What is a Flipbook?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A flipbook is a small book with a series of printed images which create the illusion of motion when the pages of the book are rapidly flipped. Typically, a flipbook is held in one hand while the thumb of the other flicks the pages, and the user concentrates on the middle of each page. The flipbook relies on a basic optical principle known as persistence of vision to create an animated image. In addition to being amusing, flipbooks also laid the groundwork for motion pictures, and could be considered one of the earliest forms of animation.

The human retina retains an image for a brief instant, allowing a flipbook to create the desired effect.
The human retina retains an image for a brief instant, allowing a flipbook to create the desired effect.

Before exploring the flipbook's history, it may help to know how persistence of vision works. The human retina actually retains an image for a brief instant. When a series of images are rapidly presented to the retina, it smooths out the gaps, creating a streamlined animated image. This principle is what allows people to perceive the series of frames in a motion picture as a movie, rather than a set of still photographs. You may have noticed that changes in frame rate and illumination may change the way the animation appears, creating a flicker which can be quite distracting.

Bored school children may ornament their notebooks with flipbooks.
Bored school children may ornament their notebooks with flipbooks.

The first flipbook was released in 1868 as a kineograph, literally a “moving picture.” The developer of the kineograph realized that images could be presented in a linear sequence, rather than being mounted on a circular drum or disc and rotated. The idea rapidly caught on, and many companies started releasing flipbooks for children and adults alike. Although many modern flipbooks are given away for free, earlier flipbooks were considered miraculous by many people.

Many flipbooks consist of a series of illustrations. Small differences between the illustrations make a brief animated picture when they are rapidly flipped. Others rely on a series of photographs, much like the frames in a movie. The theme of a flipbook may vary, depending on the intended audience; it may illustrate a short story or a brief event, or may even be used in an advertising campaign.

In some parts of the world, a flip book is better known as a flick book, especially in British English. Whatever they call it, many aspiring artists draw their own, and bored school children may ornament their notebooks with flipbooks as well. There are also computer programs which can be used to create a flipbook, stringing together a series of images from a trip, for example.

In 1894, Herman Casler invented the Mutoscope, which mechanized the process of flipbook animation.
In 1894, Herman Casler invented the Mutoscope, which mechanized the process of flipbook animation.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Well I have never made a flipbook but I want to try it.


I just discovered 3D flipbooks. I had no idea that these even existed!

These have anaglyphic 3-dimensional images on each page. You have to use anaglyph glasses to get the 3D effect, but these come with the flipbooks.

A lot of 3D flipbooks are 36 pages long. They generally are printed on high quality, durable photo paper.

My daughter has a 3D flipbook of a fish swimming under the ocean. Towards the end of the book, the fish starts swimming to the surface, and at the last page, it is jumping out of the water right into your face! She flips through it over and over and squeals with delight every time the fish gets her.


I had to make a flipbook in my college art class. I believe we had to use 24 frames of rectangular drawing paper for the images.

Using a high quality ballpoint pen with free-flowing ink, I started my flipbook with the image of a bald man in a Hawaiian shirt coming into his house through the front door. I used the following frames to draw him moving towards the table and eating food with a fork.

The last few frames showed him growing sleepy and passing out asleep on the table. I had never made a flipbook before, and this highly entertained me.


Some people online have taken making flipbooks to a whole new level by creating series of images that tell stories and that are spread out over multiple flipbooks.

I was surprised to see these flipbooks being uploaded to sites like YouTube as I mostly remember making them as a child and them being something fun for kids to do when they were bored.

The quality of the drawings posted online is really impressive and it can really show you what people are capable of creating just when given a simple medium.

Seeing something that impressive makes me wonder if that is how people felt when they saw those first old Mickey Mouse cartoons so long ago.


If you have kids making a flipbook at home can be a fun and inexpensive project. All you really need is some paper, a stapler, scissors and something to draw with.

Create a bunch of small rectangles of equal size out of the paper and bind them together at the top with the staples. Have your kids draw a ball, or something else simple that can move and show them how the mechanics of animation work.

When I did this with my kids they started producing some really interesting artwork and had a new found interest in animation. With the limited supplies you need, creating flipbooks is a really great way to spend time.

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