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Since the first animation was created in the early 1900s, we have seen a development in the appearance of animated characters and the growth and uses of animation. 

From educational presentations to marketing videos, we have all seen animated videos – but have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes? 

Who creates these animated characters and videos, and what software do they use? 

To answer those questions, this article takes a look at some of the best animation software tools that are worth checking out.

What is the Best Animation Software?

1. Adobe Animate 

Best for Enthusiasts and Professionals ($20.99/month).

If you are already familiar with other Adobe products then this software is simple to use. It has a clean and recognizable interface. 

Adobe Animate can be used to create movie animations, cartoons, animated GIFs, and Flash games with its amazing features. It is rich in features with functions that allow the drawing of new frames over previous frames.    

Key Features:

  • Capabilities: With Animate, you can create animations for websites, video games, applications, television shows, and a number of other animation platforms with its vast capabilities.
  • Export and Sharing: Extensive options to publish animations on various platform formats. Some examples of export formats are Adobe Air, HTML5, SVG, WebGL, Flash, and SWF.
  • Additional Features: Useful additional features such as intuitive timeline controls, velocity and pressure settings, vector brushes, and pan and zoom effects.

Pricing:

Adobe Animate offers a 7-day free trial, after which billing starts automatically either monthly, yearly billed monthly, or yearly billed upfront. There are also three billing tiers depending on your needs ranging from individuals to students, teachers to businesses, and teams. 

Get Started With Adobe Animate


2. Toon Boom Harmony 

Best for Animation Companies and Small Studios ($25.50/month).

With Toon Boom Harmony everyone gets the artistic freedom, from professionals to enthusiasts, to create in their own style and publish it efficiently.

To enhance your Toon Boom skills, they offer courses on Storyboard Pro and Harmony for free, allowing you to learn at your convenience while taking their tests and earning badges.

The creatives spoke and Toon Boom listened. They added additional performance and power to their 2D animation software, along with new features for game developers.  

Key Features:

  • All-In-One: Allows animators of all spectrums to create paperless and cut-out animations in all styles imaginable.
  • Long-Established: With over 25 years in existence, they have been used by leading animators, yet they continue to stay up-to-date. Their stylus pressure responsiveness and line stabilizer are examples of their new features.
  • Easily Integratable: It easily integrates with software like Adobe Illustrator. It also integrates with extensions like PDF, PSD, PSB, and Bitmaps.

Pricing:

Toon Boom has a 21-day free trial in which you have ample time to understand or explore the software. There are also free videos with tips and tricks for navigating the software.  

Get Started With Toon Boom Harmony


3. Blender

Best for Developers, Designers, and Engineers (Free to use).

One unique thing about Blender is that it is being made by contributors worldwide. Scientists, studio artists, hobbyists, individual artists, professionals, and students alike, are uniting to have access to this open-source/free 3D creation pipeline. 

Some amazing features of Blender are its raster graphics editing, composting, even motion graphics, texturing, soft body animation, and 3D modeling, which ranks it high among free animation software.

Whatever you create in Blender is your sole property. Yipee. Their license guarantees you freedom that no one can take back, referred to as Copyleft.  

Key Features:

  • Well Supported: Blender is supported by the following major hardware merchants: Apple, Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA. It is also affiliated with Linux Foundation, OIN, and Khronos.
  • Complimentary: Blender is free to use, whether it be commercially or for educational institutions, for animation studios or game artists, for scientists or artists.
  • Privacy: No need to register and no need for an internet connection to function, although some add-ons require the internet for their additional services.

Pricing:

Presumably, the best free animation software is released under GNU GPL General Public License meaning software is free and open-source for developers’ contributions.

Other free features include:

  • Free for any purpose
  • Free to distribute
  • Free to analyze how it works and make changes
  • Free to distribute
  • Easy-to-navigate interface for users
  • Sell scripts and add-ons 

Get Started With Blender


4. Adobe Character Animator

Best for Hobbyists and Professionals ($54.99/month).

You would be right to think that Adobe is a champion in graphics and animation. Their software is so detailed and feature-rich that you’re covered for any animation work. 

Adobe Character Animator is one that comes highly recommended because it enables you to use motion capture to build live animations from 2D characters. Using tools and features from motion capture technology to lip-syncing, you can effortlessly animate your 2D characters. 

Simply integrate your favorite characters from Illustrator or Photoshop and animate them in Character Animator.  

Key Features:

  • Movements: Move your character’s limbs effortlessly using your mouse and save these movements as buttons, which is easier than remembering key commands.
  • Facial Tracking: Using a facial tracking tool, imitate expressions and real-life movements like breathing, blinking, and walking, all in real-time.
  • Livestream: With Adobe Sensei AI you can use your webcam to live stream your animations while you work and have your audience involved.

