2D vs 3D animation: which works better as animated educational video

Most of you could quickly tell the difference between 2D and 3D animations. Yeah, easy. The Little Mermaid is 2D animation while Toy Story is the 3D one. We all know that 3D videos give us a more dimensional experience with various angles whereas 2D videos stay in the flat environment. Nevertheless, the dimension is not the only key factor when it comes to choosing the right video material for your course. Then, 2D vs 3D animation, which works better for your course?

Types of 2D and 3D animations in education 

3D animation types

  • Digital 3D video: the movie type with no interactive element
  • Interactive 3D: the video game type that allows you to interact with the 3D objects on the screen
  • Virtual Reality 3D: the immersive oculus rift type that let you explore the 3D space

Interactive and virtual reality 3D is the future of online education. They allow you to interact with the 3D objects instead of just watching some videos. Students would have chances to experience real-life scenarios with little risks. Imagine pilot trainees practice their flights or medical students operate surgeries without endangering patients’ lives. Despite its promising values in professional training, this modern technology is still in the development process. We may see a more practical application of virtual reality and interactive 3D in the near future.

In fact, we mostly see the digital 3D type only. They are great at helping the audiences understand complicated ideas by visualizing the concepts in the 3D environment. This type of videos is most common in medical training where there is a high need for 3D videos to bring complex processes, procedures or devices to life.

2D animation types

  • Hand-drawn animations: traditional cartoons that are drawn frame-by-frame
  • Motion graphics: animations that are generated from vector illustration with a software
  • Whiteboards: animation present a hand drawing simple illustrations on a whiteboard

Hand-drawn animations, or the traditional cartoons you see on Cartoon Network, are not so common in eLearning industry. They require the animators to draw every frame of the scene, which means 15-24 frames for one second depending on the quality of the video. The more frame we create, the smoother the video becomes. A training program may need a series of animated educational videos. It could be costly and time-consuming to produce one minute of animation, let alone a series.

There are other types of 2D animations other than traditional movies: motion-graphics and whiteboard animations. These two video formats are pretty popular in the online learning industry. Whiteboard is simple with the appearance of a hand drawing images on a white background. Motion-graphic is more complicated and colorful. Both of these video types are generated by computers to create the movement. They are quicker to produce and more cost-efficient in comparison to the hand-drawn type. The animators would have less bother drawing every frame of one scene. They just need to illustrate the background, the keyframes and let computers do the animating work.

2D vs 3D animation as educational videos

Comparing 2D vs 3D animation, I would just refer 2D animations as motion graphics and whiteboard animations, and 3D animations as digital 3D videos. They are the most common in eLearning industry. In the case of 2D, hand-drawn animations come as unnecessarily costly and time-consuming. On the other hand, 3D videos with interactive elements are less practical for average educational institutions.

The similarities

2D and 3D animations serve the same function of improving the engagement and learning outcomes in education.

We need animated videos to explain the complicated process that either is too visually disturbing or cannot be seen by naked eyes. It is vital for courses like medical training since they require accurate details to help learners understand the context to the fullest. When it comes to a matter of life and death, we can hardly allow the misconception.

And watching animation is fun. Educational animations, in both 2D and 3D style, give us a more enjoyable and beautiful learning experience. With sounds and visuals, they intermediately grab the learners’ attention. In eLearning, students have better management of their time, place and pace studying. It is such a double-edged sword since the full control requires more discipline as well as motivation. Animations play a crucial role in eLearning as both an explainer and an engager.

The differences

1. The time

Unless it is the traditional hand-drawn cartoon, 2D animations require less production time than 3D animations. 2D animations are the flat version of the world while 3D illustrates the same environment with more depth and full angle customization. The primary process of creating a 2D animation includes:

  • Concept and storyboard
  • Illustration
  • Animation
  • Composition and special VFX
  • Editing and final output

3D is technical since it involves all of above stages but adds much more steps: modeling, texturing, rigging, lighting, camera setting, and rendering. Although both types are generated with the support of computer, 3D animations require more human resources with different skill sets and software flexibility.

2. The price

Most of the time, 3D is much more expensive than 2D.

The production process of 3D animation is more complicated with many specific tasks. Hence we need lots of people to produce proper animations that work in medical training. For example, to represent the human body system with 360o precision in medical training, the 3D artists also need to pay extra attention to the details. On the other hand, the job of the 2D video is explaining the medical processes or healthcare procedures rather than illustrating the human body. The technique is also simpler, so 2D animations are much cheaper.

3. The application

3D animations perform best in illustrating ideas with more realistic textures. With 3D videos, we can change the lighting or move the camera angle so that students would have a better experience of observation. Lifelike and detailed graphics could help students apply their earned knowledge to practice with ease. Hence 3D animations are suitable for courses that require high accuracy like medical or engineering training. The application of 3D animations in medical courses is wide, ranging from drug mechanism of action to surgical planning and training. Engineering educators also gain great benefits from 3D videos in explaining complex framework of a machine.

On the other hand, various concepts need not much realistic animated videos, even if it is about medication. For example, healthcare training for nurses covering work ethics, communicating with the team, personal hygiene or collecting specimens.

How can we benefit from 3D videos about work ethics?

I am not sure. You tell me.

Unless it is the costly hand-drawn animation, 2D animation lacks the ability to change camera angles for sure. Their key feature is the storytelling indeed. 2D animations are mostly used to illustrate a complicated process or bring an academic topic to life. They transform the tedious training into something much more enjoyable and funny. Such power generates the engagement of online courses. That is why 2D animations would be perfect for classes like healthcare training or patient education.

This is an example from Ted-ed. The video gives out a fun explanation of how the heart pumps blood. Instead of detailed illustrations about the human circulation system, 2D animation focuses more on delivering the information in the easiest way possible by storytelling. Hence it is suitable for even people with low health literacy. However, it may be too general for professional study.


The answer to the question whether 2D or 3D works better lies in the requirements and purposes of your course. Courses that contain more detailed and realistic requirements like surgeon training would benefit well from 3D animations. However, other eLearning programs that utilize storytelling for better learning outcomes may take 2D animated learning video as a better alternative.

Read Further:

Related posts