2D vs 3D Animation: 10 Point Tabular Difference

May 11, 2024 5:30:00 AM

If you can relate to this meme:

2d vs 3d animation meme

Then don’t fret, we’re here to help!

In a nutshell: The terms “2D” and “3D” refer to the dimensions. 

2D versus 3D

2D means an X and Y axis, like a photograph.

We'll let the Mona Lisa demonstrate this here. 

mona lisa as an example of 2D perspective

3D refers to three dimensions, X, Y, and a Z axis, which is how we experience the real world.

This Greek statue of David from the great Michaelangelo puts things into perspective.

statue of michaelangelo as an example of 3D perspective

Another quick way to think about this: The Mona Lisa is an example of 2D, while Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David is 3D.

The Mona Lisa is a depiction of a 3D real-world subject, but it’s rendered in 2D and frozen in place.

Meanwhile, you could walk around the David sculpture and see all sides of it.

The History of Animation

When it comes to animation, it’s important to understand its history and how animation actually works, before we get into the differences between 2D and 3D animation.

The history of animation is surprisingly complex and goes back long before the invention of the television or even the camera. Read more about it here

For example, the Phenakistoscope was the first real animation device dating back to around 1832, consisting of images on a spinning disc that create an optical illusion of animation:

phenakistoscope demonstration

So, animation, as we know it today, began with drawing numerous sketches of a cartoon character with slight subtle differences.

phenakistoscope setup

Stitching them together, and basically running the still images like a rapid slideshow, creating the illusion of movement and life.

3D animation, on the other hand, involves creating an entire virtual three-dimensional world, from the background to the characters, and then moving them around.

It’s done exclusively on banks of powerful computers.

Today, it’s the default way to create full-length animated movies, although 2D and other forms of animation still exist.

Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s explore further!

The Differences Between 2D & 3D Explained

Homer Simpson going from 2D to 3D

It’s important to understand that 2D and 3D animation both have advantages and disadvantages.

One is not necessarily “better” than the other. 

Def Leppard’s video for “Let’s Get Rocked,” showing the wireframe 3D animation

So to that end, we’ve created this side-by-side comparison to help clear things up:


2D Animation

3D Animation


2D animation occurs on a flat plane, with characters and objects moving horizontally and vertically, but without depth.


3D animation creates the illusion of depth by adding an extra dimension, allowing for objects to move in three-dimensional space.

Depth perception:

Due to its two-dimensional nature, 2D animation has limited depth perception. Objects appear flat and lack depth.

3D animation provides realistic depth perception, allowing objects to have volume and occupy space in a three-dimensional environment.

Creation process:

In 2D animation, artists create each frame by drawing characters and backgrounds frame-by-frame.


3D animation involves modeling and rigging characters and environments in three-dimensional space using specialized software.


Less complex than 3D. Everything is drawn on a flat “page” or using 2D drawing software.


3D animation is more complex due to the intricacies of modeling, texturing, lighting, and animation within a three-dimensional environment.


Limited when it comes to depicting three dimensions


Highly flexible, allowing for a wide range of camera movements, angles, perspectives, lighting, etc.


The art is usually highly stylized


3D can achieve high levels of photorealism, or be more stylized if needed

Production Time:

Comparatively less time-consuming than 3D


3D takes more time to create the worlds, characters, background, rigging, light sources, etc. in comparison with 2D

Software used:


2D can be hand-drawn but typically uses software like Adobe Animate (formerly Flash), Toon Boom Harmony, TVPaint, etc.

3D animation is created using specialized software like Blender, Autodesk Maya, Cinema 4D, or 3ds Max.


In 2D animation, the perspective is fixed and predetermined by the artist.


3D animation allows for adjustable perspective, enabling the camera to move freely within the three-dimensional environment.


Cel-shading or other stylized rendering techniques are commonly used in 2D animation to achieve a specific artistic style.

3D animation often utilizes advanced rendering techniques such as ray tracing to create realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections in the scene.



So we can see that both 2D and 3D have their own advantages and disadvantages.

3D offers more realism and flexibility but requires more work essentially building an entire world in 3D for almost every scene.

2D on the other hand, has a unique artistic charm that comes with hand-drawn art and is a tad more accessible to those on a tighter budget. 

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list, just touching on the basics to outline the differences between these two worlds. 

We hope this explanation makes things clearer. There’s a lot more to explore and learn.

Animation is simply too complex and fascinating an art form for any one single blog post to really cover well enough!

So while you’re here, do check out our other blog posts about animation and visual storytelling.

And never stop learning, dreaming, playing, and imagining!

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