Pricing:

Adobe Character Animator offers a 7-day free trial. There are different packages for individuals, schools and teachers, businesses, and professionals. All packages have desktop and mobile apps, Photoshop, Illustrator, and 100GB of cloud storage. Other plans are:

Get Started With Adobe Character Animator


5. Synfig Studio

Best for Experienced Hobbyists (Free to use).

The Synfig Studio software is open-source and free to use. It has powerful solutions for creating animation that is film-quality, using bitmap and vector artwork. 

You can create animations using over 50 layers which are vast and can be geometric, with filters and transformations.

Synfig is quite more robust compared to other open-source or free animation tools. They offer parameter linking of various layers, you can use fifty layers and more, allowing you to create advanced characters. 

Sprites and digital tweening are some other tools used to speed up the process of animation.  

Key Features:

  • Advanced Controls: Mathematical expressions are used to link parameters of varying layers, enabling you to create dynamic structures.
  • Vector Tweening: This feature allows you to transform any vector shape from one into another without needing manual tweening.
  • Bone System: Skeleton Distortion is an additional feature that helps you apply complex deformations onto bitmap work.

Pricing:

Synfig is open-source and free to use. You will also get free video tutorials on in-depth software tips as well as advanced animation tools for both beginners and experienced enthusiasts. 

You can make a one-time or a recurring donation to the collective although it is not mandatory. Two versions of binary builds available are ;

1. Stable Version

  • For everyday use on projects
  • Well-tested features

2. Developmental Version

  • Allows you to try the latest features
  • Allows you to try bug fixes 

Get Started With Synfig Studio


6. Cartoon Animator 4

Best for All Levels of Animators (Free Trial, then $159.00 one-time fee). 

One of the most efficient 2D animation software on the market. 

If you want fast and professional character animations then this software has the perfect tools for you. Simply control characters with your facial expressions and employ lip-syncing with audio, produce smooth 360-degree head turns, control characters using 2D mocap, and have access to vast motion resources to customize characters. 

You can also bring a logo, prop, or image to life with their Elastic Motion effects or any one of their other apps.  

Key Features:

  • Community Network: With a strong community and a collection of learning materials easily available to help understand the software.
  • Top-Notch Tools: Some of the tools it boasts of are: digital puppets and hand tracking, full-body motion capture, audio lip-syncing, smart motion retargeting, sprite-based facial system, and precise FK/IK system.
  • Integration: Using integration tools to link with your Photoshop artwork or use their PSD templates for designing.

Pricing:

There is a 30-day trial period whereby you have access to all the tools and features. Some of the available free resources include 50 characters, 24 projects/scenes, 435 motions, and 222 accessories and props.

1. Pro $99.00

  • Smart 1K Animation
  • Smooth 360 head Creation
  • Motion Retargeting

2. Pipeline $199.00

  • Photoshop Design Pipeline (import/export)
  • After Effects Pipeline
  • Customize Elastic Motion Effects 

Get Started With Cartoon Animator 4


7. Animaker 

Best For Animation Enthusiasts ($10.00/month). 

Using Animakers’ tools and features, you can create 2D and 2.5D videos. You can also work on adding background music, adding sound effects, adding voice and audio, as well as converting text to audio.

They also have a drag-and-drop feature that helps animators create various types of animations on the go. In just ten minutes you can pick a template, customize any part of it and then publish it, pretty awesome right.

Animaker is a great piece of software for making whiteboard videos, infographic videos, educational videos, and short marketing bits.

Animaker Lite is a simplified version that has an easy interface that even an amateur could use to create videos in minutes.  

Key Features:

  • Direct Export: You can download your videos in MP4 and GIF formats and export them directly to 100 different channels like Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram to share with your fans.
  • Audio Features: Animaker software has preloaded background tracks, voice recording, sound effects, and text-to-speech just to name a few. They also have an audio library of over a hundred music tracks and thousands of sound effects – all royalty-free!
  • Effects: There are some cool features like enter-and-exit effects, camera in and out, transition effects, and multi moves.

Pricing:

Based on your needs, there are different plans to choose from, from the free plan to the Pro plan. Although the software is easy to use, there are free video tutorials to help show you the ropes. With a business account, you get to create long, 30-minute videos. 

A nice bonus is that if you pay for the full year, you can save up to 50%, so basically, 6 months will be free. Amazing deal!  

Get Started With Animaker


8. Pencil 2D

Best for 2D Animators (Free to Use).

