2D Animation Styles (Top 21)

Unsure what approach to take for your business’s brand new animation video?

Written by Jack Last

We’ve got you covered - below, you can find our ultimate guide to the top 21 2D animation styles that animation agencies offer. With this handy list at your disposal, you can make design decisions with complete confidence.

The world of animation is filled with creativity, individuality and innovation. Far beyond simply 2D and 3D, animation agencies offer a vast array of different animation styles, each one achieving their own unique tone, feel, style and effect on the viewer. As you can imagine, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to animation - different animation styles achieve their own distinctive impression on the viewer, thereby bringing their own unique benefits. For instance, while a mechanical animation is a great match for a techy animation explainer video, an isometric animation would be the perfect style to bring your corporate, professional branding to life.

When used correctly, animation is a fantastic aid to video marketing. These stylish, fun-filled and custom-made videos achieve remarkable levels of engagement. After all, from the perspective of the viewer, it’s more like watching a film than an advert! To ensure your video marketing campaign hits all the right notes, we’ve created an insider’s guide to cover all of the most popular 2D animation styles. So, without any further ado, let’s get stuck in…

1. Traditional 2D Vector Animation

When creating 2D vector animations, the animator will still achieve the same style and effect of traditional 2D animations but, instead of redrawing each frame one by one, they will use vectors to create movement. 2D animation is the most traditional, long-standing form of animation. And, in recent years, it has made somewhat of a comeback. It easily rivals 3D animation for its popularity, as that retro, old-school look is very on-trend at the moment (think polaroids and record players!) 2D vector animations are a combination of traditional drawing techniques and computer generated animations.

Firstly, a single hand-drawn image is created and uploaded. Then, computer vectors are used to create and control the movements. This process is a great time-saver, as vectors allow the animator to build up a series of animated movements, all using the same initial drawing. The vectors can be used to control all elements of the drawing, including everything from the characters to background elements. What’s more, this technique is renowned for its smooth and lifelike movement effects.

2. 3D Animation

Alongside 2D animation, this is the most widely-known and commonly-used animation style. 3D animation is also commonly referred to as computer animation and CGI. As the name suggests, animators create 3D animations by creating computer-generated 3D models, then using specialist software to add movement. During the creation phase, animators can also add a range of special effects, such as typography animation (more on this later). Popular films like Shrek, Avatar and Toy Story are the mediums that have made this animation technique so recognisable. But, what people aren’t always aware of, is that 3D animation isn’t reserved for big-budget Hollywood films.

In fact, animation agencies can create 3D animations in a wide range of different styles. For example, your 3D animation can create the impression that your business is modern, sleek and technologically sophisticated. Or, it can be used to achieve the same bold, colourful impact as your favourite films. Whatever style you’re going for, these animations are sure to engage your viewers.

3. Retro Animation

Retro animation is precisely what the name suggests - an animation style that takes inspiration from retro animation videos. Think Thundercats and the 80’s version of the Transformers. Retro animation predominantly features animation elements that were used in the 80’s and 90’s. Even though animation has advanced somewhat since then, the iconic animation styles of this period are still immensely popular.

In fact, these charming, nostalgic animation styles can be harnessed to achieve impressive results. For instance, the style of arcade games (my favourite was always Pac Man) is immediately recognisable, making it a great way to achieve a joyful, nostalgic response from your audience. You could even harness this capability further, to specifically speak to a target demographic. Animators often recreate elements from these 80’s animations to achieve fun, bold and retro effects. A great example of this is pink and purple disco styles, pixelated icons, or retro-futuristic sci-fi scenes.

4. 360 Animation

360 degree animation is a version of 3D animation that boasts a high level of user interaction. It takes viewers through a 3D world, allowing them to see streets, buildings, rooms, people, items and other features from all angles.  They are designed to be incredibly lifelike, displaying scenes in augmented reality, following the perspective of an individual who was actually in that world. One of our favourite examples of 360 animation at work is this hyper-realistic virtual reality roller coaster ride.

