines into a yellow one requires time. It often requires a bigger input of time compared to the benefits it offers if a coloring book is the sole method of learning. The problem lies in the fact that it lacks sufficient explanations and details to help you learn and understand. For certain topics, the detailed text that follows each topic lacks the necessary medical knowledge for making you a competent physician or even lacks sufficient descriptions to help your understand. Therefore, a coloring book would prove more beneficial as a revision method after you have learned the required knowledge. It helps memorization, which is what anatomy requires but memorization cannot happen without a solid foundation of prior understanding.

To obtain such a knowledge, Kenhub has the perfect solution. Using its clearly written articles, easy to understand video tutorials and precisely depicted atlases, you can collect the necessary details to understand the knowledge and build up a clear picture. They strike the perfect balance between clear understanding and avoiding unnecessary and confusing details.

Therefore, an anatomy coloring book would prove a beneficial addition to your learning arsenal. More like a sharp blade than a Swiss Army knife, it helps you memorize anatomical structures in an easy and fun way, creating colourful relationships between narrow strings representing nerves and long names like zygomaticotemporal nerve.

How to study with a coloring book?

Using a coloring book is very easy and you only need to follow a set of simple steps:

  • Step 1: Choose a section that you wish to study. For example, the nervous system is on the menu for this study session? Go to the first page named “Nervous System” and start having fun.
  • Step 2: Read the coloring notes on the first illustration before you dive into coloring. This step is essential because you need to color the structures in a specific order in order to take advantage of the book and build the knowledge as a pyramid. For instance, for the “Nervous System”, on the “Organization” page you would first and only color the names and structures of the central nervous system (CNS). Then you would color the cranial nerves and the associated names and lastly you would color the spinal and autonomic nerves, which are part of the peripheral nervous system (PNS).
  • Step 3: Start coloring the “Organization page” while following the coloring notes and system.
  • Step 4: Read the text and explanations following the “Organization” page to learn more details about the CNS, PNS, motor and sensory neurons and autonomic nervous system. This would provide more details about all the structures you colored since the only thing you know about them so far are the names.
  • Step 5: Continue to the next page called “Functional Classification of Neurons” and repeat all the steps again. It is essential to go with the illustrations in order rather than skip them. You need to firstly understand the big organization of the nervous system before you start classifying them. Only then you can start learning about synapses and transmission.

How to learn anatomy with a coloring book: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 1,205,119 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references


  • W. Kapit, L.M. Elson: The Anatomy Coloring Book, 4th edition Pearson.
  • Dzulkifli, M.A. and M.F. Mustafar: The Influence of Colour on Memory Performance: A Review, The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, 2013. 20(2): p. 3-9.
  • Madan, C.R. and A. Singhal: Using actions to enhance memory: effects of enactment, gestures, and exercise on human memory, Front Psychol, 2012. 3: p. 507.

Author, review and layout:

  • Adrian Rad
  • Ryan Sixtus
  • Catarina Chaves


  • Anatomy color book - Adrian Rad
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