10 Essentials for the Traditional Animator

  1. Traditional animators need low-tech tools
  2. No photo blue pencils
  3. Pencil Drawing Sets
  4. 3 Hole Punched Paper
  5. Light table/Light table
  6. Peg Bar
  7. Art Gum eraser
  8. Cell/Transparencies
  9. to paint
  10. brushes
  11. Crayons, watercolors, markers and pastels

Traditional animators need low-tech tools

While digital animation is all the rage, there is still room for traditional hand-drawn animation. If you’re planning on working on a traditional cage animation, you’ll need some basic supplies in the office or at home. The basics cover you from your first sketches to the drawn cells needed to bring animation to life.

No photo blue pencils

At the top of the list of traditional animator supplies are blue pencils with no photo. These pencils are useful for making initial sketches as they have a light blue tint that does not show up on copies when transferring work from paper to erasing checks.

Pencil Drawing Sets

A set of drawing pencils is essential. Usually a regular wooden pencil works best. Eberhard Faber, Sanford and Tombow create high-quality collections of drawing pencils in different lead hardnesses.

When restoring animation, 2B pencils are a good choice. They are soft enough to give a varied line, but firm enough to create dark, clean lines.

3 Hole Punched Paper

You need something to draw with pencil sets. It is best to buy carbon paper with three holes punched on the side per stack or per box. One second of animation takes 30 to 100 sheets of paper, allowing you to create duplicates for tracking and errors, so you need a lot of paper. The 20-pound copy paper is heavy enough to make a good copy and light enough to be seen through multiple layers when placed on a light-colored table.

The three-hole punched paper is attached to a small dowel rod taped to your light desk to hold the paper in place. Buying pre-punched paper eliminates the need for manual punching or sticking to your table and makes it easier to align the pages.

Light table/Light table

A lighted table or lighted table is an essential addition to your list of traditional animation consumables. The light table has two main purposes. You use it to keep track of your sketched frames and draw new frames as snacks. A light table illuminates your artwork from below so that it is transparent enough to view.

Some lightboxes are expensive; Professional glass-top turntables can cost thousands, or you can find a large desktop box for as little as $100. A small, lightweight 10″ by 12″ angled drawing box is suitable for the budget-conscious animator.

Peg Bar

Pin is a small plastic strip 8.5 by 11 inches long with three small pins at the same intervals as the holes in the paper. You can glue or glue a hanging rod to the top of the light box and place copy paper on it to hold it firmly in place. When you’re working on character animation, it’s sometimes hard to get your paper back in line after taking it off the light table, so the pin puts everything back in place. Check your local arts and crafts store to find one.

Art Gum eraser

You will make mistakes when drawing animations and for that you need an eraser. Art Erasers are much better than standard erasers because they erase lead cleanly without chafing the surface of the paper or leaving marks from old debris or the eraser itself.


After your drawings are complete, transfer your drawings from plain paper to the cells so that they can be drawn and then placed on a separately drawn background. It’s hard to find something packaged as “cell”. You need copy-protected transparencies.

This type of transparency film is used on overhead projectors, but you should definitely buy one that is thermal and copy protected. The easiest way to go from paper to transparencies is to use a copier, but you must use the correct transparencies or else it will melt in the copier and ruin it.

to paint

When everything is ready, you will need paint. Drawing on smooth squares is difficult and requires thick paint. Most people use acrylic. The trick is to paint on the back of the transparency opposite the side that the copier toner is on. This way there is no chance that wet paint will smear the copied lines.


You want a set of medium to fine hairline brushes. When working with letter-size transparencies, you don’t need a large brush to fill in large areas, but you do need thin brushes to get the fine details right.

Crayons, watercolors, markers and pastels

Crayons, pastels, watercolors and markers are used on backgrounds drawn on paper of the same size as the animation. Static backgrounds for a single motion sequence only need to be drawn once.

While you can use watercolors and pastels, most traditional animators use Prismacolor color markers with a clear blender to combine shades and create a watercolor look with control. From time to time, Prismacolor crayons do the job for the background.

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