Another software with a great user interface! Pencil 2D is easy to use and even a complete beginner can understand it and master it in no time.

Although it is targeted at beginners, Pencil 2D has adaptable file export formats ranging from AVI, WebM, and GIF, to APNG and MP4. 

Being an open-source software means that developers worldwide can contribute to the improvement of the software. Share your work with them and be a part of the growth in Pencil 2D as it is always being upgraded and updated.  

Key Features:

  • Operating Systems: Pencil 2D can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux OS because it is easy and light to run.
  • Useful Tools: They provide cross-platform compatibility and switching of vector and raster workflows, onion skinning, keyframe, and workplace toolbars.
  • Memory: When you open up Pencil 2D, it starts from where you left your last project on.

Pricing: 

Yet another open-source and free software, and don’t we all love amazing free products? Pencil 2D is always striving to bring out better quality software and they have had over 330 individual developer commits since being released. Some other cool features of their free software are:

  • Crash Recovery System that returns you to your last progress before the system crashed.
  • Improved Sound Import when exporting or importing audio
  • Ease of rotating images 

Get Started With Pencil2D


9. Open Toonz

Best for Beginners, Professionals, and Hobbyists (Free of Charge).

This software is a great choice for the classroom, not only is it free, it has powerful tools which are easy to learn. You can create professional productions or simple animations.

It is so versatile that it can be used to create school educational productions, amateur productions, and professional productions.

Features that users can enjoy include blurs, masks, lighting, drawing tools, color-changing, dust, rain, and hundreds more effects. There’s also an option to combine animations with videos, motion tweening, frame-by-frame animation, and bone character animation.  

Key Features:

  • Distortion: Create your wavy distortion and change your picture styles.
  • Studio Ghibli: Customized by Studio Ghibli and so OpenToonz has been in the industry for many years.
  • Dwango: OpenToonz has an effects development kit that is developed by Dwango.

Pricing:

OpenToonz is a professional software but is free to use. Being powered by Studio Ghibli and Digital Video makes it a powerhouse. Both non-commercial and commercial projects are created using this animation software and continue to be developed and improved by users since it is open-source software. 

Get Started With Open Toonz


10. Digicel Flipbook

Best for Schools, Studios, and Students ($19.99/month).

One would say that FlipBook is undoubtedly the most intuitive and easiest animation software to use for creating great cartoon movies and flipbooks.

Being developed by Digicel enables FlipBook to run on Mac and Windows OS with ease. The software is super smooth and pretty efficient.

One really great feature about FlipBook is that you can draw directly onto FlipBook, or scan in a quality image, add soundtracks or lip-sync, paint on the frame, and export the files all in simple steps.

Another cool feature is that you can make changes while a loop is flowing and you will see those changes when the loop starts again.  

Key Features:

  • Stop-Motion Animation: You can either draw directly on the animation software or scan in your artwork or create stop-motion animations.
  • Special Features: Creative features such as multi-frame workspaces, character rotation, blurs, scanning options, and pan/zoom to name a few.
  • Frame-by-Frame: FlipBook uses a method of creating and designing characters frame-by-frame, then blending them together.

Pricing:

Fortunately, there is a free version for you to try out but you will be so impressed that you will go for the paid version before the trial period is done! The target audience for this software is mainly students and educators, they have created affordable pricing plans starting with the Lite plan for $19.99.

Get Started With Digicel Flipbook


11. Sketchbook 

Best for Designers, Architects, and Engineers ($19.99 one-time fee). 

If you need software that goes where your inner creativity takes you, then SketchBook is what you need.

AutoDesk designed this professional-caliber tool and is great for engineers and designers alike.

Changing your view has never been this easy with their zooming, split-screen, full canvas, and fitting to display tools.

With a toolbar that can be hidden or moved, you can create a bigger working space.  

Key Features:

  • Device Compatibility: Whether you are using a mobile, tablet, or desktop, SketchBook has the tools you need. Explanation of bullet points.  Include 3-5 bullet points for each platform.
  • Dynamic Symmetry: You can now capture your ideas easily and mirror your pen strokes with SketchBook’s horizontal, vertical, and radial symmetry tools.
  • Pen Interaction: With SketchBook’s extreme responsiveness to your stylus, it will feel as though you are naturally drawing on paper, catching small strokes and pressure points or tilts.

Pricing:

SketchBook is only available to use on Apple devices, installing it for your Mac App Store is free to install and SketchBook Pro on your iPad or iPhone will come at a cost. A short description of tools are:

  • Customizable brushes to suit your design needs, or import other artists’ brush styles
  • Customize your favorite hotkeys and have is consistent throughout your creative tools
  • A full complement of blend modes for your layers. 

