2D vs 3D Animation: Understanding the Key Differences

Posted by

Animation has come a long way since the first animated film was produced in the late 1800s. Today, animators have a wide range of tools and techniques at their disposal to create captivating and visually stunning animations. Two of the most popular types of animation are 2D and 3D animation. While both types of animation involve creating moving images, there are some fundamental differences between the two.

In simple terms, 2D animation involves creating images that are flat and appear on a two-dimensional plane, while 3D animation creates images that appear to have depth and exist in a three-dimensional space. The main difference between the two is that 2D animation is more artistic, while 3D animation is more technical. 2D animation requires a lot of illustration, as every frame needs to be drawn, either on a digital tablet or by hand. On the other hand, 3D animation involves creating a digital model of an object or character, which is then manipulated to create movement.

2D Animation


2D animation is a type of animation that involves creating a sequence of images that are displayed in a rapid succession to create the illusion of motion. The images are created on a two-dimensional plane, with each frame being a separate drawing that is slightly different from the previous one. The frames are then played back in sequence to create the illusion of motion.


The process of creating a 2D animation involves several steps. First, the concept for the animation is developed, and the storyboards are created. Storyboards are a series of drawings that outline the key frames of the animation and show how they will be arranged.

Once the storyboards are complete, the individual frames of the animation are created. This involves drawing each frame by hand or using software to create the images. The frames are then scanned or digitized and assembled into a sequence.

Finally, the sequence is edited and sound effects and music are added to complete the animation.


Some examples of 2D animation include:

  • Cartoons and animated TV shows, such as The Simpsons and Spongebob Squarepants
  • Animated movies, such as The Lion King and Aladdin
  • Animated advertisements and explainer videos

2D animation is often used in situations where a more stylized or cartoonish look is desired, or where the budget or time constraints make 3D animation impractical.

3D Animation


3D animation is a type of animation that involves creating three-dimensional objects and characters that can be manipulated and moved in a virtual space. Unlike 2D animation, which is based on flat images, 3D animation creates the illusion of depth and realism. This is achieved by using complex mathematical algorithms to create a three-dimensional model of the object or character, which can then be animated and rendered in a virtual environment.


The process of creating 3D animation involves several steps, including modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, and rendering. The modeling process involves creating a three-dimensional model of the object or character using specialized software. Texturing involves adding colors and textures to the model to make it look more realistic. Rigging involves creating a skeleton for the model that can be used to manipulate its movements. Animation involves creating keyframes and movement paths for the model, which can then be rendered into a sequence of images. Finally, rendering involves processing the images to create a final video file.


There are many examples of 3D animation used in movies, video games, and other forms of media. Some notable examples include:

  • Toy Story: The first feature-length film to be entirely created using 3D animation, Toy Story revolutionized the animation industry and paved the way for many other 3D animated films.

  • Avatar: This blockbuster film used cutting-edge 3D animation technology to create a visually stunning world that was unlike anything audiences had seen before.

  • Fortnite: This popular video game uses 3D animation to create a virtual world that players can explore and interact with.

Overall, 3D animation is a powerful tool that can be used to create lifelike and engaging media. Whether it’s used in movies, video games, or other forms of media, 3D animation has the ability to transport audiences to new and exciting worlds.

Key Differences

When it comes to animation, there are two main types: 2D and 3D. While both types share some similarities, there are also some key differences that set them apart. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the main differences between 2D and 3D animation.

Visual Style

One of the most obvious differences between 2D and 3D animation is their visual style. 2D animation is typically flat and two-dimensional, with characters and objects appearing as if they were drawn on a piece of paper. In contrast, 3D animation is three-dimensional, with characters and objects appearing as if they were real and could be viewed from any angle.

Production Process

Another key difference between 2D and 3D animation is the production process. 2D animation is typically created by drawing each frame by hand, either on paper or using a digital tablet. This can be a time-consuming process, but it also allows for a high level of artistic control and creativity.

In contrast, 3D animation is created using specialized software that allows animators to create and manipulate 3D models of characters and objects. This process can be more technically challenging, but it also allows for a greater level of control over the final product.

Tools and Techniques

The tools and techniques used in 2D and 3D animation also differ. In 2D animation, traditional tools such as pencils, pens, and paper are often used, along with digital tools such as graphics tablets and software like Adobe Animate or Toon Boom Harmony.

In contrast, 3D animation typically requires specialized software such as Maya, 3DS Max, or Blender, along with hardware such as powerful computers and graphics cards. Animators also use techniques such as rigging, animation curves, and keyframe animation to bring 3D models to life.

Overall, while there are some similarities between 2D and 3D animation, there are also some key differences that set them apart. Whether you’re a fan of traditional hand-drawn animation or cutting-edge 3D graphics, both types of animation offer their own unique strengths and challenges.

Which One to Choose?

When it comes to choosing between 2D and 3D animation, there are several factors to consider. Here are some things to keep in mind:


  • Skillset: 2D animation requires strong illustration skills, while 3D animation requires knowledge of 3D modeling and rigging.
  • Time: 2D animation can be quicker to produce, as each frame does not need to be fully rendered. 3D animation can take longer due to the need for modeling and rigging.
  • Budget: 2D animation can be more cost-effective, as it requires fewer resources than 3D animation.
  • Style: 2D animation is more artistic, while 3D animation is more technical. Consider which style is more appropriate for your project.


  • 2D animation is commonly used for television shows, commercials, and educational videos.
  • 3D animation is often used for films, video games, and architectural visualizations.

Ultimately, the choice between 2D and 3D animation will depend on the specific requirements of your project. Consider your budget, timeline, and style preferences before making a decision.