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Making 2D game scene art: 2D vs 3D

This article is a comprehensive comparison of art quality & cost between 2 major scene art production solutions: 2D and 3D

Today there are mainly two approaches to create high quality background pictures for 2D games: 2D and 3D.

2D method is quite traditional. It’s to make the picture mainly by digtial painting, and photo editing.

While 3D method is to build the scene in a 3D program, and then overpaint the render output picture by 2D artists, adding some photo objects to complete the scene.

Our client often ask me, which one is better? Which one is cheaper in production?

Well, our team have worked on both type of art works for dozens of games, I think I can give a comprehensive analysis here, this may give some help to developers who are pondering upon this question.



My point is, in terms of graphic quality, the products of these two methods are just DIFFERENT, we can’t say one is superior than another.  It’s only up to the preference of the developers, the publishers and players.

And in terms of cost, in this article I would put more discussion about this aspect, the answer depends on how you assemble the resources and pipeline. It isn’t necessary that 3D is cheaper than 2D or vise versa.

Let’s first see that in our studio, how much labor we would put in making a scene by both methods, supposing that the picture quality is that of the top HOG games, you can think of Pearl’s peril and Rite of Passage.

By 2D:

By 3D:  


You can see the total amount of works are just the same. However, many developer friends of mine tell me that 3D method is a lot cheaper in their studios, they make top HOGs in the market. Yes, their stories are true too. Next I shall tell you what makes things cheap.

Let us see for both production methods, what resources are needed:

2D Method:

  1. 2D artists;
  2. Photo objects, photo backgrounds, textures.

No doubt you need to hire skillful enough artists for the project. The cost depends on the wage level of them. You can choose to hire locally, hire art studios, or freelancers. The management cost for each is different. And by using freelancers you should consider to prolong the production time, for they may use spare time to do your work. You should take into consideration all those factors: cost and reliability.

And for photos and textures, those are intensively used in the 2D art production. If you start with zero, you would spend lots of time on searching, purchasing, and downloading images; But if your studio has a comprehensive library of images, which is accumulated through the years of production, that would make a big difference.

3D Method:

  1. 3D artists;
  2. 2D artists;
  3. 3D models, textures;
  4. Photo objects.

For 3D artists, if you hire those who have good training in traditional art, or have experiences in other fields: console games, animations, they can do the things neatly, that you don’t need to manage them very much. They can make the composition, color just right, and the work can be quickly pushed to the next stage.   And often this type of 3D artists are not cheap. (You can try to ask those 3D outsourcing studios who work on console games to make a quote for HOG art, the good chances are you can’t afford them.)

And you can hire newbies, who just know enough to make 3D models, texture maps. Their wage is a lot cheaper. But you need a guy with good art training to tutor them all the time.

And for this type of art production, you essentially would not ask 3D artists to create brand new 3D models, that would be unaffordable to the project. Instead you would use downloaded 3D models, or those you already have in stock.

If you’re a full spectrum art outsourcing studio, who do both 2D and 3D art, you would have no shortage of stock 3D models. So this step would be especially cheap for you; But if you start from having to download and purchase every 3D model for the project, ah, needless to say.


Now we may reach the conclusion: which production method is cheaper? It depends on how you acquire those resources and assemble an optimized pipeline.


By the end, I list the pros & cons of both method, to give you a reference:



1. Hand painting style feels very pleasant, very traditional.

2. Easy to achieve desirable art style. For 2D method is very versatile.


Lots of pro level illustrators are needed. For any studio, it is hard to assemble such a team.



1. Precision. Picture made by 3D is very precise in perspective. It’s easier to add  animations of big objects, say, the turning wheel of a giant water mill.

2. Exceptionally good for making architectures and interior scenes.


1. Custom designed items/complex objects mean a lot of time for modeling and texturing, if you can’t find these models on Internet. So most often the artists would compose photo objects onto the picture to make complex things.  

2.Difficult/expensive to create natural elements in 3D softwares, such as landscapes, mountains, trees. Again, artists often compose these things onto the pictures by 2D.

3.Hard to stylize your art. If you want to make your picture very stylized, you would have to add lots of 2D painting & editing work. Then you will think, doing the whole thing from start by 2D, would be a better plan.

If you like this post, please see more of my articles and follow me here...

I would post regularly--one article every two weeks, about game art production. 

Further readings:

Our procedure of make scenes by 3D…

Our procedure of make scenes by 2D…

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