Get Started With Sketchbook


12. Powtoon

Best for Beginners and More Advanced Animators ($19.00/month). 

This software is web-based and provides animators with a cloud-based platform to create their animations.

Some reasons why you may use PowToon are for video guides, online advertisements, informative videos, tutorials, presentations, and manuals.

Tools that will suit these types of needs are voice-overs, sound effects, images, clips, and soundtracks.

Big brands that have used this software are Starbucks, IBM, Google, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Adobe, so I guess it’s worth trying out.

Academic institutions also use PowToon to create educational tutorials and infographic videos to reach their students effectively.  

Key Features:

  • Your own Style: You are free to choose your own unique styles, and change the sizes and proportions of your characters and animations.
  • Export: Easily export your videos directly to social media like Facebook, Wistia, YouTube, and Vimeo, while importing from PowerPoint or Photoshop.
  • Support: PowToon is helpful with their tutorials, aiding you to master the app faster.

Pricing:

Sometimes free plans don’t always give you what you need and sell you the short end of the stick, which is the case with PowToon. 

Luckily there are two other plans to choose from to make up for this. All plans give you full HD videos, commercial rights, PowToon branding removed, and 24/7 support. But let’s have a look at some benefits of each plan.

Get Started With Powtoon


13. Stop Motion Studio

Best Animation Software For Beginners ($4.99/month). 

Stop Motion Studio is really amazing for its ability to design 4K stop-motion animations by blending 2D-type drawings which you would have pasted directly onto the image. 

It supports DSLR cameras and has a green screen option, onion skinning, a magic eraser, and paint tools as some of its outstanding features.

You will also notice how easy it is to edit images with just a few simple clicks, then add in audio clips, credits, and filter options, as you build frame-by-frame. 

Follow these steps to create a workflow: cut, copy, paste, and insert frames in any position, simple right?  

Key Features:

  • Cross-Device: This software allows you to work cross-platform and cross-device, from Mac to Windows, and Android.
  • Camera Compatibility: Not all software tools support mobile cameras as StopMotion Studio does. Add another phone to get more perspectives on frames.
  • Built-in Features: Be free to use the built-in sound clips for your videos, or directly record your own voice and apply it.

Pricing:

With Stop Motion Studio being so compatible with different OS, there are many ways you could access this software. All plans available give you a simplistic user interface, an interactive timeline, and helpful animation guides. A quick run through the different plans will show the following features:

1. Amazon Fire at $4.99 monthly

  • Publish directly to platforms like YouTube, Dropbox, and FaceBook
  • Overlay mode which shows differences between frames
  • Movie credits and titles

2. Windows at $9.99 monthly

  • Video enhancement with different aspect ratios, backgrounds, and fade effects
  • Rotoscoping, where you can directly draw on imported animations
  • The green screen effect allows your characters to be placed anywhere.

3.  iOS at $4.99 monthly

  • Over 30 backgrounds to choose from
  • Multilingual subtitles
  • Hyper-lapse animations 

Get Started With Stop Motion Studio


14. Procreate

Best for Both Newbies and Experts ($9.99 one-time fee).  

I love that this software is designed with accessibility as a priority.

You can work digitally but still have the familiarity of using pens and pencils to work on paper.

They make use of the Apple voice-over screen reader, large palettes, color reader, and reduced motion to create amazing workflows and blended frames.

Freely sketch out animatics with Procreate’s Animation Assist, or create looping GIFs or any beautiful animation without needing to touch a computer, pretty cool right?

One of its superpowers that it boasts of is its attentiveness to creators’ needs and adaptability to embrace new ideas and create new ways for their artists to work, for example: making features like QuickShape, StreamLine, and Animation Assist.  

Key Features:

  • Customizable: You can customize your own brushes if you’re not satisfied with their 200 handcrafted brush options.
  • iOS: Get started easily if you have an iPad or Apple device with a pencil.
  • Apple ProMotion: ProCreate makes good use of Apple’s ProMotion technology with their 120hz performance.

Pricing:

This animation software is available for use on Ipads and iPhones, which puts a little limitation on potential users who do not have iOS devices. With just a small price tag of $9.99, this app is packed with useful tools for all creatives of every level. 

Procreate Pocket is specifically designed for use on mobile and comes in slightly cheaper at $4.99. Let’s have a look at some benefits of using ProCreate and ProCreate Pocket below.

Get Started With Procreate


15. Moho Pro

Best for Professional and Advanced Creatives ($59.99 one-time fee). 

