A powerful/minimalist tool. Thoughts from a working artist

Hi everyone, glad to see there is a community for this software. I can see it has a deep history as well, and many things have been built from the ground up. Impressive.

How did I end up here? Simply, most 2d animation software sucks. It’s implemented poorly, the UIs are abysmal, the drawing tablet supports are always a struggle, and they seem to always get bloated beyond anything usable.

After using Pencil2D, I was up and running instantly. It has a UI that can be freely scaled, buttons that are clear, and an emphasis on color, drawing, and frames. This is where it’s soul is, and this is why I’m here to help it grow into a powerful tool.

Where it falls short? Well, a number of ways, but I have skimmed through the topics to not repeat too much. Animators tend to approach digital animation in so many ways, I think it’s always a developer’s mistake to cater towards them all. Flash (Adobe Animate) is for vector. Let it remain in that realm. Audio is for dedicated DAWs or editing software…beyond reference audio, I don’t understand why that is of higher importance than the following.

Forgive me for anything already been discussed to death:

  1. Layers. Layers are incredibly important to 2D animation. The layers are a bit obscure in the way they work now. We absolutely need layer opacity, primarily for the creation process. We need to see whats beyond layers more easily. “Layer Merge”. another feature I saw was mentioned to be in the works. The way I work, and probably most people, is by creating layers, then merging them once the work is good. Animating several layers is a nightmare, and really bogs down the process here.

  2. More intuitive transform controls. “Lasso” being the primary tool used here. If i want to move a portion of my sketch, I either have to wrangle with the odd layer system, or just cut out a square and repaint the parts that were damaged in the process. It’s just something I feel should be a higher priority, seeing as how long the software has been around.

  3. Color palette with a more simple use. It has several colors in it, but your new additions are thrown into the bottom of the list. Perhaps just give us the primaries here, and let the project dictate what colors are here by using the +.

  4. Export animated gif with transparency. Not seeing this available, but confused why it’s not. It can easily export a png with transparency.

Anyways, I don’t mean to come into the community with a negative approach, and after all, I’m here because the software has enough redeeming quality, and a it is straightforward enough for simple raster hand drawn animation. I just hope it can embolden those core values, and not became too lopsided by requests. Thank you and cheers for all the hard work so far!

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Welcome to the community!

I cannot thank you enough for doing proper research into this software before casting judgments or critical views upon it- You made sure what you suggest is proper and clear (and you also give a fine credit to the developers as well)! Thank you also for your organised method of suggesting those features! Since the developers have a massive list of features they need to implement, progress can be a tad slow when there isn’t as much time for them to work on it- after all, this is sort of like a volunteer project (correct me if I’m wrong). I’ll point this topic to @JoseMoreno so he can give you more details.

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For me, it really just needs to improve its overall drawing capabilities especially for something where you are required to draw hundreds if not thousands of times. Pencil2D isn’t particularly bad but it doesn’t provide a pleasant experience either.

  1. For typical traditional animation, where you animate by drawing on paper, they don’t really have this layering capability at all, and in this sense Pencil2D is better than how Disney and other animators do it before. But only if you work in the confines of the traditional way. Go beyond and things will get complicated.

  2. Same as 1. From what I got, Pencil2D is designed to emulate the traditional way of animating and if you work in its confines, Pencil2D works well. However, go beyond it, (like doing cut and paste, something that you would not do in traditional animation on paper) and Pencil2D just become really cumbersome.

  3. I usually display the palette in grid mode instead of list mode. I don’t much issue with this though because I haven’t really tried creating a fully polished work complete with lineart, coloring and rendering. I think I would pull out more capable software, like Photoshop or GIMP, if I had to do polished work.

  4. From what I know, transparency has been an issue with GIF since its (GIF) conception. GIF is just really bad at it. That is why other format, like Animated PNG (APNG) or WEBP, are proposed as replacements. So, this might not be Pencil2D and the coders fault, but with aging GIF itself.

So, despite all Pencil2D faults, we welcome you!

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@jabberwalky Hi Thank you for taking the time to submit your comments, and we’re also appreciating your interest in this software.

I’ll try to answer appropriately each of your points to help paint the picture of what and why things happen like they do.