360 animation videos are used in all sorts of marketing campaigns. For example, you could create a more interactive user guide, a walkthrough of a building (either existing or imagined), or a wildlife tour of a digital nature reserve - as you can see, the possibilities are pretty endless! It’s a great way to showcase your products or services in a realistic setting, while still achieving the entertainment value that animated videos boast. For instance, if your brand creates furniture and homewares, you can use 360 animation to advertise your furniture in position, in a range of stylish home settings.

5. Realistic Cartoon Animation

Cartoons don’t have to be bold wacky colours and dancing tacos (as fun as these may be). If you’d prefer your animation to have a more muted, realistic and relatable feel, realistic cartoon animation is a great route to go down. While this animation technique still offers the hand-drawn style of other cartoons, it blends this characterful and engaging medium, with a more realistic theme and components. One of the most common use cases for realistic cartoon animation is explainer videos which, by their nature, need to be very precise and accurate. For example, if you were creating an animated explainer video for your new piece of industrial machinery, you don’t want the cartoon style to compromise the accuracy or utility of the video. In situations such as these, realistic cartoon animation provides the perfect happy medium.

6. Cut-out animation

Cut-out animation is a particularly charming example of 2D animation. Having said that, however, the most famous example of cut-out animation, the South Park cartoons, are pretty far from charming. But, its distinctive visual style remains one of the series’ most stand-out features. To create cut-out animation, the animators will need to manually cut out (clue’s in the name) any characters or elements that will be moving in the video. This is most commonly achieved using coloured paper, cardboard, or stiff fabrics, like felt. Then, once all of the elements are prepared and assembled, they are positioned on top of a background, and use a stop-motion animation technique. This is done by taking a photo, moving an element slightly, taking another photo, moving the element again, and so on. Then, once a series of photos have been taken, the images are pieced together, and played one by one at a rapid speed, to create the effect of a seamless movement. It’s a technique that’s pretty much as old as animation itself. Although it is one of the most time-consuming animation techniques, its sweet childlike feel (although not in the case of South Park) has given it an unwavering popularity.

7. Typography Animation

Think text is the most boring element of an animation video? Think again. In recent years, there has been an explosion in the world of typography animation. This form of animation animates written text, typically in colourful, engaging and creative ways. The text can be animated by changing colour, moving across the screen, being incorporated into other animated elements, or all of the above. Our CyberFirst Girls project demonstrates how, through typography animation, written text can be included as part of the meaning of the video, rather than simply being used as a tag-along to the illustrated characters. For this project, we included the typography within an illustrated computer, then had the word ‘boys’ blasted out of the screen by a retro Space Invaders ship. Typography animation is a brilliant way to communicate a message or explain a concept, while still retaining viewer engagement. This animation style successfully makes important and/or complicated topics entertaining to watch and easier to understand.

8. Rotoscope Animation

Rotoscope animation involves filming a piece of live footage of human movement (for example, buttering toast) and breaking it down into a series of frames. Then, each frame is traced one by one. The major benefit of this technique is that it gives the footage a classic animation style, while still retaining the flowing and highly realistic movements of the original footage.

If we continue with the buttering toast example, rotoscope animation will illustrate the movement in exactly the same way that a real human would do it, thereby achieving a remarkable level of realism. And, thanks to recent tech developments, this animation process is becoming far quicker to complete. Animators can now use digital tools to automatically trace the frames of uploaded video footage. These traced images can then be coloured and designed by the animator, according to the client’s style and brief.

9. Isometric Animation

Isometric animation has a characteristically sleek, minimalist design, with 2D illustrations of outlines, creating an effect that sits somewhere between the realms of 2D and 3D. The Onboarding animation that we designed for Capita exemplifies the isometric animation technique. For this project, we created an explainer animation to help new Capita staff transition into their new roles. The video features continuous, flowing lines and interconnected illustrations, ticking the two key boxes of elegant design and professionalism. As with this project, isometric animation is a great fit for explainer videos. The style’s clean lines achieve clarity, while the sharp, modern style makes the video’s content infinitely more enjoyable to follow.

