What is the Difference Between 2D and 3D? A Comparative Guide

The difference between 2D and 3D seems as though it should be quite simple and straight forward. There’s more to the two different terms than you might imagine, however. If you are having trouble understanding the difference between the two concepts, you’re not alone.  Science and discovery is always fun and interesting but can be challening!

Many people still struggle with understanding the difference between each and how they’re used around us in our every-day life. Before you can separate the two terms, you must first know how they’re used in different aspects of life.

The most common reason for referring to 2D vs 3D is when talking about shapes. You might also be familiar with the terms when it comes to animation or videos, but 2D and 3D are being used in more ways than we’re aware of.

If you need a bit of help breaking down the differences between the two, then you’ll want to continue reading below. Here, we discuss the difference between 2D and 3D by breaking down their definitions and how each one is used in various ways.

Here’s what you need to know!

The Definitions

Before you can begin to understand how 2D and 3D are used in various ways, you first need to know the definition of each. Once you have a solid understanding of each definition, you can then begin to grasp the concept better. We live in a world surrounded by many different shapes, but are these shapes 2D or 3D?


2D refers to two dimensional. These are shapes that only exist on a flat surface.


3D refers to three dimensional. These are shapes that exist everywhere else rather than on a flat surface.


A 2D shape is limited to a flat surface. This means that the 2D shape can only be measured by length and height. These shapes are also called plane shapes or plane figures.

You can measure the area of a 2D shape, but you cannot measure the volume of the shape. A 3D shape is in the 3rd dimension, which means you can measure its length, height, width, and depth!

Mathematical Definitions

When discussing 2D and 3D shapes in math terms, you might hear someone speak of the different axes. Mathematics and physics both refer to 2D shapes as being plotted on two axes, the x, and the y-axes.

A 3D shape, however, is plotted on 3 different axes, the x, the y, and the z-axes. Both shapes are drawn on the same plane, but the 3D shape projects towards the z-axis, making it 3D.

The 2D shape is the base of the 3D shape, so you must first understand the 2D shape before you can understand the 3D one.


A square is a 2D shape that acts as the base of a cube, which is a 3D shape. A square will have 1 face with 4 edges. A cube will have 6 faces with 12 edges.

The most commonly known 2D shapes are the square, rectangle, triangle, circle, and so on. Some of the most commonly known 3D shapes are the prism, cube, sphere, pyramid, cylinder, and a few others.

2D vs 3D Shapes

When we’re young and first learning how to draw and create images, we start off by using 2D shapes. We use these shapes in everything we create. As we become older, we might begin to learn how to transform these 2D shapes into 3D ones.

This is why it’s essential to have a good understanding of 2D objects before you can understand 3D ones.

Key Differences

When you’re looking at a shape that doesn’t show it’s depth or width, it’s a 2D shape. In 3D shapes, we’re able to see how wide the shape is and how far back it goes. Engineers commonly use 3D shapes, because 2D shapes aren’t easy for people for aren’t engineers to read or understand.

If wanting to explain or help a client visualize a product, then 3D is the better option for you. If you stick to 2D shapes, you’ll need to draw each section of the product separately. For example, you’ll need to draw the top, the bottom, the side views, and the front views for your client to see the whole picture.

When using 3D shapes, you can show your client a full product with one drawing or design. When looking to draw out a detailed view or a sectional view, then you’ll want to use 2D shapes. 2D shapes allow for these details to be highlighted.

If you need to show shadows, then you’ll need to use 3D shapes.


In a world where you might believe that 3D is the more predominant method, 2D is still essential. 2D is used in all parallel projections and in one-point perspective projections as well. Oceanography and geological maps also both use 2D.

3D is used in 3D animations, 3D graphs, 3D designing and more used for product building, such as building bridges. The 3D graphics help designers see the depth of the object. 3D is what’s used in two-point and three-point projections.

2D vs 3D Animation

2D animation is the more traditional way of creating animations. This is done by drawing every single move of the character frame by frame by hand. Today’s software technology has made this process a bit easer.

Today when drawing 2D animations, you’ll only need to draw the first action scene. The rest of the motion sequences will then be generated using a tool.

When creating 3D animation, the entire development will be done using software on the computer. There will still be several phases that need to be completed such as lighting, texturing, rigging, and more.

Choosing the 2D route will save you some money as 3D software will cost more. It’s important to take into consideration the cost of and benefits of each to determine which is right for your project.

While 2D animation has frames at its focus, 3D animation has movements at its focus. If you’re looking to create conceptual drawings, then remember to stick with 3D. 2D will only be able to represent the drawing in two dimensions.

3D animation is ideal for conceptual drawings because it allows everyone to view the object in three dimensions with as many details as possible.

2D vs 3D Scanning

How does 2D and 3D come into play with scanning? 2D document scanning was first introduced in the 1900s. Image scanners were used to scan blueprints and paper plans.

Document scanning was a brilliant way to take what was on physical paper and turn it into a digital document. This comes in handy when needing to share these documents with other individuals. Laser scanning, however, takes images captured in the real world and turns them into 3D digital images.

3D scanning is the process of breaking down that real-world object or an entire environment and then collecting all of the data surrounding its appearance in general and its shape. This information is then used to create 3D digital designs or models of these objects or environments.

Some common industries using 3D scanners are engineering, industrial design, and manufacturing. There are now even portable 3D scanning tools, which allow you to take your 3D scanner with you where ever you may need it. This makes scanning objects much more convenient than ever before!

It’s these types of 3D devices that help different industries save time and money. Without it, all data and measurements would need to be collected with the use of the manual methods, which are now outdated.

There are even apps that you can now download on your cellphone for smartphone 3D scanning as well!

We Hope You Now Know the Difference Between 2D and 3D!

Understanding the difference between 2D and 3D can seem quite simple at first glance. We’re taught in school at an early age to understand the difference between 2D and 3D shapes. This lesson is what creates the foundation for us to understand how 2D and 3D are used in the real world.

Once you know the basic understanding of each term, you can then start to understand how each one is used differently in the real world. What type of project do you have up your sleeve?

Will you need to use 2D or 3D designs? We hope that after reading through this post you now know the difference 2D and 3D!

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