What’s in a look? Animation styles for explainer videos

What’s in a look? Animation styles for explainer videos

Animation style is one of the first things we talk about with a client in the early stages of an explainer video project.

Not only does animation style affect the cost of the project, but it also sets the tone for the video and can be the difference between a viewer clicking elsewhere or watching through to the end. The style can literally “make or break” a video, regardless of whether there is a strong script, powerful voice over, or catchy music.

Mood board showing different themes, styles, illustrations to help inspire animation design

Every good design starts with a mood board of styles the client is drawn to, or styles we think could work well.


But not everyone knows the impact of different styles. We’ve outlined the five main styles of explainer videos below, and the benefits and considerations of each.


Whiteboard Videos


The ever-popular whiteboard video (also called sketch video, RSA style video, or speed drawing video) has saturated online videos in the last decade. And there are now plenty of do-it-yourself whiteboard video programs.

However, if you’re going to invest the time and energy into a whiteboard video project, it’s best to seek out a custom whiteboard animator and avoid the “canned” look of DIY software.

Custom whiteboard animations are illustrated from scratch for each project, using imagery unique to your industry or topics, powerful storytelling, creative scene transitions, and well-designed layouts to better engage your audience.


Playful, non-intimidating, simple

A well-designed whiteboard animation is mesmerizing in how each illustration is drawn out and revealed to the audience. It’s akin to watching over an artist’s shoulder as they draw, similar to graphic recording.

This style lends itself well to educational videos on a range of topics – from health and chronic diseases, to climate science, to announcing a new public service. Breaking down a complex topic into simple line drawings echoes how a professor might map out equations on a chalk board.


Whiteboard videos range from basic time-lapse videos to a more fully designed and animated video:


Time-lapse videos are drawn in real time based on a script or pre-recorded audio. They’re the quickest and simplest type of animation to produce, and the completed illustration is also provided as a static JPEG.



Standard Whiteboard Video



Standard Chalkboard Video



More Fully Animated Whiteboard Video




Works well for a range of audiences, but particularly great for engaging the general public.

Production Time (for a 2-3 minute video)

3-7 weeks, depending on the format



Illustrations Over Live Footage


This is a great way of enhancing a video you’ve already filmed and edited. Illustrations highlight concepts, convey emotion, and act as a “hidden” layer of meaning that’s revealed in each scene.


Playful, whimsical, creative

This style works well for videos that showcase community programs, grass-roots organizations, education themes, and anywhere you want to convey a sense whimsy, magic, and creativity. 




People who you want to attract to your program or initiative; creative thinkers and people inspired by illustrations.

Production Time (for a 2-3 minute video)

3-4 weeks (depending on amount of detail required)


Paper Cut-Out Stop Motion


A hand-made feel in a digital world! Paper cut-out videos are distinct from the other videos profiled here because they truly feel hand-crafted. Typically rich in colours and textures, and sometimes using objects other than paper, these videos are eye catching.


Warm, human, grass-roots, quirky

The hand-made feel is warm and conveys the artist behind work through the cut marks, finger prints, or having a hand manipulate objects in the scene. This style lends itself well to any project wanting to convey grass-roots creativity & humanness. For example, a climate action organization might use this style to engage its community. A corporate brand might want to convey that they value individuality and creativity through a paper cut-out video.


Paper cut-out animation



Found objects animation


Anyone you want to reach on a personal level – whether it’s customers, employees, or a specific audience.

Production Time (for a 2-3 minute video)

6-8 weeks


Motion Graphics Animation


These animations use a small selection of elements such as text, icons, and basic scenes to tell a story. They’re not as detailed as 2D animations (see below), but have a similar polish. Motion graphics work well if you’ve already got a set of graphics and text you would like animated, as the video will be aligned with branding. However, text and icons can be custom designed for each video.


Slick, polished, confident

Motion graphics flow seamlessly from concept to concept. There is not a lot of detail in each scene, as the focus is primarily on text transitions, icon movements, and smoothly flipping from topic to topic. But don’t be deceived by the seamlessness! Animations like these require a keen attention to detail to ensure everything works in concert.

Motion graphics work well for polished corporate communications, or where you want to convey a sense of confidence or urgency in a subject.




People you want to join your cause or get behind an idea. Particularly effective for business communications.

Production Time (for a 2-3 minute video)

4-7 weeks, depending on the format (i.e. whether you’re providing the graphics for animation, or if they’re being created from scratch)


2D Animations


These are some of the most creative, beautiful, and unique styles of explainer videos. They range from water-colour illustrations, to flat graphics, to stylized illustrations. The thing they have in common is that scenes are fully animated and “come to life.” Characters move and interact, trees move in the wind, water flows in rivers, and scenes transition from one to the next in unique and surprising ways. There is always something for the eye to see in this visual symphony of movement.


Engaging, rich, beautiful, detailed

A 2D animation should feel like you’ve been plunged into a unique world, with lots of interesting details and movement to delight the eye. These videos work well as showpieces for explaining a company’s vision, connecting people emotionally to a powerful story, or as videos intended to serve a longer timeframe beyond a single campaign or project. These videos are meant to “stick” in the viewer’s mind!


Limited Animation

Detailed illustrations, but not fully animated scenes (e.g. just a few items move in each scene)



Full Animation

Detailed illustrations, fully animated scenes (multiple items move in & out)




Anyone you need to move to action, inspire, or connect to on a deeper level.

Production Time (for a 2-3 minute video)

6-10 weeks (depending on level of animation and detail required)


Animation style is just one important piece of a well-designed explainer video. A concise script, professional voice over, thoughtful music, and an openness to creative storytelling are the other building blocks of an effective video.

Have an interesting story you want to bring to life? Learn more about our animation process, or reach out – we’d love to hear your ideas!



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