Two dimensional graphics vs. three dimensional graphics describes explanation. Abbreviated as 2D and 3D, people often think they understand the difference, but when asked to put it into words, it becomes difficult to explain. Not unexpectedly, there are many similarities, after all 3D graphics are really an improvement on what came before, are they not? In computer terms, not really despite the end product looks similar, 3D offers another level of detail to the final product, a little more polish and depth of detail.
Basically 2D graphics are created with the help of computer based digital images that are drawn vertically or horizontally on a flat surface. When computerized they include, but are not limited to such things as photographs, pixels, compositions and text as well as art and hand drawings. The words 'raster' and 'vector' graphics refer to 2D. 'Raster' graphics are composed of a collection of pixels, called bitmaps and relate mostly to computer or video games. 'Vector' graphics on the other hand are composed of 'paths' which is a term that describes the actual image in mathematical terms and relate to photographs, scans and drawings etc.
While both 2D and 3D rely on geometric data, in 3D graphics what is produced are 3D models which are nothing more than a mathematical representation of the data. Contained in data files, these models are then used in 'real-time' animated viewing. Therefore, in general terms, 3D graphics are not an animation until the 2D image is viewed through a process called '3D rendering'. In fact 3D is actually created before animation even begins.
3D animation makes use of many of the same rendering techniques that 2D animation does. 2D graphics only become 3D with the help of techniques such as shading, effects, lighting, to mention but a few. In reality, 2D animation looks and moves in a very cartoon fashion while 3D animation on the other hand has the ability to breathe life into characters, making them very realistic.
3D establishes realism, 2D does not. While they both may move in similar ways, there is a depth to 3D graphics that can not be created in 2D graphics. 3D is about perspective – being able to see all the sides and angles of an object as opposed to just one side or view. Compare the very first early Mickey Mouse cartoons to say, Shrek for instance and you get the picture.
3D is only possible through emerging and advanced technology, and in fact there is not much difference between 2D and 3D graphics. What makes them difference are the techniques used to animate them.