Which is better, 2D or 3D animation?

In recent years in particular, animation technology and innovation has accelerated at an unprecedented rate. This means that animators can create videos with the ultimate degree of creative flexibility. But, the question on everyone’s lips is, do we think one is better than the other?

Written by Jack Last

Think animation means cutesy images hand drawn on paper, robotically moving bit by bit? Think again. Animation has been around for a century, and the industry has never rested on its laurels.

2D vs 3D Animation

It’s a question we get asked a lot, but in reality, both 2D and 3D animation styles can create hugely successful branded videos. They leave plenty of scope for creativity and personalisation, and both generate high engagement stats. But - while you couldn’t ask us to pick a favourite - we do say that both 2D and 3D animations have their own best-fit contexts. Different scenarios can be better suited to one animation style, and create a mismatch with the other. For example, say you’re a car manufacturer, and you need to create an animation video that exposes the inner workings of your product. You might want to use this video to explain what makes your high performance engine so absolutely elite. In this case, a 3D animation is a far better fit.

You’ll want to create a mechanical animation for this project. And, while 2D animations are sometimes used for this style, 3D animations create a far more impressive, realistic and intricate end result. If you want to see what we’re talking about, check out this YouTube video from Animagraffs, explaining How a Formula 1 Race Car Works. Equally, certain themes or design styles only really make sense with 2D animation.

A prime example is retro animation. Following on from the resurgence of 60s, 70s and 80s trends, this animation style is experiencing an extraordinary popularity boom. Retro animation takes its inspiration from retro animations, which dominated our screens in the 80s and 90s. Iconic elements such as arcade games, disco styles, pixels or the retro-futuristic sci-fi theme are all resurrected, for the delight of nostalgic viewers. But, obviously, since 3D animation wasn’t around back then, using 3D technology for a retro animation can create a displeasing visual clash When you come to your animation agency, and you’ve pinned down your video’s concept, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction. Using their advice, you can find an animation style that feels like it was made for your video.

What are the features of 2D Animation?

Obviously, the difference between 2D and 3D animations are the differences in dimension. But, what does that actually mean in practice? The key features of 2D animation, which make it differ from 3D animation, are:

Creating two dimensional movement

Obviously, the key feature of 2D animation is the fact that it creates moving animations, along a 2D plane. This means that you can only view the movement from one, fixed angle. For example, check out the animation that we created for Deliveroo.

Although the buildings are illustrated to look more complex (and not just flat), we’re only seeing the animation from one viewpoint. This makes it 2D. But, as you can see, this doesn’t mean that 2D is simple, flat or dull. Animators can use all sorts of tricks to create engaging, realistic movements.

Individual drawings sequenced together

2D animations are made by creating a series of illustrations, then setting these as the keyframes. Then, movement is added to sequence these drawings together. This technique gives 2D animations the charm and creativity of illustrations, while seamlessly adding smooth movements.

Maximum of 24 still frames needed for a one second animation

Frames and keyframes are used to convert still illustrations to a moving animation. And, to ensure the movements are both smooth and realistic, you’ll need a lot of them! For a one second animation, there could be 24 still frames at work. But, thanks to keyframe techniques and advancements in animation technology, these no longer have to be drawn one by one (thank goodness!).

Now traditionally used across all aspects of animation

Back in the day, hand-drawn animation was the only style that you could use. But today, 2D animation has expanded to include a huge array of different animation styles. These include retro animation, cut-out animation, typography animation, whiteboard animation and motion graphics, just to name a handful.

What are the Features of 3D Animation?

So, what makes 3D animation unique? The unique features of 3D animation are:

Add the appearance of depth

3D animation has another layer to it. Now, the elements in the animation can be viewed from multiple angles and perspectives. This gives the animation a sense of depth, making the movement appear more realistic, and the setting feels more immersive.

There’s a 3rd axis to consider

It might bring up memories of GCSE maths, but 2D elements only have two axes. But 3D elements have three - there’s the horizontal, the vertical and a third axis, which projects outward, from the screen towards the viewer.

