With Illustrator’s new Puppet Warp Tool, it’s now easier than ever to make small adjustments to vector illustrations. Learn how make a simple stop animation in just six steps.

Adobe Illustrator recently released a Puppet Warp Tool in its newest rendition, giving users the opportunity to manipulate portions of a vector illustration. Instead of recreating a graphic multiple times in different positions, the Puppet Warp Tool allows designers and illustrators to transform portions of a graphic without the hassle of moving anchor points. This newly released tool saves you time and sanity when adjusting an illustration.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Puppet Warp Tool
Character illustration via miniwide.

Read on to learn the ins and outs of the Puppet Warp Tool — and how to add your own subtle animations to a vector illustration using only Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.


Step 1: Prepare Vector Illustration

Before we dive into manipulating vector objects, it’s crucial to prepare your illustration and plan ahead for the animations.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Prepare Illustration
Character illustration via miniwide.

First, think about which portion of the illustration you’d like to animate or manipulate. Does the animation involve multiple shapes, or do you want to just maneuver a single object? If you’re interested in moving multiple shapes, like the arms or legs, it’s important to group those objects together with Command + G.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Group Objects

If you manipulate the illustration as a whole, the movements will distort the entire illustration. By grouping adjacent objects, you’re only distorting the selected objects instead of all of them. For my animation, I am distorting the cape to mimic movement, so I just need to isolate the cape shape by itself.


Step 2: Set Puppet Warp Points

With the Selection Tool (V), click on a single shape or group of vector objects. Activate the Puppet Warp Tool — represented by a thumbtack icon — then click around the selected shape to create a polygonal mesh.

This mesh builds a frame for the vector shape, allowing you to move portions of the shape at any set point. When placing these pins, it’s best to set down more than two on a single vector object, depending on the shape’s complexity. Think of these pins as joints or anchors; you can only move objects around that specific pin. If manipulating a character’s arm, for example, you’d want to set these pins at the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Puppet Warp Points

To move these pins around and manipulate the vector shape, activate the Puppet Warp Tool, then click on a point and drag across. You’ll notice the pin is selected when there is a white circle inside of the pin point. The more pins you have, the more restrained the manipulation.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Manipulate Vector

These pin placements aren’t permanent; to delete an existing pin, select the point, then hit the Delete key. You can also constrain the movement of each pin by holding down the Option key when dragging a pin. To move multiple pins at once, simply hold down the Shift key while selecting the points.


Step 3: Make Adjustments to Points

Now that you’ve learned the ins and outs of the Puppet Warp Tool, it’s now time to make some subtle adjustments that will translate as stop animations later in Photoshop. Making minor distortions is key; larger adjustments will appear choppier when translated in an animation. Before making changes, think of how the selected object may move in reality; a cape will billow, moving differently than an arm or leg.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Adjust Points

Once you’ve made subtle adjustments to the vector object (or objects) you’re animating, it’s now time to copy the artwork. Duplicate the artboard by activating the Artboard Tool (Shift + O), then hold down the Option key and click and drag the artboard across. Making separate artboards of the same illustration simplifies the stop animation process in Adobe Photoshop later.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Artboards

Rinse and repeat the minor adjustments until you’ve reached around three or four separate artboards. The more artboards you have, the more complex the stop animation will be. Export each of the artboards by heading to File > Export > Export As and saving each artboard as separate JPG files at 300 PPI.


Step 4: Bring into Photoshop

Once you’ve exported each artboard in Illustrator, it’s now time to bring the files into a single Photoshop document. If you’re on a Mac, control-click a single file and then hit Open With > Adobe Photoshop. You can also drag the file onto the Photoshop icon on your desktop.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Photoshop

Drag the remaining files directly into the Photoshop program to layer on top of the first image. You’ll notice the first file that you brought in is a locked background layer. Simply unlock the layer by holding down the Option key and double-clicking. Arrange the layers by clicking and dragging up or down so that they’re in the correct order when translated into the video timeline.


Step 5: Create Video Timeline

Now, here comes the fun part! You’ll finally get to see those minor adjustments in action, creating the illusion of movement. Bring up the handy Timeline (Window > Timeline) panel and hit Create Video Timeline. Each layer is now its own video layer.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Video Timeline

Click on a single layer, and drag to the left to shorten its frame. When working with stop animation, it’s crucial to keep the length of each frame short and sweet — around 5f to 10f. Shorten the remaining layers, then click and drag to place them on a single layer. Hit the settings icon to ensure the Loop Playback is checked off; this will enable the animation to loop forever when you hit the space bar to play.


Step 6: Export GIF

To export your animation, head over to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy). This brings up a complex menu that may be difficult to decipher at first glance.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — Export .GIF

Before exporting the animation, make sure the format is set as a GIF and that its looping options are set to Forever. If you need to resize the GIF, you can alter the dimensions located in the Image Size panel.

How to Add Animations to Vectors with Illustrator's Puppet Warp Tool — End Result

Ta-da! You’ve just added some motion to a static vector image. You can apply these steps to virtually any illustration; further your knowledge by experimenting with animating different portions of the design.


Mockup image via SFIO CRACHO. Character illustration via miniwide.

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