Designing for Animation | Part II

By 2017-04-30 Blog


We’re continuing our “Designing for Animation” series on digging into the more “nitty-gritty” details of tips and techniques for creating designs for animation. Be sure to catch up on Part I  of this series where we go over some impressive video statistics as well as a few examples from our own portfolio.

In this post, the software we’re going to focus mainly on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Both Illustrator and Photoshop work pretty well together with After Effects, you can create content in both applications and bring in all your layers as one single work space, better known in After Effects as a “composition”. This process makes the workflow easier since the designer doesn’t need to make a file for every single element, and the animator can easily set up the composition for animation.

Common Tips

There are some overall tips to keep in mind when designing content for animation:

Size is very important to know. The standard HD size is 1920 by 1080 pixels. You should know where the the video is going to be displayed. Is it for social media? Each social media platform has different sizes that show off your video better. Or maybe it’s a video that is going to show on a huge screen, in which 4K would probably be a better choice. Knowing the final size of the video eliminates any problems of low quality images or layout issues.


All video uses RGB colors. This means that anything designed for print, the colors need to be converted from CYMK to RGB. There’s a great site that allows you to plug in different colors (Pantone, CMYK, RGB, etc.) and get the color values you want. It’s always helpful to supply a color palette as well. Especially if it’s for something that needs to stay on brand.


Make sure to share with the animator any fonts that were used. A good amount of fonts that are on Adobe Typekit which makes it really easy to download fonts, just be sure to have a list of the ones needed.


 This doesn’t apply to all projects, but if the design is for something on brand, it’s a great asset to provide. It helps the animator to stay on track and to make creative decisions that will all fit into one cohesive look. If the brand doesn’t have a “motion” or “video brand” section of their guide, we can help them make one.


Raster vs. Vector

This might seem like a common knowledge, so feel free to skip over if so. If not, this is an important element for sure to keep in mind when designing for animation.




Raster graphics are made up of pixels and vector graphics are made up of shapes and paths. It might not seem like a big deal, but if you need to scale up your file by 200%. With a raster graphic, the image at one point would start to pixelate and get blurry. If a vector graphic is used it, it can scale up to any size without looking any resolution.


Sometimes assets might not be created at the right size for animation, so they will have to be scaled. It’s better if possible to work with vector graphics to make sure there won’t be a loss of quality. This is especially important with animation because you may want to zoom in and out of an asset and a raster image may make that impossible without severe losses in image quality.


Naming & Layering Conventions

As mentioned before, you can easily bring in an Illustrator or Photoshop file into After Effects. When doing this it is very important to make sure all layers are named properly. If layers aren’t named, then the animator is going to have to rename everything or scroll through endless “layer names.”




Setting up assets on different layers is another technique that helps speed up the animation process. Basically anything that could be moving on its own should be on its own layer. Let’s use our duck as an example. Below is what the set up in Illustrator would look like if you had all of the assets on one layer. 



We know that we want to animate the beak, hat, and eye. All of those elements should be on their own layer.




That way when the animator brings in the file, the design is set up to be rigged for animation. If this process is skipped, or everything is on one layer, the animator then has to go in and break everything up, adding a lot of additional time to the process.


Keeping Text and Strokes Data

This is another important technique that makes the process easier for animation. Sometimes text has to be expanded in designs, making it no longer editable. Usually when passing along the design for print, it makes it so there isn’t any issue of the end receiver not having the font.




If the text isn’t editable, this can cause a headache for animation. If the text needs to get changed, especially after animation, it adds additional work for the animator to set it up and make the change. It might not seem like a big deal for one word, but if you have a series of words or a paragraph it can become a pain to change.


The same goes for strokes. Sometimes strokes get expanded so there isn’t a scale issue if they are sized up or down. This can be an issue though if the strokes need to be animated. As we talked about in Part I for the HPE videos, stroke data from Illustrator can be brought into After Effects. There is a technique that makes it quick and easy to animate the stroke data.




When the stroke gets turned into a fill, then it adds an extra step. The animator needs to make an additional stroke that is the same, and use it as a mask to reveal the expanded stroke.


By applying these tips and techniques during design, it will make the animation process a lot smoother. If you’re a designer interested in bringing your designs to life or if you are working with an animator, stay tuned for Part III where we will go over some of the animation principles, best software choices and how to even animate in Photoshop.


Author Hannah

More posts by Hannah