Flipbook animation and how to create one. 

If you want to understand the essentials of animation, or bring your basic doodles to life, look no further than the humble flipbook. 

 

With this simple form of DIY animation there’s no need for fancy equipment or technical knowhow. All you need is a pen, a stack of paper and your imagination.

 

In this guide, we’ll talk through how flipbook animations work — and show you how to make your own.  

Sketching characters on a notepad.

What is a flipbook?

An animation flipbook uses a series of static images, which progress gradually in position from one page to the next. These images then create the impression of movement when you flick through the pages in sequence. 

 

Flipbooks vary in complexity. You might have made one at school — drawing stick people on a textbook or pad of paper – or you might have seen amazing examples of flipbook animation online, such as the examples shown later in this guide. 

 

Either way, the essence of flipbooks remains the same. Like many forms of animation, they’re based around an optical illusion called persistence of vision. The human eye can only process 10-12 separate images per second. When images appear in quicker succession than that, the brain merges them into a continuous stream.

 

Ostrich movement sequence across different drawings.

Flipbook animation examples.

Looking for some inspiration for your flipbook? You’ll find plenty on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, ranging from classic animation styles to subversive twists.

 

Here are some of the best examples of flip book animation online.

 

How it all started.

Creator theflippest tells an autobiographical story of how they got started in the world of flipbook animations. Using highly impactful illustrations to immerse viewers in their backstory, theflippest manages to capture their journey perfectly, rendering each flip with style, brevity, humour and precision.

Bringing origami to life.

This vibrant work by Amy Pirkle (AKA PerkolatorPressFlipbooks) showcases a beautiful illustration of how visually pleasing an origami-based flipbook can be. Its demonstration of how clearly defined shapes are effectively used when creating an object, in this case a fox, combines beautiful illustrations and a great story at the same time.

Notebooks reimagined.

This simple, yet effective flipbook shows that colours aren’t always 100% necessary to demonstrate how movement between individual images can have a big impact. Shanghai-based VISITORS show how transforming from one character to another, while keeping the vibrancy alive throughout, sometimes only needs humble pencil drawings to achieve an impressive effect.

 

The meta flipbook.

Here, theflippest brings another subversive take to the genre — presenting a flipbook within a flipbook. The colours, both primary and secondary, blend together to create a composition that effectively draws the viewer into a sub-world within a world, all within the flipbook format.

Flipbooks with extra props.

Creator Roger Wieland gains extra props for the usage of actual blades of grass in this lawnmower animation. As the figure mows the lawn in this full-colour flipbook, which captures each rotation of the mower to perfection, grass bursts from the pages as the animation nears its end. This extra effect shows how additional effects can go a long way to helping a flipbook stand out.

 

How flipbooks changed animation.

Persistence of vision was key to early animation devices like the Zoetrope. These cylindrical gizmos blew the bowler hats off Victorian audiences by presenting a rapid sequence of images from within a rotating drum.

 

Flipbooks are a little different, however — they present images in linear sequence, rather than through a circular device. It was actually the Victorian printer John Barnes Linnett who pioneered flipbooks in the 1860s, and their potential for animation and filmmaking quickly became apparent. 

 

By the late nineteenth century, early motion picture devices like the Mutoscope had replaced the paper pages of a flipbook with photographic prints. 

 

With the advent of video, flipbook principles then laid the groundwork for traditional cel animation techniques. Animation teams from Steamboat Willie right through to Who Framed Roger Rabbit drew incremental sequences of linear images onto celluloid and projected them in rapid succession. They also used flipbooks to plan drawings and in-betweens. 

 

Today, hand-drawn animation techniques are largely out of favour in the TV and film industries, with computer animation more popular. Nonetheless, a subculture of back-to-basics animation enthusiasts have brought flipbooks out of the archives and back onto social media feeds. 

 

In the next section, we’ll talk about why they’re still popular. 

Fascinated by the world of animation?

Keep learning by reading our beginner's guide to animation.

Why are flipbooks so popular?

From Mutoscopes to Monsters, Inc, a lot’s changed since the early days of animation. Many techniques have faded into obscurity. So, why are flipbook animations still going strong? 

 

1. They only need basic materials. 

Most animations require software, equipment and technical skills. In other words, you’ll need to know your frame rates from your keyframes. That’s before we’ve even got to drawing, modelling or creating characters of course.

 

With an animation flipbook, all you need is a thick stack of paper, a pen or pencil, and a great idea.

Notepad and coloured pens against a brightly hued backdrop.

2. They’re a gateway to animation.

Many animators cut their teeth with flipbook doodles. They’re a great way to bring characters to life, test scenes and hone your creative skills.

 

You can start small too. Picture a car driving across the page, a child bouncing a ball, or a flower growing in the sun. From there, you can build more elaborate stories and concepts. 

 

3. They’re easy to teach.

A flipbook is an invaluable tool if you’re teaching students or beginners the basics of animation. It provides an accessible way to draw a character and tell a story.

 

4. They’re great for gifts.

Flipbooks make the perfect creative gift. Why not tell the story of the first time you met your partner, or play out a long running in-joke with your best friend?

