Creating animations might sound like a complicated process that requires technical skill, design ability, and even some coding. But with today’s user-friendly platforms and guided tutorials, it’s easier than ever to create professional-standard animations.
Some animation software is best suited to building games while others are suited to creating cartoons. So, keep in mind what you’re most likely to use the software for and you’ll have an easier time choosing between all the different features and tools.
Today we’ll look at eight of the best animation software options available.
What makes great animation software?
Here are some of the essential features top-quality animation software should have. Keep these in mind as you make your decision.
Preloaded templates: Libraries of characters, templates, backgrounds, and graphics speed up the creation process and make it easier if you’re new to animation.
Drawing tools: Paintbrushes and blending tools give life to your animation creations and help make them more convincing and interesting to the viewer. Options to customize or import brushes are helpful if you’re looking to create ultra-specific designs.
Audio editing: Platforms that enable you to edit audio directly in the software instead of having to import or export it make life easier.
Import and export features: You’ll likely need to import files in a specific format and then export animations in a different format depending on how you’re saving and sharing them.
Device support: Some software options have mobile apps for on-the-go editing while others are limited to desktop use.
8 best animation software options
1. Adobe Animate [Best for beginners]
If you’re familiar with other Adobe products, you’ll find it easy to navigate the software’s user-friendly and clearly laid out interface.
Use Adobe Animate to create interactive animations for games, TV shows, and the web.
Adobe Fresco live brushes help you draw more expressive characters that blink, talk and walk with frame-by-frame animation.
The asset panel provides premade characters, backgrounds, audio rigs, and motion assets to help you work faster. The software’s hands-on tutorial is perfect if you’re just starting out as it takes you through the basics of putting together your first animation.
You can easily publish on social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter, making it simple for you to share your animations with followers. It’s also easy to reach audiences on desktop, mobile, and TV by exporting animations to different platforms including HTML5 Canvas, Flash/Adobe AIR, WebGL as well as customized platforms like SVG.
Keep in mind that there’s no mobile software download available, which is a downside if you like to work on your projects on the go.
Pricing: The monthly plan is $31.49.
If your priority is creating motion graphics for eye-catching social media posts and stories, Crello could be the best animation software for you.
Crello comes with an extensive library of 8,000+ pre-designed animations, objects, and backgrounds to help you create shareable animations quickly. It’s best suited to creating moving ads, logos, and Facebook banners.
The platform is beginner-friendly—suitable for someone with no design or coding skills. As a plus, it’s simple to resize and trim videos within the platform so you don’t need to worry about any additional downloads and extra steps.
Animation effects like zoom-in, fly-in, and fade-in are easy to apply to graphics. Simply select the section you want to animate and choose the animation effect from a pop-up menu.
Given its social media-heavy focus, Crello is best for freelancers, solopreneurs, and marketers looking to add some movement to their social media posts.
Pricing: The Starter plan is free and allows up to 5 design downloads each month. The Pro plan is $7.99/month and allows unlimited project and royalty-free file downloads.
3. Unity [Best for 3D and 2D games]
Animation software Unity is designed to help game creators quickly prototype and scale games for release.
A highly scriptable pipeline and Shader Graph make it easy to design any 2D or 3D animation. Real-time rendering gives you quicker feedback throughout development––any changes made to the design will show up immediately in the production. You can also render 4K resolution in milliseconds.
The Editor makes it easy to see how the game will look to players. “View mode” and “Game mode” enable you to inspect and analyze game objects while running the game and fixing bug issues.
New game developers can take advantage of free resources, forums, documentation, and tutorials to help make the most of the platform.
Unity’s editing and sequencing tools make it easy for creators to bring animations to life without coding. Control timing, angles, movements, and cues in real-time.
As a cross-platform Unity is compatible with most devices––you can run it on Windows, Mac, Android, IOS, and Linux.
Pricing: Student and Personal plans are free. Plus and Pro plans come with more features like analytics and are $399/seat/year and $1800/seat/year.
4. Powtoon [User-friendly animation creation]
Visual communication platform Powtoon comes with a powerful and free animation maker as part of a broad toolset including presentations, videos, and whiteboard doodling.