So forgive me but this will be a literal wall of text to reply in the most friendly and approachable tone I can write, because believe or not you have been quite decent about your requests, and we really appreciate that but I can’t cut corners in explaining something that people might continue to misunderstand If I answer you briefly.

But I know time is important so here’s an abridged version, so you can revisit the lenghtier answers later as you see fit.

TL;DWTR

  • Watch each of the vids I posted to solve a few of your Q’s (Palette handling, starter document with less colors, animation paper like transparency, per frame, per layer transparency)
  • The transparent GIF thing isn’t actually our fault, but it might become possible to have soon due to new tech, once the person in charge of the exporters is available to work on new tasks (TBA).
  • The layer merge is under review so it will take some time to land on the app (TBA).
  • We all want Lasso but no one can seem to do it due to time and knowledge constraints. Apparently is harder to implement than most things available in Pencil2D. If you know someone who can do this, that might be their cue.

Here we go! :racing_car:


  1. Layers. Layers are incredibly important to 2D animation. The layers are a bit obscure in the way they work now. We absolutely need layer opacity, primarily for the creation process. We need to see whats beyond layers more easily.

I understand where you’re coming from. and I personally agree Certainly most people tend to misunderstand the role of layer transparency in a digital application for animation.

Now If we go back to traditional animation, Animation Paper tends to be semi-translucent, and then using a lightbox gives the finishing touches to achieve tracing and re-drawing techniques.

Image transparency is supposed to be a means to and end in most animation apps, but served for convenience as an individual property. Nothing more.

However people also often want to use transparency to create certain pictorial effects for an Ink & Paint pipeline, like when doing a watercolor washes or certain layering effects.

Due to this many things have to be considered of course.

Coincidentially Pencil2D has had ever since 9 years ago (and before that it’s predecessor had it too), a nifty feature caller Layer Visibility which basically serves as a way to simulate paper / layer translucency via a layer transparency cascading effect,

Here’s how it works:

Relative Layer Transparency (Animation Paper + Lightbox Simulation)

Note: The amount of cascading transparency can be controlled in the preferences btw

Now. This is most likely not what most people want, when dealing with “layer transparency”.

Due to that sentiment one of our trusted community contributors which wanted to provide some relief to this timeless request also developed a new feature in 2020 which was added to the software last year.

Per Layer & Per Frame transparency

Pencil2D development builds (a.k.a Nightly Builds ) have got this feature in preview for a few months now so you can test it as well.

As you can see the slider gizmo is placed on a pop up window. Ofc I know what you’re thinking, why have an extraneous window system, when it should be on each layer! Well, yes and no.

By this point this is not your regular layer opacity straight from photoshop. It’s more like a special FX system. It also works for individual frames, so you can simulate frame by frame fading effects and what not, however it does not affect the actual drawings so it can be reset like regular layer opacity.

There’s a pending timeline redesign that has been planned since a few years ago, and originally the layer opacity was meant to be a thing like in other apps, but with this new feature, we might need to rethink how it should work.

So I hope everyone can consider that the window is temporary due to the comboluted structure of the source code, that currently is a huge plate of spaghetti code.

The core devs have been unraveling it for literal years now, but the conclusion is that most things related to the timeline, will only be able to change with a UI & Code redesign, that’s why everything is done as a panel or window for now so ppl can at least use it, but doesn’t mean it’s going to be left harming ergonomics forever.

“Layer Merge”. another feature I saw was mentioned to be in the works. The way I work, and probably most people, is by creating layers, then merging them once the work is good. Animating several layers is a nightmare, and really bogs down the process here.

I agree, animating many layers is a headache, but even then most animators only use a few levels / layers for animation by default. This is a trade habit, so obviously we can’t expect everyone to do that.

So yeah, that’s under review and for now it will be only for bitmap layers. The vector engine has to be redesigned from scratch, so no new features are being added in parallel to it just because it would be a waste of resources if it’s not properly implemented.

  1. More intuitive transform controls.

Yes. For example the new camera branch has a better widget to transform the camera than what we have to transform the drawings.

I’m in the process of requesting for those controls to be made officially part of the actual transform widget for selections or at least to have something that resembles a similarly usable widget.

The main request already exists in the developer forum already but until someone can tackle this, it will stay on the wait list.