10. White Board Animation

White board animation is, to put it simply, a series of drawings on a white board. These animations consist of a series of drawings on a white board, which the viewer can watch being drawn, rubbed out, then a new illustration being re-drawn on the same white board. To give it an extra level of realism, white board animations also typically include the hand that is doing the illustration.

These videos are usually black and white, but can occasionally include the pop of a primary colour. Alongside isometric animations, white board animations are most commonly used in explainer videos. Their simple, easily recognisable illustrations are perfectly suited to guide the reader through the informative content that is included in explainer videos. A great example of an explainer video in the whiteboard animation style is this whiteboard animation insurance video. The fast pace of the drawing and re-drawing of the illustrations makes the video highly engaging, and the images perfectly unite with the content of the voiceover.

11. Cut-out Animation

Screencast animation introduces real screenshots from a desktop computer into an animation video (most commonly a 2D cartoon). Screencast animations are a popular addition to explainer videos for digital products, businesses or services. Although your engagement rates might drop if your entire animation video were made up of screenshots, including these within your animation is a great way to bring clarity to your explanations of complex technologies or digital processes. What’s more, with screencast animation, you can help your viewers to put your explanation in their own context, seeing how, step by step, they follow the outlined process on their own computer. These benefits make screencast animation a popular addition to digital customer service channels, tutorial videos for online products, or adverts to promote a company’s online shop.

12. Augmented Reality Animation

Augmented reality is one of the newest animation techniques to be developed. It fuses real, live footage (typically generated through the user’s phone or another device), with digital footage that the animator has created. This is, arguably, the most immersive type of animation, as it allows users to bring wacky digital elements into their real surroundings, through their device. It is a highly engaging form of animation, and the more creative the digital footage, the better! One of the most commonly used examples of augmented reality animation are the popular selfie filters - like the iconic dog ears filter - that Snapchat uses.

Another memorable example of augmented reality being used in marketing is the Pepsi Max bus shelter takeover, where meteors, tigers and people flying away on balloons would appear, supposedly right on a central London high street, to the unsuspecting public. Other popular uses of augmented reality animation include children’s wildlife trails, in which the parents can hold their phone camera over signs, and watch with their children as the plants and animals suddenly appear before them.

13. Hand Drawn Animation

Hand-drawn animation is very much the OG animation style of our favourite classic cartoons. The immediate hand-drawn animation examples that come to our mind are the first Disney princess movies. Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are all examples of classic hand-drawn animation. This is because they were created at a time before the invention of more sophisticated digital animation tools, which made the lengthy frame-by-frame drawing process unnecessary. To create a hand-drawn animation video, an animator needs to draw a frame, including every single detail of the character and background. Then, for the next frame, the animator will re-draw everything in exactly the same way, excepting an incremental change in the area(s) that are moving. This is repeated until a series of frames are created that, when shown one by one, display a smooth movement.

As you can imagine, this is an incredibly laborious process. As a result, it is used far less frequently now than it was back in the day. However, it still remains a beloved animation style, thanks to the delicate touch and the immense amount of work and care that was poured into each frame. If you’d like to find out more about the animation process that was used to create Disney’s Snow White, The Making of Snow White video is a great watch.

14. Flipbook Animation

We’ve probably all made a flipbook - even if it is just 10 pages during a maths lesson - when we were younger. When done by a professional animation studio, however, flipbook animation goes to a whole new level. Flipbook animation features a hand holding a flipbook, with an illustration on each page. Then, the person holding the flipbook will hold back the pages, before releasing them one by one.

