Drawpile lets you animate, coming with a timeline, onion skins and a flipbook to preview your animations with. It works similar to other animation programs, but there’s some conceptual differences to allow for multiple animations and drawings to coexist peacefully on the same canvas.

Note: Almost all actions on the timeline have keyboard shortcuts. Since they are different depending on your operating system, the default shortcuts aren’t listed in this documentation, but the menu actions will show what combination they are assigned to next to them. You can change the key bindings in Drawpile’s preferences.

Quick Start

Here’s a quick rundown on how to get started animating. Later sections will go into more detail.

Step 1: Make the timeline dock visible. In desktop mode, you can do this by enabling View → Docks → Timeline. If you’re on a phone, tablet or other small-screen device, press the bottom-left button on the canvas that shows a stopwatch symbol. If you don’t see the timeline even after enabling it, it may be hidden behind another dock in a tab.

Timeline dock enabling

Step 2: Switch to frame view. You can do this with the button in the timeline (see below) or through View → Layer View Mode → Frame View.

Step 3: Create a track. Either press the button in the timeline that shows a plus symbol (see below) or through or through Animation → New Track.

Step 4: Create a layer group to hold your frames. Either press on the button in the layer dock or through Layer → New Layer Group. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s much better for organization and lets you reduce the opacity of this group if you’re using it as a sketch.

Step 5: Create a key frame. Either press the button on the timeline that shows a stopwatch with a plus symbol (see below) or through Animation → Create Layer on Key Frame → Create Layer on Current Key Frame. Now you can draw on it.

Step 6: Create more key frames by picking another spot in the timeline and repeating the previous step. To add backgrounds or otherwise layer something on top or below, create more tracks and arrange them appropriately.

Step 7: To enable onion skins, click on the lightbulb next to the track name (see below) or through Animation → Track Onion Skin.

Step 8: To view your animation in motion, press on the play button in the timeline (see below) or through Animation → Flipbook.

Timeline and layer dock labeled with quickstart steps


Animations in Drawpile are made by viewing the layers on the canvas in a different arrangement. A timeline frame is built up by stacking the layers of the currently visible key frames of each timeline track on top of each other. Only layers assigned to frames participate in this, other drawings on the same canvas don’t interfere with the animation.

Key frames can be assigned to a layer, a layer group or nothing at all. You can assign the same layer or layer group to multiple key frames, so if you’re making a back and forth loop, you can re-use the same layers. If they’re assigned to a layer group, you can also filter which layers are visible inside of those, letting you re-use the same layer structure for multiple frames.

The flipbook for viewing animations allows you to crop the area you’re viewing, restrict the range of frames played back and adjust the speed of the playback. This way, you can have multiple independent animations on the same canvas, which each can use a subset of the timeline.


The Frame Count is shown in the top-left corner of the timeline. You can edit it by clicking on the pen icon next to it or by through Animation → Change Frame Count. Frames can’t go beyond the end of the timeline, so you should set this to a large enough value so that everyone on the canvas has enough room to animate. You can always reduce the range of frames being played back, see the Flipbook section below.

As a shortcut, you can switch between Normal View and Frame View using the buttons on the timeline. Alternatively, these options are also available through View → Layer View Mode.

The Track Controls let you create, duplicate, rename and delete timeline tracks. These actions are also available in the Animation menu or by right-clicking on a track. Refer to the Tracks section below.

The Key Frame Controls let you create a layer on the current key frame, set the current key frame to the selected layer, blank out the current key frame, show key frame properties and remove a key frame. These actions are also available in the Animation menu or by right-clicking on a key frame. Refer to the Key Frames section below.

The Framerate says how fast the animation plays back by default and lets you adjust this value. You can modify the playback speed from this default, see the Flipbook section below.

You can click and hold on the Frame Indexes to “scrub” the timeline, letting you get a quick preview of a section of your animation without busting out the flipbook.

Timeline dock labeled

Key Frames

Key frames can be assigned to layers, layer groups or be blank. The timeline shows them in a few different ways (refer to the image above):

  • A solid rectangle means that the key frame is assigned to a layer or layer group.
  • A dotted rectangle means that the key frame is assigned to the same layer or layer group as the current key frame, with the same visibilities (see below.) That means if you modify the layers of the current frame, that other frame will also be modified.
  • A rectangle with a fence-like diamond pattern on it is a blank key frame, not assigned to any layer.
  • A rectangle with a red trashcan on it is a pointless duplicate. It’s assigned to the same stuff as the key frame before it, meaning that you can just delete it and your animation won’t look any different.

You can drag key frames around to move them. If you drag them with the middle mouse button, you will create a copy, without duplicating the layer or layer group they are assigned to. To duplicate them and the assigned layer or layer group, use Animation → Duplicate Key Frame → Duplicate to Next Key Frame or Duplicate to Previous Key Frame.

To increase the length of a frame, use Animation → Increase Frame Exposure. To reduce it, use Animation → Decrease Frame Exposure. This will move all subsequent frames forward or backward accordingly.

