Whether you’re a seasoned player in the creative industry or a savvy business owner interested in elevating your brand's advertising, motion graphics, and animation are techniques 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 technique. That way, you can pinpoint the method best for you and use it to deliver a killer end product.

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

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Historical context: the rise of animation and motion graphics

The desire to capture movement and bring life to still images stretches back centuries, with early examples like the flip book (1800s).

The birth of animation as we know it began with the invention of celluloid film in the late 19th century. Pioneers like Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur, 1914) and Walt Disney (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937) established hand-drawn animation as a dominant storytelling medium.

Motion graphics, on the other hand, emerged as a field much later, heavily influenced by technological advancements.

Here's a breakdown of the key turning points:

Early seeds (1800s–1940s):

  • Pre-cinema devices: While not strictly animation, pre-cinema devices like the zoetrope and flip book planted the seeds for the illusion of movement.
  • Title cards: Early films often used illustrated title cards with minimal animation, hinting at the potential of graphic design in motion.

The rise of motion graphics (1940s–1960s):

  • Experimental films: The mid-20th century saw a surge of experimental filmmakers like Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren, who explored using graphic design elements in animated films.
  • Technological advancements: The development of cel animation techniques (acetate sheets with hand-drawn characters) unintentionally freed graphic designers to experiment with animation for specific purposes beyond character-driven narratives.

Motion graphics take center stage (1960s–present):

  • Saul Bass and title sequences: The legendary graphic designer Saul Bass revolutionized title sequences with iconic works for films like Psycho (1960) and North by Northwest (1959), showcasing the power of motion graphics in storytelling without characters.
  • Rise of television and advertising: The growth of television and advertising created a demand for clear, concise, and visually engaging messages—a perfect fit for motion graphics.
  • Computer animation revolution: The arrival of powerful computers in the late 20th century opened doors for sophisticated 3D motion graphics and visual effects, further solidifying motion graphics as a distinct field.

Today, animation and motion graphics co-exist and often complement each other. But what are the two different techniques? How do they differ? Are they similar in any way? Keep reading to find out.

What's motion graphics?

This is a small subset of animation that makes previously static images more dynamic. It deals almost exclusively with 2D graphics and 2D graphic software

Creating motion graphics 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, do you know when you’re shopping online that 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.

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10 examples of motion graphics

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

  1. Dynamic logos
  2. Animated page titles
  3. Lower Thirds or title cards
  4. UI animation
  5. Animated icons
  6. Graphic design videos
  7. Explainer videos
  8. Music videos
  9. Online Video transitions
  10. GIFs

What's animation?

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

In motion graphics, animation is a technique for giving static imagery movement. However, it’s also an umbrella term that categorizes the whole field of moving imagery, including everything from cartoons and typography to motion graphics itself.

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Think of animation as an all-encompassing umbrella that includes multiple motion graphic design styles.

This means that while motion graphics may always fall under the umbrella of animation, animation doesn’t always exclusively mean motion graphics—get it?

5 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.

1. Traditional animation

Are you familiar with Tarzan (1999)? The Lion King (1994)? Pinocchio (1940)? Well, those are all made using traditional animation methods.

Traditional animation is a technique in which each frame 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.

2. Motion graphics

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

3. Stop motion animation

This frame-by-frame movement of objects and figures 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 animation is a popular and beautiful art form. 

It was the style championed in films such as Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Coraline (2009)

4. 2D animation

Animating in 2D 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.

Graphics drawn by hand are often categorized as traditional animation. But they can also be produced using animation software.

5. 3D animation

This refers to graphics modeled in a three-dimensional virtual environment and then animated. It’s the most-used style in the animation industry today, and it has inspired movies such as Toy Story (1995), Monsters Inc. (2001), and Frozen (2013).

Designers specializing in 3D animation begin by conceptualizing a character or object, creating a to-scale model, and using 3D animation software to bring it to life.

Integrating the 3D model into the digital environment decked out with special effects allows them to watch how it responds to and acts in a 360° space, producing 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.

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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, while animation concentrates on crafting a narrative and developing characters.

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.

If the animated picture you’re looking at tells a gripping story or enhances a narrative, chances are you have an animation and 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? With the right software, you can likely do so swiftly and with little to no complications.

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’ll 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. Producing a motion graphic requires less specific input and is thus generally less expensive.

With the increasing use of artificial intelligence in animation creation, you can expect to see the current high prices decrease by around 30%.

2D vs. 3D

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

While this difference may result in motion graphics appearing less riveting than the realistic graphics defined by animation, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A motion graphic isn't going to capture your heart or seem lifelike. It serves to direct and inform.

A 2D design is often easier to digest and understand, enabling the viewer to promptly follow its instructions and the motion graphic to meet its goal.

However, 3D motion graphics is no longer limited to high-budget productions and we are seeing this trend become increasingly common. With user-friendly 3D software becoming more accessible, we can expect a surge in 3D elements seamlessly integrated into motion graphics projects.

"If we are talking motion graphic trends, then I predict the following:
1) 3D textures: using 3D textures in a 2D animation environments.
2) Experimental minimalism: simple shapes and high contrast colors in a minimalist composition to avoid distractions.”—Maddy Zoli, Senior Designer at Linearity

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.

However, in film title design, motion graphics take center stage. 

