BACKGROUND: To determine patients' preferences for, and understanding of, FRAX® fracture risk conveyed through illustrations. METHODS: Drawing on examples from published studies, four illustrations of fracture risk were designed and tested for patient preference, ease of understanding, and perceived risk. We enrolled a convenience sample of adults aged 50 and older at two medical clinics located in the Midwestern and Southern United States. In-person structured interviews were conducted to elicit patient ranking of preference, ease of understanding, and perceived risk for each illustration. RESULTS: Most subjects (n = 142) were female (64%), Caucasian (76%) and college educated (78%). Of the four risk depictions, a plurality of participants (37%) listed a bar graph as most preferred. Subjects felt this illustration used the stoplight color system to display risk levels well and was the most "clear," "clean," and "easy to read". The majority of subjects (52%) rated the pictogram as the most difficult to understand as this format does not allow people to quickly ascertain their individual risk category. CONCLUSIONS: Communicating risk to patients with illustrations can be done effectively with clearly designed illustrations responsive to patient preference. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01507662.