It’s easy to get started as Powtoon comes with a free library of hundreds of templates to kickstart your projects. Choose from pre-created characters, animations, and footage. You can also easily upload your own images and videos and customize them with just a few clicks.
If you need to move seamlessly between platforms, there are integrations with Canva, Adobe, HubSpot, and Powerpoint.
Once complete, it’s easy to share your animation directly to your social media platforms and website.
Pricing: A Free plan enables you to export up to three minutes of video while a Pro plan allows up to 10 minutes and Pro+ up to 30 minutes.
5. Autodesk Maya [Best for 3D animations]
Autodesk Maya is a 3D animation, modeling, rendering, and simulation software that’s best known for its ability to create immersive worlds, convincing characters, and impressive special effects.
The Bifrost visual programming environment is great for creating highly accurate and detailed environments. Prebuilt graphs make it easy to create visually impressive effects like snow and dust storms.
Maya stands out for its top-quality 3D modeling features. Polygon modeling enables you to create 3D models using geometry based on vertices, edges, and faces. NURBs modeling allows you to build 3D models from geometric primitives, and drawn curves.
Another cool feature is the Ghosting Editor which enables you to see the exact movement and position of animated objects over time.
Rigging, skinning, and retargeting help you accurately create, bind, and transfer characters.
Advanced creators can add scripts and plugins to customize the experience to their unique needs.
Pricing: A Standard plan enables single-user access and is $215/month.
6. Blender [Best for professional animators]
Blender is a free and open-source 3D animation software. Community-led, Blender has hundreds of global contributors like scientists, artists, and animators who help update the software by creating new plug-ins and tools.
Advanced rigging tools include envelope, skeleton, and automatic skinning. There’s also easy weight painting, mirror functionality, and bone layers for organization.
The built-in brush selection includes Crease, Clay Strips, Pinch, Smooth, Mask, Grab to help make animations ultra life-like. Advanced animators can also customize brushes to match their unique design requirements.
Shape keys enable you to tweak facial expressions, model muscle parts and refine skeletal rigs. If you’re looking for customizable software that adapts to meet your unique project needs, Blender is a solid choice.
7. Cinema 4D [High-quality motion graphics]
Cinema 4D is a 3D animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software.
Keyframing makes it simple and intuitive to animate objects––simply click the circle next to any object and convert it into a lifelike animation. The Powerslider allows you to quickly define keyframes for the current state at any frame and change existing keyframes without leaving the default layout.
A handy timeline window gives you greater control with tracks for every animatable parameter and options like layers to organize and control the visibility of objects, tracks, and keyframes.
Use Cinema 4D’s effectors, tags, and expressions to animate without keyframes. Choose to use presets to help you get started or create your own expressions in the node-based Xpressor editor or via Python programming.
Cinema 4D’s huge range of tools, features, as well as presets make it ideal for seasoned pros and beginners who are still learning.
Pricing: Plans start at $59.91/month.
8. Toon Boom Harmony [Best for cartoon animation]
Popular with cartoon creators, Toon Boom Harmony is behind some of our favorite TV animation shows including Spongebob Squarepants, The Simpsons, and Rick and Morty.
The top-tier onion skinning feature enables you to see the previous drawing underneath the next sketch to help create seamless movements and transitions.
Advanced lighting and shading tools allow you to create depth, volume while the Weighted-Deform Node creates the smoothest texture deformation and ultimately more realistic animations.
Multiple import and export features make it simple to upload your own paper drawings or digital images as more than 13 different file types.
You’ll need to feel comfortable starting from scratch though––currently, Toon Boom Harmony doesn’t come with any pre-designed characters.
Pricing: An Essentials plan is $25/month, an Advanced plan is $63/month and a Premium plan is $115/month.
AppSumo’s verdict: best animation software
Whether you’re looking to create 3D gaming environments, social media graphics, or cartoons, there’s a top-quality animation software option on this list for you.
Think about which features are most important to you and how you’re most likely to use animation software. It can be helpful to write a quick list of your top priorities, that way it’ll be easier to decide which animation software is best for you.
While you’re testing out animation software, make sure to check out the AppSumo Store for all the latest deals we’re running.
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