“Lasso” being the primary tool used here. If i want to move a portion of my sketch, I either have to wrangle with the odd layer system, or just cut out a square and repaint the parts that were damaged in the process. It’s just something I feel should be a higher priority, seeing as how long the software has been around.

Believe it or not, we don’t have a lasso tool because no one seems to know how to code it easily with the current codebase. I’m not a programmer but I did my own research to try to do it myself and apparently it’s harder to do than most other features that have been sprinkled recently.

The person that wanted to implement this long ago basically started a family and stopped being able to contribute to the project. The other devs are finishing features that were started years prior, like the replacement of the bitmap engine to have more painterly tools, or the transmogrification of the source code to a modular approach (internal but important change).

So it’s one of those things that we all want, but from what I understand (and I want to be clear it’s just my own understanding) no one can seem to do it without investing an incredible amount of effort.

So we’re stranded for options until someone is willing to tackle this.

  1. Color palette with a more simple use. It has several colors in it, but your new additions are thrown into the bottom of the list. Perhaps just give us the primaries here, and let the project dictate what colors are here by using the +

I’m not sure about your experience, but in mine almost every program out there adds the swatch to the end of the stack, it’ could be added to the top but we’d need to request that to the devs :thinking:

On the other hand having less colors is something that requires user input rather than developer input.

The Palette can already be customized to your liking however you see fit. I found this tutorial that explains some features of the palette exchange workflow.

Palette modification / export & Import

You can also select multiple swatches and delete them in one go.

You can click & drag or shift + click select the swatches you want to delete.

Additionally Pencil2D also has a project template system that allows you to have a starting document with any amount of layers, frames and swatches loaded however you want.

Here’s a video on that (I suggest watching it at 0.75x so it’s easier to read)

Pencil2D Project Document Templates

You can also export and import swatches form *.GPL and*.XML files to replace or append however you want. In the open source world GPL is used by many established apps like GIMP or Krita. the XML based version is Pencil2D’s own format.

Other formats could become available if there’s an specification easily available that we can check so devs can create an encoder / decoder for the format.

  1. Export animated gif with transparency. Not seeing this available, but confused why it’s not. It can easily export a png with transparency.

Well this is another one of those things that requires a technical understanding of why it’s not being done and when it can be done before discussing.

First, GIF is a really old format specification, that supports binary transparency. That means you pick a color of the limited web palette (256 colors) and tell the conversion app if it’s transparent or not. There’s no inbetween.

Pencil2D doesn’t support GIF transparency, not because it can’t, but because the tech it depends on <<FFMPEG, the mammoth plugin behind most image / video / audio file format conversions nowadays >> could not do that specific feat until very recently.

The current FFMPEG version shipped with PEncil2D is a modified version that works best with it (I’m told) however I did a test with a newer version of FFMPEG and GIF transparency can be achieved.

On the other hand to counter the technical impossibility, we added the APNG, and WEBM formats which do support transparency, however current browsers and social media platforms only recently have begun adoption of these formats.

Even APNG will probably not be adopted further and become deprecated by them because of newer formats that are appearing (and are better to be honest).

We will probably need a WEBP format exporter at some point too.

If you want transparent GIF’s I can make a guide on that. You can export PNG sequences, download a new version of FFPEMG, paste a magical command and get your transparent

Anyways, I don’t mean to come into the community with a negative approach, and after all, I’m here because the software has enough redeeming quality, and a it is straightforward enough for simple raster hand drawn animation. I just hope it can embolden those core values, and not became too lopsided by requests. Thank you and cheers for all the hard work so far!

It’s cool Pencil2D is a volunteer-powered project. We don’t have sponsors. We don’t take donations. We do this in our spare time, because we all have full time jobs in our respective industries, so development is slow as a result.

What we need isn’t monetary promises, but people that want to actually sit down and do stuff alongside with us for the greater good. So it helps that you’ve been civil about this. Thanks and god bless.

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Jose, I appreciate your very detailed replies, and have come to a better understanding of the software, and it’s development! Surely your post will be valuable to the other members too.

I think that ultimately, with a layer merge ability, the lasso tool wouldn’t be necessary with the proper approach to the artwork.

I’m excited to hear about your request with transform tool, and look forward to that update.

All the best, and thanks again for the information!

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