The 9 Best Gifts to Buy for Animators in 2023

Tools and toys for 3D modelers and animators

Digital artists might not need an endless supply of paint and canvases like painters, but there are still a lot of things required (or desired) to keep creative juices flowing. Whether you're shopping for the holidays, a birthday, a graduation gift, or just for the heck of it, here are great gift ideas for the 3D artist in your life.

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A 3D Print

3D Printing

Marco Vacca/Getty Images

3D printing is quickly becoming affordable, and if you're savvy enough to have access to the recipient's 3D files, there are multiple on-demand services that can make prints for you.

Shapeways and Sculpteo are probably the two most popular print services out there, and both make it really easy to get high-quality 3D prints in a range of materials that ​include plastics, ceramics, and even metal.

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A Training Subscription

If there's one thing that all 3D artists have in common, it's that they're always looking for ways to improve their art. Especially if you know someone who's just getting into 3D modeling, a training subscription at a site like Digital Tutors or 3DMotive can be a very, very valuable gift that won't go unappreciated.

Different sites are better for different disciplines. Several that come recommended are:

  • Eat3D and 3DMotive (very reasonably priced) for artists interested in game development, and 3DS Max users.
  • Gnomon and FXPHD for visual effects and modeling, although Gnomon pretty much covers the whole CG spectrum. The price tag on both of these is pretty high, but Gnomon definitely has a year's worth of good material, and FXPHD actually uses a workshop setting that includes some mentoring.
  • ZBrush Workshops for—yep, you guessed it—digital sculpting in ZBrush. 
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A Wacom Tablet

wacom intuos pro

Jfanchin/Getty Images

If the gift recipient has been doing digital art/CG for awhile this is something they probably already have, but if not this will be an extremely appreciated present.

There are only two tools more important to a 3D artist than a tablet — their computer and their software package. Although it's technically possible to paint decent textures and sculpt in ZBrush without a tablet, you'd have to be crazy to want to do it.

Wacom tablets start around $100 and run into the thousands, but even their lowest end hardware is rock solid. The Intuos series is a favorite among aspiring pros, but a cheaper Bamboo will certainly get the job done.

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Books: Digital Art Masters, Expose, Training Books, etc.

Expose and Digital Art Masters are the ultimate coffee table books for someone interested in 3D art. The pages are filled with hundreds of gorgeous 3d images, many accompanied by detailed write-ups from the talented artists that created them. Expose is currently in its ninth iteration, and Digital Art Masters released Vol. 6 earlier this year. Both are published annually.

Of course, artists are always trying to improve, so if you're looking to buy something a bit more instructional, check out books for 3D modelers and some of the best computer animation books.

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A Magazine Subscription: 3D Artist, 3D World, 3D Creative

With the recent explosion of the tablet and e-reader market, you'd be forgiven for thinking that print magazines are going the way of the dodo, but there are still a handful of 3D magazines surviving and thriving.

CreativeBloq and 3DWorld are the best of the bunch, and both contain a nice mix of tutorials, interviews, production features, and artist spotlights that you can't really find anywhere else.

If you'd rather keep things digital, 3D Creative is a fantastic e-zine distributed by 3DTotal Publishing, who have been consistently releasing top-quality material for years.

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An Anatomy Maquette

Mannequin Factory

Corbis/Getty Images

Having a book lying around like George Bridgeman's "Drawing From Life" is nice, but having an écorché model that references all the major anatomical forms of the body would be heaven.

High-quality maquettes from a source like Anatomy Tools are pricey, but they can definitely be worth the investment if the artist is doing a lot of detailed character work. Somewhat cheaper, but no less valuable, is the planes of the head mannequin, which can really help demystify facial anatomy for beginners.

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If your 3D artist friend is a modeler, a couple slabs of Sculpey (polymer clay) can be a really great gift.

As a digital artist, it can be very refreshing to dabble in traditional media from time to time, and of the widely available clays, Sculpey is the most suitable for maquette building and concept sculpting because it takes months to dry and holds details incredibly well.

Traditional sculpture can be a wonderful teaching tool for 3D artists who are trying to learn anatomy because it forces a more calculated and analytical approach than ZBrush, where incremental saves and the undo function provide a safety net.

Sculpey is available at any craft store — a lot of sculptors find a 2:1 ratio between Super Sculpey to Sculpey Premo produces an ideal firmness and color.

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A RAM Upgrade

Creative woman working at desk with coffee

Ezra Bailey/Getty Images

Didn't think of this one, did you? Yeah, it's possible to make CG on a computer with relatively low specs, but if you want your 3D application to run smoothly and efficiently you're going to want a whole bunch of RAM.

This would be very difficult to pull off as a surprise gift, but if you're not into surprises, ask your 3D-making buddy/relative if the RAM is maxed out on their workstation. If they're a pro, they're probably already running high-end specs (by necessity), but budget wary students and amateurs can almost always use a few more gigabytes of memory.

Depending on the situation, a RAM upgrade can range pretty drastically in price from $50 well into the hundreds, so you should definitely consult the artist if you're thinking about going this route.

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High-end 3D software suites run into the thousands, so unless you're a very generous gift giver you probably won't be doling out Maya licenses.

But having said that, there are a lot of smaller (cheaper) pieces of software and plug-ins that can be very useful to a 3D artist, such as Quixel nDo2 and Mara3D Anatomy Reference.

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