You can edit a key frame’s properties by double-clicking on it or through Animation → Key Frame Properties.

Here you can give the key frame a title, which will be shown when you hover over it in the timeline.

You can also filter which layers are visible in the frame. This is only useful if you assign a layer group to a key frame, when you assign a single layer, there’s not much to filter. You can hide a layer and everything underneath it by enabling the crossed-out eye icon. If you enable the open eye icon on a layer underneath it, those layers will in turn become visible again, even if their parent was hidden.

In the example image below, the drawing of a head was assigned to the key frame. They eyes were hidden and the open eyes were shown, meaning that on this frame, you will see the head with its eyes open. This kind of setup is useful for blinking eyes, different mouth shapes and the like, where you want to keep the same layer structure and only modify things inside it.

Key frame properties


Timeline tracks are layered on top of each other to build the animation’s frames. They are similar to another layer stack, but specific to animations.

You can hide and show a track by clicking on the eye icon on the left or through Animation → Track Visible. This only changes the visibility for you, not for everyone else in the session.

You can toggle the onion skins on a track using the lightbulb icon next to the name or through Animation → Track Onion Skin. This also only applies to you, not everyone else. For how to edit your onion skins settings, see the Onion Skins section below.

Tracks can be rearranged by dragging them.

Onion Skins

You can enable onion skins on a timeline track using the lightbulb icon next to the name or through Animation → Track Onion Skin.

You can change your onion skin settings using the Onion Skins dock. In desktop mode, you can show it through View → Docks → Onion Skins. If you’re on a phone, tablet or other small-screen device, press the bottom-left button on the canvas that shows a stopwatch symbol.

If you don’t see the onion skins dock even after enabling it, it may be behind another dock (probably the timeline) in a tab.

You can adjust the opacity of each onion skin by dragging the sliders up and down. Previous key frames are on the left, next key frames on the right. You can adjust how many frames are visible in the dock by altering the Frames counter at the top.

To change the onion skin colors, click on colored squares at the top left and right.

The Wrap checkbox toggles if the onion skins should wrap around the timeline or not. This is useful if you’re making an animation loop.

Onion skins dock


The flipbook is how you view an animation in motion, letting you adjust which part of the canvas and timeline you want to view, as well as how fast you want to play it back. You can also export what you’re seeing.

You can open the flipbook dialog by clicking on the play button in the timeline or through Animation → Flipbook.

If you select an area before doing this, the flipbook will be cropped to that region of the canvas right away. Alternatively, you can click and drag on the flipbook preview to crop out a rectangle of the canvas there. Clicking it again or hitting the Reset Zoom button that shows up at the bottom-left will show the whole canvas again.

To refresh the flipbook while it’s open, either click on the play button in the timeline or activate Animation → Flipbook again, or press the Refresh button at the bottom-left of the flipbook dialog.

You use the buttons at the bottom to play/pause and rewind the playback. The Frame field shows you which frame you are currently on.

The Range fields let you decide which part of the timeline you want to view, the Speed slider lets you adjust how fast it plays back. If there are multiple animations on the canvas, you can adjust the range and speed differently for each one, keeping the global timeline settings fixed.

The Export at the bottom-right lets you save what you are seeing. Refer to the Export section below for more details.

Flipbook dialog


You can export the entire canvas as an animation using the default timeline settings using File → Export → Export Animated GIF or File → Export → Export Animation Frames. To export only a part of the canvas, use a different frame range or a different speed, press the Export button at the bottom right of the flipbook, see the Flipbook section above.

The GIF export will produce an animated GIF file. This is a pretty limited format, in particular, it only supports a limited amount of colors. The color palette is built from the merged image of the canvas, so if you last frame is something like a canvas-filling white, the palette will not be correct. You can switch to Normal View and rearrange your layers or add an extra palette layer on top that contains the colors in appropriate quantities.

For more complex needs, you can use the animation frame export. It will let you pick a directory and export all frames as individual PNG files. You can feed these frames into another program to produce a video file or similar.

Importing Animations from Older Versions of Drawpile

Older versions of Drawpile didn’t have an animation timeline, they instead allowed you to animate by using one layer per frame and marking specific layers as “fixed” background or foreground layers. This system has been replaced in Drawpile 2.2, but you can convert your old animations over.

This is done through File → Import → Import Drawpile 2.1 Animation. In the following dialog, choose the ORA file you want to import, decide how may frames each key frame should take up in the timeline and how fast the framerate should be, then hit Import.

Your frames will be put into layer groups, fixed layers will be placed outside of them. For most normal animations, this will lead to one track and layer group for the frames, with the fixed frames above and below it.

At the time of writing, Drawpile does not have a way to import animation frames. You can work around this by importing your frames into another program that supports ORA files. For example, in GIMP, you can use File → Open as Layers and then export the result into an ORA file, which in turn you import into Drawpile as a 2.1 animation.

Animation import dialog