Ok, so what do animators use to draw? We’ve got the answer right here, and it’s actually a pretty simple one.
We do want to note that choice of gear can sometimes differ between professional animators working on big projects and hobbyist animators working more or less on their own, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
And before we get started, if you happen to be new to animation and you’re looking to get started, we have another article all about equipment that beginner animators should consider picking up.
But otherwise, it’s time to move on to the meat of the matter: what animators actually use to draw these days.
Also, just for the record, we’re really focusing on 2D animation here, as drawing doesn’t exactly apply to 3D CG animation all that much, except in the texture department, so please keep that in mind as we jump in.
Professional vs. Hobbyist Animators
As we already mentioned, it’s important to distinguish some common differences between the tools that professional animators use and the tools that hobbyist animators use.
These differences aren’t always present across the board, so you may have a professional animator who chooses to use a low-level animation program or very basic tools in general, whereas most professional animators would probably use more advanced tools.
But generally speaking, the devices and tools being used by these two different groups tend to differ, perhaps largely because professional-grade tools cost a lot more, and so not every hobbyist animator can justify those types of purchases.
We’ve split our answer into different sections based on the type of animator in question. Let’s get to it.
Professional Display Tablets
Many professional animators who are working on major projects in television or film use professional-grade drawing tablets (AKA pen displays) that also have displays built in.
Basically, think of these types of devices as monitors that happen to also have advanced touch surfaces.
These are not standalone PCs with touchscreens, though touchscreen PCs can also be helpful to animators.
Instead, these are really just display units that work in tandem with a computer, so your computer is handling all the actual processing, and the display allows you to draw freely using whatever applicable software you already have on your computer.
If you’ve ever seen some behind-the-scenes footage of an animation project from the last ten years or so, you’ve probably seen these kinds of displays before.
Even video game studios often use these displays within their art departments to create concept art or assets for their games.
Professional animators are basically expected to know how to use these displays and be comfortable working with them. Thankfully, they’re really not that hard to use. You can basically treat them like touchscreen PCs, combined with the precision of a digital drawing tablet.
In fact, when joining up with a professional animation studio, it’s likely that you would be provided with one of these devices and set to work, not given the option to use a different tablet, though this obviously differs from studio to studio.
Also, these devices are quite expensive, rivaling the price of mid-level PCs.
But now it’s time to talk about the much less expensive option, one that is often used by both pro and hobbyist animators alike.
USB Tablets (No Display)
We’ve talked about these devices in our animation equipment for beginners article, but basically, these are USB devices that work with just about any computer, and they feature highly accurate drawing surfaces that work with an included stylus or even with fingertips (though you should really stick with the stylus for any serious work).
These devices are far less expensive than their pen display counterparts. Whereas a quality pen display might cost about $800 or more, one of these USB tablets can be had for about $50 brand new, making it a much better option for those just getting started or anyone on a budget.
While we do think these tablets are much more common among hobbyist animators, there are definitely plenty of professionals who prefer these devices or are simply more comfortable working with them.
Compared to seeing your lines appear directly on the surface you’re drawing on, it can definitely take some getting used to when working with these tablets instead, only seeing your lines show up on whatever monitor you’re working with.
But in terms of accuracy and usability, there really aren’t many disadvantages to USB tablets, so if you want to explore software animation, we highly recommend picking up one of these tablets.
The last major component of what animators use to draw, and maybe the most obvious one, is software.
None of these tools we’ve been talking about would be worth very much if you didn’t have some kind of animation or drawing software to use them with.
There are many animation programs out there, some much more expensive than others, but the open-source Krita and Adobe’s vector-based Animate are pretty powerful options, especially for beginners.
Learning to use any of this software is worthy of another article completely, but thankfully there are many, many tutorials online for the software of your choice.
Once again, it’s worth noting that professional animators working with an existing studio probably aren’t going to get a choice of what animation software to use. Chances are that the studio will already be using one central program that makes collaboration much easier, so part of becoming a professional animator is learning the handful of industry-standard programs that they’ll probably be using across many different projects.
Now, does all this mean that animators only ever draw with these high-tech devices using software? No, of course not. While animators complete basically all of their actual work on tablets and computers, plenty of animators still draw outside of the office, maybe using a tablet or maybe just going back to basics with a pencil and some paper.
And yes, of course traditional animation with animation paper that gets scanned into a digital format is definitely still a thing, and there are animators out there who still prefer this method and the look it produces.
But for the most part, animators have gone digital.