 

5. They’re accessible.

You don’t need to be a natural artist to create a flipbook. In fact, rudimentary drawings can be just as effective as more lifelike, creative or intricate designs. What’s more, the pared-back equipment list means you can create one from wherever.

 

6. The pros do it too.

Flipbooks aren’t just for novices. Pro artists, cartoonists and animators use them to demonstrate their craft, while some even create flipbooks to sell as art or souvenirs. 

 

Others use their flipbooks to build followers online. In fact, a number of artists and animators challenge themselves to create one in just an hour. The results can be spellbinding. 

 

7. They’re YouTube-worthy and Insta-ready.

#flipbook videos are huge. Pro artist Andy Bailey’s channel Andymation has 4.3 million YouTube subscribers and combines incredible flipbook and stop-motion videos with accessible how-tos. 

 

Instagram and TikTok are also loaded with creative flipbook ideas, ranging from tragic goldfish love stories to dancing stick people. The sky’s the limit when it comes to flipbook ideas.

 

How to create an animation flipbook.

Flipbooks are one of the simplest forms of animations — but there are a few things to remember if you want to get yours right.   

 

Here are some tips on how to nail your animated book drawing.

Plant growing in drawings across a page.

 

1. Gather all the materials you need.

All you really need to get started is a pad of paper and a pen/pencil.  

 

If you’re using a sketchpad, look for:

 

  • A size of around 7.5cm x 12cm. Smaller pages are easier to flip, as they encounter less wind resistance.

  • Thin, good quality paper. You’ll need to be able to see through your paper and trace your next image. But don’t go too thin. Tracing paper, for example, will crumple.  

  • A solid backing. This will provide a firm base to lean on when you draw. It will also give your pad a crisp flipping action. 

 

Of course, you can also invest in a blank flipbook from art supply shops. These are rectangular pads, purpose built for flipbook animation. 

 

You can also bind paper with staples, clips or glue. 

 

Top tip: use an LED light pad as a backdrop for your flipbook. It will help you trace your images.

 

2. Get your story straight. 

Before you start, it’s important to know what you’re creating. Think about the characters, story and style of your flipbook. This will help create a more engaging, consistent animation. 

 

Top tip: You could consider sketching animation key poses. These are the basic spatial positions your character or object will follow. Use these as a reference point to map the movements between them.

 

3. Create your first drawing. 

Next, it’s time to start sketching. Draw your first image on the very last page of your flipbook. As flipbooks are best flipped from back to front, this will be your starting point.

 

It’s best to keep towards the right-hand side of the sheet. If you go too close to the spine/gutter of the page, you won’t see your images clearly.

 

4. Layer your next drawing. 

Now you’ve drawn your first image, it’s time to start building a sense of fluidity.

 

To do this, lay your second-to-last sheet on top of your first illustration (remember — you’re working back to front here). 

 

You should be able to see your earlier illustration through the page. Use this as a reference point for your next image. This frame should deviate very slightly from the first image, following the motion of your animation.

 

5. Continue your sequence.

Next, continue layering your images. Make gradual progress from one frame to the next until you get a smooth, fluid movement.

 

Keep drawing and adding images until you finish the sequence. The more pages you include, the smoother your animation.

 

Did you know? Hand-drawn animation is a painstaking process. More than 600 animators and artists worked on Disney’s 1994 classic The Lion King.

 

Person drawing on pages by hand.

6. Add the finishing touches. 

Once you’ve nailed your basic flipbook animation, you can go back and add scenery, characterisation and colour. The finished product can be as detailed or pared-back as you want.  

 

7. Flip your book!

Ready for the big reveal? Brace your book against your thumb, release the pressure and fan the pages in sequence. Hey presto – you’ve just created an animation!  

 

8. Share your creation. 

Finally, share your flipbook with the world. You might just be handing it over as a gift, or showing it off to a friend in person. But if you’re looking to share on Instagram, TikTok or other social media channels, you’ll need to film it first.  

 

To do this, mount a camera in an aerial position above a desk or backdrop, and remember that you’ll need to fit the book and your hands underneath. Next, film your flipbook working its magic. Once you’re done, use editing software to cut down your video and edit out any missteps. Set it to music and upload it to your favourite platform.

Flipbook animation: FAQs

 

How do I make an animated PDF flip book? 

To make an animated PDF flipbook, the first step is to create individual PDFs for your pages. You can convert images to PDF for free with Adobe Acrobat online. Just drag and drop your JPEG, PNG or other image files directly into the editor to get started.

 

From there, you can use animatic, storyboard, slideshow or presentation software to create your flipbook. You can also use software like Photoshop to sequence and pace your images. 

 

How do you make a virtual flipbook? 

You can create virtual flipbooks with programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. You’ll need to upload and sequence your individual animated book drawings. You can also use specific flipbook animation platforms. This allows you to draw, trace and pace your images to create a flipbook.

 

Is a flipbook traditional animation?

Flipbooks are a forerunner of traditional animation techniques like cel animation. Cel animators use a similar principle, drawing onto celluloid sheets before projecting and filming. In both techniques, animators draw large numbers of sequential images to create an impression of movement.

 

Discover more about animation.