Not to be confused with an animation cell, which really doesn't exist, an animation cel is a transparent sheet used in the production of an animated film, whether it be a movie or cartoon. Since the animation process can involve several layers of drawings, such as characters on one sheet and a background on a second sheet, a cel may only show characters and not the background.
The word 'cel' is short for celluloid and is mostly obsolete today as animation is done on computers.
This means animation cels keep getting more and more valuable.
The most valuable cels are real cels - meaning they were used in production to create the movie.
You can also find lower-priced copies, or lithographs of "frames" from a show. Sometimes these are made in limited editions to increase their price.
What you want depends on your budget and why you are collecting the cel.
For investment purposes original production cels are obviously rarer and more valuable.
For fun, especially having a piece of your favorite movie, or scene, can be just as valuable and fun to collect.
Even better is when you can find one which has been autographed!
Animation Cel - A cel is a clear plastic sheet used to paint an animation scene or part of it. During production the cel sheets placed over a background. Then photographs are taken in a sequence. This is what creates motion seen by the eye. It also means each cel will be unique. this does not mean that every cel is unique.
12 Field Cel - This is the area size of the drawing which is in the view of the camera. A twelve field measures about 10.5 inches by 12.5 inches.
16 Field Cel - This is the area size of the drawing which is in the view of the camera. A sixteen field measures about 10.5 inches by 16.5 inches.
Production Cel - If a cel is used to create a cartoon or animated film. Note: this does not mean the cel appeared in the final product shown to the public. Preliminary artwork and model cels are included in this category.
Limited Edition Cel - This is not a production cel. It is hand painted cel specifically for sale to collectors. There are limited quantities made. Although not used in cartoon or film the cel is often made to recreate an original production cel. Today, many limited editions are made that are unique and not based on production cels, with the idea of selling them to collectors and film fans.
Serigraph / Sericel - These are cheaper versions of limited edition cels. They are not hand painted but instead made by machine, also often in limited quantities. If cost is an issue this may be what you are looking for.
Animation Drawing - A pre-cel pencil drawing on paper later used to create the production cel.
Production Background - The background used to create the animated feature.
Matching Master Background / Key master Setup - This is the background used with a specific cel. When placed behind the cel used when photographed it should look like the final animation.
Lithograph - Prints mass produced in a printing process. They can be made in limited quantity runs.
Giclee - A type of printing process used to get ink onto paper. The goal is to depict what the production cel looked like.
What makes a cel valuable? - Age, rarity, who is depicted and what is depicted such as a memorable and famous scene from a well known movie or cartoon.
Are limited edition cels hand painted? - Yes, even though they may depict scenes not shown in the original film or cartoon and are made for collectors.
How many cels are made in a film or cartoon? - A film runs at 24 frames (or cels) per second. Low budget cartoons may run as 12 frames per second. Count how long a firm or cartoon is and that is the maximum number of cels. Keep in mind some cels can be re-used for scenes, in whole or in part. Many scenes are also simply not going to be sold as cels because they show nothing, have a character with their back turned, eyes blinking, and so on, or are just not visually appealing. Many cels are often destroyed.