Motion Graphics vs. Animation: What's the Difference?

Motion Graphics vs. Animation: What's the Difference?

7 min read

Whether you’re a seasoned player in the creative industry or a savvy business owner interested in elevating your brand advertising, motion graphics and animation are tools you can use to take your practice to the next level.

However, before you can do that, it’s important to understand the difference between each mode of design. That way, you can pinpoint the method best for you and use it to deliver a killer end product.

Ready to get started? Great! Let’s run through the key differences between these two popular types of animation.

Motion Graphics

This is a small subset of animation which takes previously static images and makes them more dynamic. It deals with 2D graphics pretty much exclusively, and while it enhances the visual impact of an otherwise lifeless image, it doesn’t do anything to further its narrative or give it one at all.

For example, you know when you’re shopping online and a quick buy option appears on screen? Or when a static banner pauses when you hover over it? That’s motion graphics. It’s a simple, effective, and widely used part of media that millions of people use or encounter every single day.

Examples of Motion Graphics

Despite it being one of the most popular modes of animation, it’s often hard to spot. Here are some well-known examples of when it’s put to good use.

  • Dynamic logos
  • Animated page titles
  • Lower Thirds/title cards
  • UI animation
  • Animated icons
  • Graphic design videos
  • Explainer videos
  • Music videos
  • Online Video transitions
  • GIFs


Now, it’s time to tackle the great big parent term that is animation.

Just like motion graphics, animation is a technique used to give static imagery movement. However, it’s also an umbrella term that is used to categorize the whole field of moving imagery, including everything from cartoons and typography to motion graphics itself.

Just think of animation as an all-encompassing umbrella and under it, multiple styles of graphic design. This means that while motion graphics may always fall under the hood animation, animation doesn’t always exclusively mean motion graphics - get it?

Styles of Animation

Under the umbrella of animation, there are five main styles.

Each one has different costs, uses, and requirements, and together they are responsible for the entire world of graphics that we know, love, and use today.

Here are the five types of animation techniques.

Traditional Animation

Are you familiar with Tarzan? The Lion King? Pinocchio? Well, those are all made using traditional animation.

Traditional animation is a technique where each frame of the animation is drawn by hand. It can also be known as hand-drawn animation or cel animation, and until the age of computer animation, it was the dominant type of animation used in cinema.

Motion Graphics

As explained above, this is a subgenre of animation that turns a still image into one that encompasses movement. However, the image rarely has a story or an emotive edge.

Stop Motion Graphics

This is a frame-by-frame movement of objects and figures that creates an illusion of fluid movement. This manual technique allows for any kind of physical item to star in a picture, as long as it keeps still, of course.

Though incredibly delicate and time-consuming, stop motion graphics is a popular and beautiful art form. It was the style championed in films such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline.

2D Animation

This is probably the most common style of animation and refers to two-dimensional graphics that are rapidly sequenced to create the illusion of lifelike movement.

When the graphics are drawn by hand, it is often categorized as traditional animation, however, it can also be produced using electronic tools.

3D Animation

This refers to graphics that were modeled in a three-dimensional environment and then animated. It is the style most used in the animation industry and gave us movies such as Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Frozen.

Designers who specialize in 3D animation begin by conceptualizing a character or object before creating a to-scale model of said object and using animation software to bring it to life. Integrating the 3D model into the digital environment decked out with special effects means that they can watch how it responds to and acts in a 360° space. This produces a pretty darn accurate end product.

Motion Graphics vs. Animation: A Comparison

Now that you understand the key differences, let's compare both modes so that you can pinpoint which best suits your requirements.

Statistics vs. Narratives

Motion graphics tend to be less captivating than animation. They simply aim to enhance the delivery of a selling point, statistic, or instruction, animation concentrates on crafting a narrative.

A successful animation connects with its audience, tugs at their heartstrings, and tells a story. Meanwhile, a functioning motion graphic merely informs, teaches, or instructs them.

To summarize, if the animated picture you’re looking at tells a killer story or enhances a narrative, chances are you’ve got yourself an animation, not a motion graphic.

