On the surface level human anatomy coloring books are super appealing. You get to have fun coloring in pretty pictures while you study right?
But are they effective? That’s the key question!
As a med student myself (and someone who’s successfully passed anatomy), I’ve always wondered if they’re worth the money.
So that’s what this article is going to explore!
- If anatomy coloring books are actually useful
- Who they’re good/bad for
- Tips on when to use them (if you absolutely must)
- What the best books are (if you definitely still want one!)
All to ensure you actually spend your time (and money) on things that will actually help you learn anatomy (and not just be a fun waste of time).
Ready? Let’s go.
If you’re short on time, here’s the bottom line: there are much better resources out there for learning anatomy than coloring books.
But, if you still feel you want one then at least get a great one.
The best is Netter’s.
Now, here’s the first critical question…
Do human anatomy coloring books actually help you learn?
There’s no evidence that coloring books actually help you learn anatomy. At best, they only focus your attention and ease your stress.
While, yes, there is some small evidence that kinesthetic learning (i.e. coloring) can improve memory and recall, it’s no way as effective as proven study techniques like active recall and spaced repetition.
But whether they’re useful or not to you, depends entirely on your motivations for learning anatomy in the first place.
If you just have a casual interest, and want something relaxing to do that’ll serve as a good intro to the human body, then they could prove useful.
For nursing, medical students and other healthcare disciplines however? An anatomy coloring book just isn’t going to cut it in my opinion.
True mastery of the topic comes from constant exposure and repeated quizzing.
Why aren’t anatomy coloring books good for healthcare students?
Here’s more on why I believe they’re ineffective…
- Most* don’t test you repeatedly enough: coloring a structure is not the same as being asked to locate it or recognize it’s function over and over again (what anatomy requires).
- Coloring is a waste of time: time that could be better spent elsewhere; i.e. getting a broad overview of all the muscles of the thigh and then testing yourself to uncover knowledge gaps.
- Limited to 2-dimensional views: to really get a sense of the body you need to see nerves, muscles, organs etc. from all angles (via cadavers, 3D software).
Of course I have no problems with anatomy students using coloring books to wind down or take a break after actual focused study, but as a primary study tool?
I don’t think they’re worth it.
What do anatomy students say?
Let’s take a look at what some other anatomy students have to say on the topic…
I bought a coloring book three years ago. Only looked at it once. I learn anatomy by drawing it myself, not by coloring.u/HoneyBeeColor
This one is a great tip for “visual learners”.
Although coloring books may appeal, you’ll get far better practice out of drawing and mapping out structures from memory (check out Armando Hasadungan for inspiration).
That’s active recall in a nutshell!
I found it was quite a time sink when I could have been revising more effectively. It doesn’t replace a textbook.u/diihall
As mentioned before, you’ll want a more detailed primary resource to refer to while studying anatomy.
Something with explanations, practice questions and flashcards.
I bought mine and never used it…seemed like a good idea at the time…turns out nursing doesn’t go into anywhere near the detail as anatomy 1 and 2 would have you think.u/gaz384384
Finally there’s also this contrary opinion. Perhaps some coloring books are even too detailed for particular healthcare courses!
So what’s the bottom line?
Figure out what (and how much) you need to learn first before shelling out on a coloring book.
Who are they best for?
So, based on all this, here’s who I feel anatomy coloring books are (probably) best for:
- Students wanting a visual resource that’s simple and comforting (nothing wrong with that)
- Students on “less-demanding” anatomy courses (minimal lab/exams etc.)
- People wanting a gentle introduction to the topic to help build confidence
- Anyone else interested in learning about anatomy who enjoys coloring
Everyone else though, especially people who need to pass some notoriously tough exams, you’ll probably be better served by tips from the following…
- 5 Best Anatomy Websites For Medical Students (Free, Fast & Easy To Understand)
- How To Study For Anatomy Practical (11 Best Ways)
But if you feel the above points are you (and you definitely feel you’d get value from a book), read on…
What’s the best human anatomy coloring book?
So if, after all that, you feel an anatomy coloring book is something you’d enjoy, one question still remains…
What’s best to look out for?
Personally speaking, I feel you should get as specific as you can to whatever you’re best trying to learn.
So here are a few options!
Complete anatomy coloring books
These cover everything you’ll need to know to get a broad overview of the subject.
As most are based on comprehensive atlases and textbooks, you’ll be getting high quality information following these.
The top two in the category, recommended both by anatomy students and online reviews, are…
5/5 stars from 4000+ Amazon reviews
Both these claim to be excellent resources that can help reinforce your understanding of organ systems and functions, muscle origins and insertions etc.
Cross sectional anatomy coloring books
As I mentioned before, spatial awareness is crucial in mastering anatomy. For that reason you’ll want a book that has cross sectional (dissection-based) images you can dip into and learn from.
The following options are good for this:
- Anatomy Coloring Book (Stephanie McCann): 450+ detailed, realistic medical illustrations – including very useful self-quizzing sections for each illustration
- The Human Body Coloring Book: The Ultimate Anatomy Study Guide (DK): highly recommended for personal trainers, physios etc. studying up on anatomy
Musculoskeletal anatomy coloring books
A great option for massage, physical therapy, chiropractic or movement therapy students:
Musculoskeletal Anatomy Coloring Book (Joseph Muscolino): 4.5/5 starts from 172 Amazon reviews
Neuroanatomy coloring books
Two solid options here include:
- Netter’s Neuroscience Coloring Book: 365+ page book offering an interactive way to trace pathways and tracts etc.
- The Human Brain Coloring Book (Diamond and Scheibel): 320 page classic – 4.5/5 from 860 Amazon reviews
Is there an anatomy coloring book app?
What might be cooler than an anatomy coloring book, is an anatomy coloring app.
Although it’s recommended for kids, this could be fun (it’s free too):
And also remember that some of the books recommended above, especially Anatomy and Physiology Coloring Workbook, can be bought in its digital version and colored in via a tablet and stylus.
Related: Laptop Or IPad For Medical School? (Don’t Make This Mistake)
Free anatomy coloring pages
If you’re still on the fence about the utility of anatomy coloring books (I know I am), then there’s another solution.
Free anatomy coloring pages.
Downloading these – then either printing them out or coloring them in on a tablet/mobile device etc. – is a great way of figuring out if buying a book is worth it for you.
Here are some useful resources:
- Kenhub’s free anatomy coloring book (see my full Kenhub review here)
- Supercoloring: organ system worksheets, gross anatomy worksheets and more
- ColoringHome: several detailed cross-sectional anatomy coloring pages here
Also don’t forget to do a basic Google image search either!
I’ve long had my doubt about the effectiveness of human anatomy coloring books. But I didn’t want to let my bias totally close me off to the idea!
After putting together this article, I now see their value a little more. Especially with students outside of medicine who enjoy this style of learning.
Hopefully it’s given you a more neutral guide on whether they’re worth it too.
If you liked this review, you might find the following articles useful:
- Learn Anatomy With Board Games: 5 Off-The-Wall Options
- 6 Best YouTube Channels For Anatomy Beginners
- 35 Human Anatomy Quotes (Powerful, Funny, Spiritual, Scary And More!)
Image Credit: @Robina Weermeijer at Unsplash
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.