Three dimensions to consider

Similarly, 3D animations also have an extra dimension. This means that the animator will need to consider how the animation appears from a far greater number of different angles. Rather than just the one viewpoint of 2D animation, the viewer could see the animation from a number of different viewpoints, and you need to make sure each one is perfectly designed.

Requires modelling

For 3D animation, the process of designing a character is far more complicated than the 2D illustration that 2D animation requires. Your animator will need to create a character model, which illustrates the character design from every possible angle.

The advantages and disadvantages of 2D Animation

2D animation has been around since the dawn of the technique.  As a result, animators have had plenty of time to devise 2D styles. There’s everything from the sweet, vintage designs (which Disney princesses have made immortal), to the funky pops of colour that are on-trend right now.

Pros of 2D animation:

● You have loads of design flexibility, and can feature whatever colours, elements, typography and characters you like

● It’s cheaper to create (because it’s a quicker and less difficult process)

● It’s quicker to create

● It’s easier to edit

● It’s easier to update (say you wanted a previous animation to be updated, to create a seasonal Christmas themed version, for example)

● You can easily adapt its illustrations for print, if needed

● Your brand’s logo can be seamlessly integrated into the video, without needing to be converted to a 3D format

● You can create a charming, old-school animations (which wouldn’t quite work in a 3D format)


Cons of 2D animation:

●     There are more 2D animations out there, so you’ll need to do more to stand out

●     You’ll be restricted from creating modern 360 animation or augmented reality animation

●     You risk of lacking the impact that innovative 3Danimations achieve (but, you can achieve this through a cracking design)

The advantages and disadvantages of 3D Animation

Some animation styles can only be made using 3D animation technology. These include 360 animation, augmented reality animation, and live-animated animation.

3D animation is a brilliant way to exhibit the modernity and innovation of your brand. Using state-of-the-art, brand new animation techniques, you can create a video that really knocks the viewer’s socks off.

Pros of 3D animation:

● The design possibilities are endless. Your animator can feature all the colours, characters, elements and typography that you want

● It’s more interactive

● You can feature it in more unexpected contexts (like a Snapchat filter, for example)

● You can really show off about how bold and innovative your company is

● You can reach high engagement metrics

● With the expertise of an animation agency, your 3D animation is sure to stand out from the crowd

● 3D animations (although they’re more expensive) can generate a great return on investment. If successful, this video could boast far more value for money than a series of traditional ad campaigns

● Movement (of characters, typography or other elements) can be illustrated more convincingly


Cons of 3D animation:

● It’ll take longer to create

● It’ll be more expensive to create

● Once your brief is confirmed and the animation is created, it’ll be a lot more difficult for you to ask for tweaks

Conclusion - 2D vs 3D animation

It's an answer you’ll have almost undoubtedly heard from your parents, but we don’t have favourites. Both 2D and 3D animation techniques create dynamic, impactful and engaging videos.

The key is that you use them in the right situations, in order to achieve the most successful result from your content. If you think that your video needs multi-dimensional angles (in order to achieve maximum realism), or you want to blend animations with real-world footage, opt for 3D animation. Or, if your budget is lower, your deadline is tighter, or you want this animation to form the basis of a number of other marketing campaigns, 2D animation would be the best-fit.

Why work with an animation agency like OK Social?

As you can see, animation is not limited to Option A or Option B.  If animation is one thing, it’s creative. There’s an outstanding variety of content styles, animation types, element options, setting choices and character profiles out there. And making the right decisions here is critical - get it right, and your animation could achieve monumental success.  With an animation agency, you can get specialist advice, specifically tailored to your brand and video vision. These industry experts will connect you to the best possible fit for your business needs, while creating something completely unique to the digital marketplace.

What’s more, at OK Social our team has extensive experience, spanning a huge variety of animation techniques. Whatever your vision may be, we can bring it to life using specialist techniques, and achieving a sleek, professional finish. To find out more about our animation services, or to work with our talented team, give us a call.

We’d love to talk about your new project.
You can reach us at hello@oksocial.co.uk

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.