The illustrations will have been drawn so that, as the pages are flipped, the effect of movement is created. As with other types of hand-drawn animation, each of the images will contain incremental changes which, when shown one by one in quick succession, create a movement. However, it should be noted that flipbook animation requires far less precision than traditional hand-drawn animation. Rather than the immaculate illustrations of a hand-drawn animation film, flipbook animations are designed to be simple, short and fun. For anyone interested in seeing the flipbook animation process at work, this mesmerising grumpy cloud flipbook animation video beautifully illustrates the fun to be had in this unique animation medium.

15. Zoetrope Animation

If your childhood was before the time of DVDs and Netflix, you might have played with a zoetrope or two. These charming devices, as well as being popular children’s toys, are also a delightful retro animation technique. A zoetrope is an animation device that contains a series of slits. A drawing or photograph is positioned in each slit. Then, in the next slit, an image of the same object will be added, but this time, with a slight movement.

This is then repeated until all of the slits are filled (much like the process used for a flipbook animation). Then, when the zoetrope spins, the viewer can look through the lens, as the fast-moving images create the illusion of animation. Intrigued? Don’t worry, YouTube has plenty of opportunities for you to see an original zoetrope in action.  In addition to the traditional zoetropes, there are now 3D zoetrope models, which have swapped the images for 3D figures, and the slits for a flashing light. Pixar has created a pretty mind-bending example of a 3D zoetrope, featuring all of our favourite Toy Story characters in action. 

16. Motion Graphics

At OK Social, motion graphics is our speciality (if we do say so ourselves). Motion graphics are an animation style that blends 2D animations with graphic design. Motion graphic videos animate graphic design elements, specifically text, in a bold and highly engaging way. These animations are highly designed, combining the artistry of typography with all the fun and creativity of illustration, animation, voiceovers and video soundtracks. Motion graphics animations are a popular choice for websites and marketing campaigns. They are also commonly featured in social media campaigns, making product tutorials or advertisements infinitely more eye-catching.

For example, by featuring branded colours and on-brand illustrations, a motion graphics video can make a brand relaunch announcement both fun to watch and easy to understand. The We are offices video that we created for Making Moves showcases the brand’s unique style and new direction. Simultaneously, it highlights their USP, and succinctly outlines who they are as a company. The bold design draws viewers in, while the clear and direct language helps the audience to immediately understand whether Making moves is the company for them. 

17. Real World Footage with Animation

Also known as live-animated animation, this modern type of animation fuses live footage of the real world, with digital images that the animator has created. This is achieved by using motion tracking software, allowing animators to tag images within the live footage with a digital graphics element. That way, the digital image intelligently moves along with the camera, as if it were really there! The effect achieved by combining real world footage with animation can be used to enhance all sorts of branded assets.

For example, you could create a feature on your product packaging that allows a customer to hold their phone over the packaging, to reveal a message. Say your company manufactured whiskey, if a customer held their camera over the bottle, then their phone would reveal a floating infographic, explaining the history of the bottle and its production techniques. These animations are a fun way to engage your customers, communicating important content in a modern, engaging and highly interactive way. 

18. Minimalist Animation

It’s worth remembering that animations don’t always have to be loud, bold and brash. Sometimes, a brand will prefer a cleaner, more minimalist style of animation, and that can work equally as well. Minimalist animation is a style of animation that features simple elements, a smaller number of colours, and cleaner visuals - as aligns with the minimalist design style. In essence, it boils the animation down to the nitty gritty, only including the absolutely essential points of information. This animation style is a great match for companies that either have a more understated branding style, or who have a professional, corporate target market, for example. This animation style is also popular amongst digital companies, who are trying to emphasise the clarity and ease-of-use of their service. 

19. Claymation Animation

No childhood was quite complete without the beloved Aardman Animations claymation animations. Wallace and Gromit have a firm place in the nation’s hearts, and it’s easy to see why. The immense amount of work and craftsmanship that goes into a claymation animation is astounding. Firstly, the claymation process requires the animator to create the characters, props and backdrop by hand. This is done using plasticine clay, as it gives the creator a wide variety of colour options, while giving the models a full range of flexibility. Then, once created, the figures are positioned on the backdrop, and a photograph is taken. Then, the figures are moved ever so slightly, and another photograph is taken. This process is repeated (following the stop motion animation process) until the movement is completed.

