The death of Briggs was confirmed by his family, who said in a statement issued through the author’s publisher, Penguin Random House, that he had “lived a rich and full life”.
His 1978 classic The Snowman has sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world, and he also created the children’s books Father Christmas, Fungus The Bogeyman and When The Wind Blows.
An animated version of The Snowman, made for Channel 4 in 1982, has become a festive staple and has been shown on TV every Christmas since.
Singer Aled Jones said he owed Briggs a “debt of gratitude”.
The Welsh performer rose to fame as a teenager after he covered Walking In The Air, the song written by Howard Blake for the 1982 animation’s release.
Speaking on his Classic FM radio show, Jones paid tribute to Briggs, saying: “What a legacy he leaves behind.
“His books have touched millions of people all around the world, and what a debt of gratitude I owe to his greatest creation of all. Thank you, Raymond.”
Channel 4’s chief executive Alex Mahon described Briggs as a “storyteller uniquely able to combine wonder and sadness, innocence and wisdom, something that made his voice uniquely British”.
“He’ll always have a special place in Channel 4’s history and we look forward to celebrating his work later this year,” he said.
Born in Wimbledon, south-west London, in 1934, Briggs studied at Wimbledon School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art before briefly pursuing painting.
After becoming a professional illustrator, he worked and taught illustration at Brighton College of Art.
In 1966 he won the Kate Greenaway medal for his illustration work on a book of nursery rhymes, The Mother Goose Treasury.
His best-known works were published between 1973 and 1984 and also included Father Christmas Goes On Holiday and The Tin-Pot Foreign General And The Old Iron Woman.
He won numerous prizes during his career, including the Kurt Maschler Award, the Children’s Book of the Year and the Dutch Silver Pen Award.
In February 2017, Briggs was honoured with the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award and the trust responded to news of his death by tweeting: “He will live on in his stunning, iconic books.”
A statement from Briggs’ family said: “We know that Raymond’s books were loved by and touched millions of people around the world, who will be sad to hear this news. Drawings from fans – especially children’s drawings – inspired by his books were treasured by Raymond and pinned up on the wall of his studio.
“He lived a rich and full life, and said he felt lucky to have had both his wife Jean, and his partner of over 40 years Liz in his life.
“He shared his love of nature with Liz on South Downs walks and on family holidays to Scotland and Wales. He also shared his sense of fun and craziness with his family, and with his family of artist friends – at get-togethers, fancy dress parties and summer picnics in the garden.
“He played practical jokes and enjoyed them being played on him. All of us close to him knew his irreverent humour – this could be biting in his work when it came to those in power. He liked the Guardian editorial describing himself as an ‘iconoclastic national treasure’.”
Francesca Dow, managing director of children’s at Penguin Random House, which served as Raymond Briggs’ publisher, said:“Raymond’s books are picture masterpieces that address some of the fundamental questions of what it is to be human, speaking to both adults and children with a remarkable economy of words and illustrations.
“Raymond is probably best known for The Snowman. He needed greater freedom perhaps than the standard 32-page picture book format allowed and created a radical and beautiful innovation: a wordless picture book for children, a storyboard of stills that became an instant classic in its own right, as well as the much-loved animation.”
Prominent children’s authors, including former Children’s Laureates Michael Rosen and Cressida Cowell, have paid tribute to Briggs and his literary legacy.
Briggs is survived by stepdaughter Clare and her husband Fynn, stepson Tom and his wife Sarah, and three step-grandchildren.