Simple vs. Complex

Generally speaking, motion graphics call for less complex designs than animation.

Now, don’t get it twisted. This doesn’t mean that designing them is a piece of cake, it just means that creating a superbly effective motion graphic usually requires fewer resources.

For example, do you want to design a pop-out title for your company’s introductory video? Well, chances are that with the right software, you can do so swiftly without little to no complications. However, if you’re hoping to produce a captivating animated feature from start to finish, one that meets its function expertly just like the pop-out title on your company’s introductory video did, then you’re going to need an extensive skillset, ample resources, and an empty calendar.

Reasonably Priced vs. Expensive

As mentioned above, designing an animation that meets its function tends to be more time-consuming and complex than creating a satisfactory motion graphic. This means that producing a motion graphic requires less specific input and thus, is generally less expensive.

2D vs. 3D

Another distinguishing feature between animation and motion graphics is their difference in dimensions. While animation can refer to both 2D or 3D graphics, things like banners of GIFs are almost exclusively comprised of 2D images.

While this difference may result in motion graphics appearing less riveting when compared to the realistic graphics defined by animation, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You see it isn’t a motion graphic’s job to capture your heart or seem lifelike. It serves to direct and inform. A 2D design is often easier to digest and quicker to understand, thereby enabling the viewer to promptly follow its instruction and the motion graphic to meet its goal.

Accessory vs. Main Focus

Generally speaking, motion graphics tend to integrate over preexisting live-action or real-life footage, such as a video or website. However, animations, on the other hand, tend to exist as standalone imagery over a generated background of other animations.

Think of it this way, if motion graphics and animation were in a pop group, animation would be the lead singer, while motion graphics would be the functional, just not very memorable, backing singers.

The Software Used For Both

Years ago, graphic designers used to only use physical tools to create scenes, characters, or accessories. However, today, animators and graphic artists alike have a huge range of digital tools at their fingertips that allow them to produce clean, functional designs promptly. Here are some of our favorite tools used for both.

  • MAYA
  • Blender
  • Animate
  • Adobe After Effects

So, Which Should You Use?

Image Source: Unsplash

Now that you’re up to scratch on all things motion graphics vs. animation, it’s time to pinpoint the mode that will best leverage your skill set and meet your requirements. Here are some key questions to consider before you make your pick.

Do you want your graphic to tell a story?

If you answered yes, you should probably go for animation.

Animation breathes life into a character and enables viewers to connect with an audience and their story on an emotional level, take for example the animation master pieces of Studio Ghibli. Utilizing animation will make your narrative more realistic and captivating, so if you’re hoping to take viewers on a journey, the animation is the vehicle for you.

Do you want your graphic to be the focus of your media?

If you answered no, we suggest you opt for motion graphics.

3D animations are made to captivate and thus, they tend to steal the show. If you’re merely looking to enhance your pre-existing website or instructional video, keep things simple with a functional motion graphic.

Are you using your graphic to instruct or teach viewers?

If you answered yes, then we advise incorporating some motion graphics into your presentation, video, or image. Their simple nature makes for fantastic learning aids and visual cues. If you’ve got a big college presentation coming up, stand out from the crowd by including some clever motion animation.

Will your graphic be used for corporate purposes?

If you answered no, then consider using animation.

While the vivid and catchy nature of a cartoon or 3D object may be enticing, it can also be labeled as fantastical, distracting, or childlike, thereby making them unsuitable for certain projects or settings.

That’s why we recommend using plan 2D graphics for a project that is rooted in professional settings such as an office, university, or informative website. You probably already familiar with the 2D Corporate Illustrations style.

Well, there you have it, a complete and informative debrief on all things motion graphics vs. animation.

No matter whether you opt for a delightful animation or a sharp motion graphic, remember, the most effective graphics are the ones that best enhance your project and yield results. Any graphic that successfully makes its purpose is a successful graphic.‍

There you have it! We hope this guide helped you to understand the different between motion graphics and animation.

Did you know that graphics made in Vectornator can be easily animated in another software like After Effects? Check out this guide on vector animation to learn more!

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