How to Paint an Animation Cel

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Things You'll Need

  • Paper

  • Pencil

  • Celluloid Acetate

  • Paint pen or Sharpie

  • Gouache or Acrylic Paints

  • Brushes

Original Captain Caveman cel with original matching drawing.

Have you ever wondered how cartoons are made? They are made with cels. Short for celluloid acetate, a cel is a clear plastic material that characters are painted on. They represent one frame, or one movement of a character in a film. There are 24 frames per second that are photographed in succession and create the illusion of movement. This process is extremely laborious, but it's a relatively easy process to paint your own cel.


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Step 1

Carefully draw your image on a piece of paper. Be sure your lines and details are crisp.

Step 2

Take the acetate and place it on top of the paper. The paper and acetate should be the same size. Using two small pieces of tape, gently adhere the paper and cel together on two opposite sides. With your paint pen or Sharpie, trace the lines of the drawing onto the cel.


Step 3

When the outlines are dry, carefully remove the tape on the cel and flip the acetate over so the back is facing you. Paint the cel in stages. The first stage will be all the smaller details in the foreground of your character, such as eyes, nose, mouth or buttons. When that dries, paint the next stage, which will be the larger areas such as hair, clothing or body parts.


Use different-sized brushes for different areas Take your time Start with a simple image


Be aware of copyright infringements. Making your own cel of Mickey Mouse is fine, as long as it is for your own personal use. Selling artwork of copyrighted characters is against the law.



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