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Top 10 2D Animation Techniques Freelance Animators Swear By

ben marvazi 2020

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2D or traditional animation is considered one of the oldest animation styles. Originating in the early 1900s, the work of 2D animation has resulted in some of the most popular and iconic videos and characters, such as the film Spirited Away and the character Mickey Mouse.

Focusing on 2D animation for your animation business is valuable as it diversifies your animation skills, enhances your storytelling abilities, and helps establish your legitimacy as a freelance animator

But as the animation world progressed, we’ve come to find many more animation types and styles, such as 3D and motion graphics. With that, it may seem as if 2D animation has been pushed to the back burner, especially as it can be a bit more complicated or tedious compared to other styles.

However, despite the emergence of different types of animations, the truth is that industries and big companies still turn to 2D animation. 

In an article by the premier media and entertainment training institution Arena Animation, the medium is said to be “the heart and soul of all other types of animation.” 2D animation is considered to have a “fantastic on-screen presence and can easily capture the attention of people of all ages.”  

They further share that the industry has huge potential for business expansion and revenue generation. See for yourself; you can observe in brand advertisements, lesson tutorials, and especially Youtube videos how often 2D is still used. 

So, why not take advantage of this in the most lucrative and efficient manner possible? It’s an essential animation skill you won’t regret. 

But if you’re struggling with improving your 2D animation skills, we’ve got you. In this blog post, you’ll find animation techniques –– helpful exercises, valuable animation equipment, and tons of animation software –– freelance animators swear by to improve and even revamp the way you animate. 

Exercises You Can Do to Improve Your 2D Animation Techniques

Of course, one thing you must do to enhance your traditional animation skills is to practice for hours on end, but where exactly can you begin? Here are some simple animation exercises freelance animators swear will up your 2D animation game.

2D Animation Technique of Characters Turning their Heads
2d animation technique to improve is to practice animating heads

Image by Tutsplus via EnvatoTuts+

A simple animation exercise in understanding the value of space and direction. Once you start creating characters, you’ll realize how often characters turn heads, whether they’re in anticipation of something or just naturally moving around. 

The difficulty in traditionally animating a moving head comes in creating consistent shapes and elements. While animating, you may find yourself redoing certain elements because of how unnatural they look. In case you’re still struggling to maintain the consistency of a moving character, you should draw a line your character can follow when they turn their heads.

Practicing this 2D animation technique will allow you to create more realistic characters and more compelling visuals.

2D Animation Techniques of Characters Moving
example of a 2d animation technique of practicing walk cycles

GIF sanderick via GIPHY

This technique involves drawing cycles of your characters walking, running, and even jumping. They should be going from point A to point B. 

To create better 2D animations, you must have a fundamental understanding in how our bodies move. Try doing a rough draft to observe whether your character’s actions seem natural or off-putting. Another thing you can try while working on this practice is to take a video of yourself and have your character imitate your movements.

When working on this practice, keep the 12 principles of animation in mind, especially the Follow Through and Overlapping, Squash and Stretch, and Arc principles.

2D Animation Technique of Characters Changing Emotions
practice changing emotions of 2d animation characters

GIF by Palesza via GIPHY

Besides moving actions like walking and turning, another valuable aspect in creating better 2D characters are believable facial expressions. Human emotions have a wide range, and the best-animated characters are always the more complex ones, the ones with more depth. And what better way to show that than through their facial expressions.

But translating all those emotions into your characters can be difficult, even for more advanced animators. You can try mastering the 7 universal expressions before moving on to more thoughtful ones: Happy, sad, angry, disgusted, scared, surprised, and contemptuous. 

Then proceed to master consistency in the movement of your character’s face so you can easily transition to other expressions.

Equipment Animators Swear Will Improve Your Animation Techniques

Besides the exercises you could do to enhance the way you create your 2D animations, there is also animation equipment you can rely on to make you work faster and more conveniently, such as blue pencils, punched copy papers, and animation drawing gloves.

Non-Photo Blue Pencils For Your 2D Animations
traditional 2d animators should use blue pens

Image by Pixabay via Pexels

The right animation pencil can go a long way, and these pencils will help you transition your animations from a rough sketch to a more refined drawing faster and more conveniently. 

How? There are certain shades of blue that could not be detected when scanning, so sketching with non-photo blue pencils means that the messier lines will most probably disappear once scanned on a photocopier. This will give you a cleaner draft and allow you to proceed to the next step in the animation pipeline smoothly.

Punched Copy Papers For Your 2D Animations
punch copy papers are the perfect medium to practice 2d animation techniques

GIF by sarahmaes via GIPHY

Besides the non-photo blue pencils, you will need copy papers for your 2D animations. 

Copy papers or animation papers are essential in making duplicates of your animations, especially when it comes to retracing and tweaking mistakes, so you must find one of good quality. 

Purchase a ream that’s not only heavy and smooth in texture but also light enough for you to see through. Be warned, though, that punched copy papers can be slightly more expensive than non-punched papers. 