There are two packages offered by Moho, namely Moho Pro being more advanced, and a lighter version being moo Debut.

Both are feature-rich and provide professionals with powerful, yet easy, animation and rigging tools.

With Moho Pro, you get a good combination of both animation technology and art tools that have been used to produce award-winning animations.

Among its powerful tools, they have introduced wind. Now you can control the direction, strength, and turbulence of wind in your scenes with Wind Dynamics.  

Key Features:

  • Updates: Newest updates have capabilities such as adding bitmap frame-by-frame.
  • 2D Rigging: One of the most powerful rigging systems that can be mixed with traditional tools.
  • Skeleton Creation: Now you can create amazing skeletons for animals, humans, and any other creatures.

Pricing:

Moho Pro is quite pricey but with good reason. It has a lot more features that create better animations, targeted at professionals, while the Moho Debut software is less complicated to create animations in minutes. There are many add-ons available at varying prices, for example, Farm Puppets Content Pack and School Days Content Pack. 

Get Started With Moho Pro


What is Animation Software?

Being a creative animator, you are always looking for animation software that brings your still-life characters to life. Finding the right animation software is key. 

Animation software takes these scenes, frame-by-frame, and strings them together, creating a transitory motion effect, and then importing files to add effects such as audio and music.

Using animation software, you can create cartoons, GIFs, films, and whiteboard animation videos. Traditionally, animators used to create these videos from scratch and frame-by-frame but modern software allows you to use prebuilt templates.

Now you can adjust backgrounds, sync audio, create bone structures, and add transitions. Animation software is available to use by professionals and beginners or hobbyists in the entertainment, education, marketing, advertising, medical, and manufacturing industries.  

Types of Animation Software

Depending on what your needs are, animation software choices are based entirely on its features and tools.

There are two prime types of software available: 2D and 3D.

1. 2D is 2-Dimensional software and uses a 2D model, meaning height and width for animations. Its characters are flat and sketch-like, using linear shadows and shades, unlike defined/realistic perspectives.

2. 3D is 3-Dimensional software and uses more advanced techniques. The characters are visually realistic and more defined than 2D, resembling real-life rather than flat images. This software has better-defined shadows and perspectives.  

What Features to Look For in Animation Software

There’s a vast choice of animation software and you need to know exactly what you want from the software.

1. Features: Look for features offered by software that satisfy different needs like 2D or 3D characters. You will notice that 3D animators require features like lighting, textures, and sculpting. 

However, 2D animators don’t need feature-rich software and can simply use frame-by-frame animation, bone rig, or skeleton features. If you know your niche, you will know what features to look for!

2. Pre-Built Templates: These are another big thing, especially for beginner animators or hobbyists. A good collection allows you to add your own branding, and rearrange or edit templates accordingly.

You can also find software that allows you to change the text, color, size, font, and many other parameters as you need. 

3. System Specifications: These play a vital role in helping you decide what software would best suit you. Specs to consider include the computer’s RAM, processor, hard disk space, and graphics card. 

Ultimately you would need 16GB RAM and a 4GB graphics card for the smooth functioning of animation software. Be sure to select software that is compatible with your computer’s operating system. Some may even function on your mobile device or tablet.

4. Transitions and Animations: These save you time when you are creating your animations. Having pre-built templates means you don’t always have to create from scratch. 

It is a bonus if you have software that has customizable transition effects and syncing files from other formats to create real-life animations that pop out of your screen.  

Animation Software Summary & Top Picks

From the onset, decide what type of animator you are, whether you’re a professional or beginner. This will help you decide on the type of software you need and the tools or features you will need for your projects. 

A professional would probably need software that is high-quality, creates virtual reality scenes, and supports 3D modeling, bitmap drawing, and simulation. 

As a beginner, you would probably need software that is easy to navigate and learn, creates vector graphics, has prebuilt animations, and has motion tracking support.

We have looked at many different software tools and the features they offer according to animators’ needs. 

Suppose you are using the software for marketing purposes, you need to create animations and videos that can evoke emotion, which encourages responses from viewers. 

For entertainment, you would need high-quality software that creates animations suitable for your target audience, be it children or adults. 

If you’re using the software for educational purposes then it needs to be thought-provoking in order to drive a point through to viewers.

Let’s have a look at my top picks:

  • Adobe Animate: Best for Enthusiasts and Professionals ($20.99/month).
  • Toon Boom Harmony: Best for Animation Companies and Small Studios ($25.50/month).
  • Blender: Best for Developers, Designers, and Engineers (Free to use).

Now that we have gone through a list of possible animation software options, I hope it will give you a great start and you will be in a better position to choose the right software for your animation needs.

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