When the photographs are played in quick succession one by one, the effect of a seamless movement is created. When overdubbed with sound effects and a voiceover, this animation becomes the claymation cartoons that we all know and love. Even though digital alternatives (which are a whole lot faster) exist, the claymation method is still going strong, thanks to the charming approach that its hand-made models create. If you’d like to see the behind-the-scenes of claymation animation for yourself, check out this claymation production video from Aardman’s YouTube channel.

20. Mechanical Animation

Mechanical animations are a form of explainer video, but these specifically focus on explaining how mechanical devices work. These animations take the viewer through the inside mechanics of an object, as the illustrations show all the interior parts of the device, and how they work together. This is coupled with a voiceover, explaining the contents of the animation in more detail. Often, mechanical animation videos take on the design of hand-drawn blueprints, giving them a more authentic feel. This is combined with a 3D illustration style, to create a hyper-realistic animation. A fantastic example of a mechanical animation video is this YouTube video from Animagraffs, explaining How a Formula 1 Race Car Works. It alternates between an intricately detailed 3D model of a Formula 1 car, and an inside-look of the car, showing the parts at work underneath the car’s external body. 

21. Stop Motion Animation

We’ve covered a number of stop motion animation techniques above, including claymation and cut-out animation. Stop motion animation is a traditional animation technique, which is still widely used today. Physical models are used in place of digital animations, and these models could be any physical object at all. Popular models include everything from puppets to Lego, and plasticine creations and any other (normally) inanimate object that captures the creator’s imagination.

Once selected, these are positioned on a backdrop, and a photograph is taken. Then, the models are moved a fractional amount and another photograph is taken. This process is repeated (for a longer stop motion animation video, thousands of photographs may be required!) until the movements are complete. Then, the videos are played one by one at rapid speed, creating the illusion of moving figures. Famous examples of stop motion animation include Pingu, Creature Comforts, and the 1976 version of Paddington. 

Why work with a 2D animation studio like OK Social?

Brands can never underestimate the power of video-based marketing. According to Animoto consumers have named videos as their favourite form of branded social media content. The impact of video content isn’t just limited to social media, either. Research from Social Media Week revealed that consumers spend 88% more time on a company website that includes videos. When it comes to attracting and engaging consumers, videos are completely unrivalled. And, by working with a 2D animation studio, brands can maximise the benefits gained from this impactful marketing medium. 

At OK Social, our team of 2D animation specialists work with clients on a personal, one-to-one basis. They will not only establish your brand’s unique image, but also identify the specific goals that you want your new animation to achieve. Through their industry expertise, you will be connected to a 2D animation style that is perfectly suited to meet your requirements. Then, our talented team will create a bespoke animation that matches your brief exactly, while delivering this content in a trendy, sophisticated and knock-out video.

To find out more about our range of 2D animation services, or to discover the results that we can unlock for your business, get in touch and arrange a consultation today. 

Let's chat about your project
Contact us

I’m Jack, the Motion Director here at OK Social. I’ve been working in the world of motion design and animation for nearly 10 years. I had the pleasure of working with leading agencies and brands around the world, such as Samsung, Ford, Shell, Deliveroo, and Starbucks, to name a few.

From a young age, I’ve always been interested in animation, from making stop-motion films in my room as a kid to learning animation on my first computer. It started as a passion and still is to this day. Part of what I do now is more than just animation. I help craft the narratives of the stories we tell to ensure they make an impact to the audience and remain worthy of their attention.

So how do I do that? It starts with asking the right questions, leading to solving the right problems. First, diagnose what the problem is. Then, we can start to see if we can help. I believe that communication plays a key role in delivering a smooth and successful project. Looking into the future, I’m excited to expand my knowledge into creating more engaging stories that make a difference.