However, they’re definitely more convenient, especially as they’re already aligned. Plus, it will save you the time you would’ve spent manually punching holes on each paper or taping it to the table. Along with the punched copy papers would be the peg bar to hold your papers in place. This will help you work on the actual animations faster and more efficiently.

Drawing Gloves For Your 2D Animations
drawing gloves can help 2d animators have less mess


It goes without saying, your animation surfaces need to be kept smooth and clean, and what more when working on traditional mediums like graphites and paper.

But it’s completely normal to find yourself sweating or even oily when animating. You’ll probably even attract dirt, dust, and other foreign particles into the paper. The solution? Drawing gloves.

Also called “Animating Gloves,” these gloves cover two of your fingers and the inside of your palm. They are a protective layer to avoid smudge marks, reduce friction, and prevent grease stains when animating on traditional mediums or your drawing tablet.

Without them, you may find yourself with a messy animation space, and it may result in you having to go back to tweak or redo some elements or lines –– precious time that could’ve been spent working on another aspect of your animation.

Animation Software For You To Work On Your 2D Animation Techniques

Now that we’ve tackled the equipment and some animation exercises, you might wonder whether your animation software is the optimum choice for improving the way you animate. Chances are it’s already good enough, especially if you’re already used to it or if you are running low on funds. But if you want to look into other options, working on these animation software would be your best bet.

Why Use Plastic Animation Paper (4.0) For Your 2D Animation Techniques
plastic animation paper is a good software to practice 2d animation techniques

Image via Plastic Animation Paper 

Despite its simple layout, Plastic Animation Paper or PAP 4.0 boasts a ton of impressive and helpful features in making a 2D animation. Among its features are onion skinning, light setup, and pens for planning and drafting scenes. 

Overall, it’s fast with a responsive interface that facilitates animating in real-time; efficient as its uncluttered and intuitive interface includes exactly what 2D animators need; and, most importantly, easy to use, even if you’re just starting out. For more, it can work on both Windows and macOS, so it’s pretty convenient.

Why Use Pencil 2D For Your 2D Animation Techniques
pencil2d animation is a good animation software for 2d animators

Image by Animate by Elyaraja via Pencil 2D YouTube

This free open source 2D animation software is best used for vector and bitmap animation as it allows you to easily make your multi-colored compositions, whether using a pen, pencil, or brush tools.

Its features include a clean timeline, a wide range of colors, onion skinning, pressure sensitivity, and rearrangeable workspace panels that make it convenient for you to switch between your different files. 

Paper 2D is so intuitive and minimalistic that you can focus directly on animating rather than figuring out the next button to click.  

Why Use Animate CC For Your 2D Animation Techniques
animate cc is popular and easy to use 2d animation software

Image via Download Bull

A popular 2D animation software, Animate CC is favored by 2D animators and YouTubers. Basically, it’s ideal for animators who are looking to kickstart their 2D animation career, especially when it comes to designing games, TV shows, and websites. Plus, it comes at a cheap price. 

The software aids in designing start screens, interactive video game environments and web banners, and expressive avatars and cartoon characters that come alive. You can also perform the coding and asset designing on the app itself. 

With their illustration and animation tools, you can create visual content that captures the attention of your target audience.

Why Use Toon Boom Harmony For Your 2D Animation Techniques
toon boom harmony is a 2d animation software

Image via Toon Boom Harmony

Toon Boom Harmony is used by both beginners and professionals alike, including animators from Pixar, Warner Bros., and Disney Studios. When creating 2D animations, this software is more advanced, with the full range of brushes, color palettes, and painting options. 

It also includes features such as advanced rigging systems, master controller functionality, post-production special effects, and lip-syncing, among others. 

This software has 3 different packs to choose from: Essentials, advanced, and premium. So whether you’re a beginner looking for only the fundamental animation tools or a professional seeking out more sophisticated animations and unlimited special effects, Toon Boom Harmony has got you covered.

What are the 10 2D Animation Techniques Animators Swear By

the key to becoming the best is to practice these 2d animation techniques

Image by Dayvison via Pexels

Admittedly, 2D animation can be rather difficult, especially if you’re still starting out. You’ll find yourself wanting to improve the way you animate or hoping you can animate faster or more efficiently. And while you can keep practicing, it’s best to have some sense of direction, an assurance that what you’re doing keeps you on the right track.

Thankfully, you can always rely on certain 2D animation techniques animators swear will enhance your animation skills. First, there are exercises you can practice, such as sketching your characters, turning their heads, moving around, and changing facial expressions.

Second, you can use equipment that’s guaranteed to have you animating more efficiently, such as non-photo blue pencils, punched copy papers, and drawing gloves. And third, you can work on 2D animation software to enhance your animations and help you expand your animation career.

With those 10 techniques, you’re sure to level up your 2D animation game, attract tons of new clients, and maintain a positive relationship with your current ones. 

For more tips on developing your business skills as a freelance animator or animation studio owner, you can join our informative free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!

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