10 Essential Art Supplies for the Traditional Animator

Traditional animators require low-tech tools

Art of Animation Resort

Disney, inc. 

Although digital animation is all the rage, there's still a market for traditional, hand-drawn animation. If you're planning to work on cel-painted animation, you need a few basic supplies in your office or home. The basics cover you from your original sketches to the painted cells needed to bring the animation to life.

Non-Photo Blue Pencils

Turquoise Drawing Leads

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Non-photo blue pencils are useful for doing initial sketches because they're a shade of pale blue that doesn't to show up on copies when you transfer your work from paper to clear cels.

Drawing Pencil Sets

Eberhard Faber Pencils

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

When you're retracing animation, 2B pencils are good choices. They are soft enough to give for a varied line but hard enough to make dark clean lines.

3-Hole Punched Paper

Tidal paper

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You need something to draw on with your pencil sets. Your best bet is to buy copy paper with three holes punched down the side by the ream or by the case. One second of animation takes anywhere from 30 to 100 sheets of paper, allowing for duplicates for retracing and for mistakes, so you need a lot of paper. And 20 lb. copy paper is heavy enough to make a good copy and light enough that you can see through several layers of it when it is on a light table.

Three-hole-punched paper attaches to a small peg bar taped on your light table to hold the paper in place. Buying the paper already punched saves you the trouble of punching it manually or taping it on the table, and makes it easier to align pages.

Light Table/Light Desk

Light Table

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A light table or light desk is a critically important addition to your animation supplies list. The light table has two primary purposes. Use it to retrace your sketched frames and to sketch new frames as in-betweens. A light table illuminates your artwork from beneath to make it transparent enough to see through for reference.

Some light tables are expensive; professional glass-top rotating tables can cost thousands, or you can find a large desktop box for just under $100. A small light tracer box with a 10-inch-by-12-inch slanted drawing surface works for the budget-minded animator.

Peg Bar

Peg bar

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A peg bar is a small plastic strip the length of an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch piece of paper with three small pegs on it spaced ​at the same intervals as the holes in the paper. You can tape or glue the peg bar to the top of the light table and lay the copy paper over it to hold it securely in place. When you're working on character animation, sometimes it's hard to get your paper to line up again after you remove it from the light table, so having a peg bar returns everything to its proper place. Check your local arts and crafts store to find one.

ArtGum Eraser


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You're going to make mistakes while drawing animation, and for those times, you need an eraser. ArtGum erasers are far superior to standard erasers because they rub out lead cleanly without eroding the paper surface or leaving behind smudges from either past lead rub-offs or the eraser itself.


Transparency Film

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After your drawings are complete, you transfer your artwork from plain paper onto cells, so they can be painted and then placed against a separately drawn background. It's difficult to find anything packaged as "cels." What you need are copy-safe transparency films.

This type of transparency film used on overhead projectors, but you have to make sure to buy the kind that is heat safe and copy safe. The easiest way to transfer from paper to transparency is using a copier, but you have to use the right kind of transparency, or it'll melt in the copier and ruin it.


Acrylic Paint

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When the cels are done, you need paints. Painting on slick cels is difficult and requires a thick paint. Most people use acrylics. The trick is to paint on the backside of the transparency, the opposite side from the side that the copier toner is on. That way, there's no chance that the wet paint will smudge the copied lines.


Watercolor painting supplies shot knolling style.
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You need a set of paintbrushes that range from midsize to a fine hairline. When you work on letter-size transparencies, you won't have much need for a large brush to fill in enormous areas, but you do need fine brushes for getting smaller details just right.

Colored Pencils, Watercolors, Markers, and Pastels

Cropped Hand Holding Blue Pastel Crayon Over Box
Alice Day / EyeEm / Getty Images

Colored pencils, pastels, watercolors, and markers are used on backgrounds, which are drawn on the same size paper as the animation. Static backgrounds for a single motion sequence only have to be drawn once.

Although you can use watercolors and pastels, most traditional animators use colored Prismacolor markers with a clear blender to run the shades together to deliver a watercolor look with control. Occasionally, Prismacolor colored pencils do the job for backgrounds.

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