An additional difference is that motion graphics developed out of experiments in computer graphics, whereas animation developed out of art and comics

A quick summary table of the differences

Motion graphics Animation
Focus Statistics and instructions Narratives
Complexity Simple Complex
Cost Reasonably priced Expensive
Dimension Mainly 2D 2D and 3D
Role Accessory (but not always) Main focus

The software used for both

Years ago, graphic designers used only physical tools to create scenes, characters, or accessories. 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:


Interested in using our graphic design and animation tools? Check out our pricing here. Spoiler alert: you can try our tools for free.

Which technique should you use?

Now that you’re up to speed 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. Below 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. It enables viewers to connect with the characters and their stories on an emotional level. Take, for example, Studio Ghibli's masterpieces

Ghibli characters aren't just drawn; they're animated with meticulous attention to detail. Subtle movements like a furrowed brow, a trembling hand, or the way hair blows in the wind all contribute to conveying emotions and personality.  This makes them feel real and relatable, even if they're fantastical creatures like Totoro or No-Face.

Animation will make your narrative more realistic and captivating. So, if you aim to take your audience on a journey, animation is the right medium for you.

Do you want your graphics 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 animated graphics to instruct or teach viewers?

If you answered yes, we advise incorporating motion graphics into your presentation, video, or image. Their simple nature makes them fantastic learning aids and visual cues.

If you’re preparing an animated presentation, stand out from the crowd by including some captivating motion design.

Will your graphic be used for corporate branding purposes?

If you answered no, then consider using animation. If you answered yes, it’s motion graphics for you.

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 it unsuitable for certain projects or settings.

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

However, animation does have its place for some corporate purposes and can be particularly useful for training or when used in conjunction with motion graphics to make explainer videos.

Animation vs. motion graphics as a career

Hopefully, at this point in the article, you’ve realized that animation and motion design are different. So, it should be no surprise that they offer diverse and exciting career paths. 

Here's a breakdown of some key roles and the skillsets needed to thrive in each:

Motion graphics careers

  • Motion graphics designer: These artists create animated visuals for various purposes, like marketing videos, explainer videos, and title sequences. They require strong graphic design skills, an understanding of animation principles, proficiency in motion graphics software, and the ability to communicate ideas visually so that they can bring graphic elements and any typography to life.
  • 3D motion graphics artist: This role requires 3D software expertise to create and animate 3D models for motion graphics projects. Skills in lighting, texturing, and rendering are also essential.
  • Kinetic typographer: Specialists in animating text, kinetic typographers create engaging and informative text-based animations. They require strong typography skills, an understanding of animation principles, and proficiency in motion graphics software.


  • Animator (2D or 3D): Animators bring characters and objects to life with movement and expression. They require strong drawing/modeling skills, an understanding of animation principles (timing, spacing, etc.), and the ability to collaborate effectively.
  • Character designer: Character designers are responsible for creating characters' visual identities. They need impressive drawing skills, an understanding of anatomy and character development, and the ability to translate ideas into visually appealing characters.
  • Storyboarding artist: Storyboard animation artists visually map out the narrative flow of an animation project. They require storytelling skills, the ability to translate scripts into visuals, and a good understanding of filmmaking techniques.
  • Concept artist: Concept artists set the visual tone for an animation project, creating initial sketches and paintings of characters, environments, and props. They need a strong imagination, a broad knowledge of design principles, and the ability to translate ideas into compelling visuals.

Breaking into either of these careers can be tough if you don’t have the correct skillset. There are plenty of animation tips and various animation courses available (free and paid) to help you brush up on anything you feel may be lacking.

These resources are helpful for novice animators and motion graphic designers, and even those who consider themselves pros but want to expand their knowledge and keep their skills fresh.

Shared skills

Both animation and motion graphics require a solid understanding of art fundamentals (color theory, composition, etc.), strong creative skills, and visual storytelling. Excellent communication and collaboration skills are crucial for working effectively within creative teams.

Key takeaways

Whether you opt for a delightful animation or a sharp motion graphic, the most effective graphics enhance your project and yield results. Any animation that reaches its purpose (education, information, entertainment, etc.) is a successful design.‍

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Linearity Move removes the barrier between static design and animation. You can effortlessly add motion to your static graphics and create dynamic presentations, eye-catching marketing materials, or engaging announcement posts.

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Frequently asked questions

When should I use motion graphics vs animation?

  • Motion graphics: Ideal for explaining complex concepts, showcasing data visualizations, creating title sequences, or adding polish to user interfaces.
  • Animation: Perfect for character-driven stories, explainer videos with a narrative arc, or creating engaging marketing materials with mascots or characters.

Do I need to be a skilled animator to create motion graphics?

Not necessarily. Motion graphics often rely on pre-made assets, typography, and simpler animation techniques. However, a basic understanding of animation principles like timing and easing will definitely be helpful.

Are there any design skills that translate well to both motion graphics and animation?

Absolutely! Your skills in composition, theory of color, typography, and visual hierarchy will be invaluable in both disciplines.

How can I add motion graphics to my existing design projects?

There are several ways! You can start by incorporating subtle animations like microinteractions in your user interfaces or by adding animated infographics or title sequences to your presentations.

Is it beneficial for a designer to learn some basic animation skills?

Yes! Even a basic understanding of animation principles can elevate your design projects and make them more interactive and engaging. It can also open doors to new career opportunities.

Where can I find resources to learn more about motion graphics?

There are many online tutorials (including free ones on YouTube), online courses on platforms like Skillshare or Udemy, and even industry blogs written by motion graphics professionals.

Your next career move: motion graphics vs. animation | Linearity
Your next career move: motion graphics vs. animation | Linearity