When you have the itch to breathe life into your creations, there’s little that can get you there faster than the best animation software. Whether you’re aiming to create vast illustrated kingdoms that rival Miyazaki’s most mystical realms, rigging 3D models for your future game world, or making short advert videos to support your yoyo business on social media, the best animation software has the tools you need to make your visions literally dance.
Not every animation software platform works similarly. Some packages do wonders at traditional 2D animation as it was used in film and television for years. Other animation software might do an excellent job at rigging complex 3D models that move in space and time. Still other software packages are ideal for working at the intersection of drawing and cartooning, or shine for short social media videos and ads.
Whatever your needs, animation software can be found at numerous price points and with variously steep learning curves. Some software packages might require years of use for true proficiency, while others could take little time at all. There’s software for any type of animation. Read on for a look at some of the best animation software out there.
How We Picked the Best Animation Software
When researching this article we wanted to create a list that had both authority and breadth. To do this, we researched numerous animation software packages that run the gamut of uses — highlighting any that stood out among the competition within their category. We evaluated each based on a few specific criteria, choosing the best of each type.
A strong toolset is foundational to any creative software, and that’s especially true of anything as complex as an animation program. We looked for software packages that come with powerful manipulation tools. Anybody who’s tried to learn Blender knows just how many hotkeys and toolsets are contained within it and others of its type. This toolset is fundamental to what makes or breaks a software package.
Ease of use is so important with animation software. These software packages can be complex (and we mean really, really complex). That’s why it's important to be realistic about the learning curve presented in a given software package. If you’ll need printouts of keyboard hotkeys that rival the periodic table before you’ll be able to perform basic functions in a program, then we wanted to highlight that. But it’s not all encyclopedic key combinations, we included a few animation programs that won’t take you a year to gain proficiency in.
Versatility is a big deal in software, and we think it’s pretty important in animation software too. If a given animation software also has 3D sculpting tools and a texture editor, for the purpose of this article, we prioritized that animation software over the dedicated texture editor. Some of the programs we highlighted for 2D animation double as drawing suites, while some of the 3D programs contain multitudes of applications within them, including wireframe sculptors, sound management, or VFX lighting.
Device support as well as import / export tools can make all the difference as to whether a piece of software is right for you, especially if you’re just starting out. While many software packages run on both PC and Mac, some do not, and some other hybrid animation software might run on tablet only. Because animation software can get so complex, it’s important to make sure that the software you choose to learn will work on your computer and achieve what you want before you sink the time into it.
Best Animation Software: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Moho Pro
Why It Made The Cut: This excellent 2D animation suite comes with some startlingly powerful tools for rigging 2D art, as well as vector art tools that allow you to draw directly within the engine, or import your art from Photoshop.
— Animation Style: 2D (limited 3D)
— Platform: Windows and Mac
— Powerful and quick rigging of 2D characters with smart bones that will work together as your character moves
— Built-in vector brushes that pair well with 2D animation and rigging
— 2D animated assets built in Moho sync well with 3D spaces in Unity
— Expandable work space
— Limited 3D coverage
Up until the rise of Pixar, most animated films and shows used 2D art spaces, cycling a procession of frames to create a moving picture. This technology and the logic behind it is by no means obsolete, even in the digital age. With Moho Pro get ready to animate in 2D with all of the tools you’d expect from a modern animation suite. Just because you’ll be cycling frames to create your animations, doesn’t mean you’ll be animating like it’s the golden age of Walt Disney. Instead Moho Pro allows you to import art from Photoshop or Procreate, or create art directly inside the suite with Moho’s impressive vector brushes, then rig those 2D digital paintings over moving armatures. The software package completes the picture with brilliant smart features including built-in wind animation tools, lip syncing, physics, and automatic perspectival tools that help your moving characters stay in perspective.
Moho Pro has been the platform for a few brilliant films over the last ten years, including the breathtaking “The Breadwinner.” However, the software isn’t just for film and cartoon use only. With a tool built for syncing 2D animations from Moho with 3D spaces in Unity, the software is just as useful for creating in-game animations for your future game worlds. If you’re looking for a powerful software package that has the tools you’ll need for 2D animation, then Moho Pro is pure gold and the best 2D animation software out there.
Best for Beginners: Adobe Animate
Why It Made The Cut: Easily working with the Adobe software you might already have, Adobe Animate provides powerful tools that will get your creations moving.
— Animation Style: 2D
— Platform: PC and Mac
— Intuitive interface with a more mild learning curve than some
— Easily syncs with other Adobe Creative Cloud software
— Easy publishing tools that code for you
— Not as powerful as some
One of the best tools out there for those looking to learn animation software is the Adobe Creative Cloud-based Adobe Animate. Working easily with the rest of your Adobe Creative Cloud software like Photoshop, Illustrator and Fresco, the software allows you to seamlessly import drawings and textures you’ve created through Creative Cloud and work with the same color palettes and font packages you’ve saved in your library. You can even use cross-platform tools like the Adobe Fresco live brush. Beyond in-application ease of use, Animate also makes it a breeze for you to prepare your projects for the world, delivering solid export features that easily prepare your projects for other software or ready them for playback on the web, so that you can show the world without having to do any coding yourself. As with everything Adobe, the ubiquity of the toolsets mean that you’ll have great community support when you’re getting started.
Adobe Animate is a solid tool for those who want to develop simple 2D animations for the web, are pioneering a personal animation project, or looking to learn the toolset that will ready them for a career as an animator. While it won’t take you as far as some of the more in depth programs out there, it’s still a fantastic software package, especially for anyone who wants to capitalize on the Adobe workflows they may have already mastered.
Best Budget: Procreate
Why It Made The Cut: The incredibly powerful iPad native drawing app Procreate has a capable animation suite built right into it.
— Animation Style: 2D
— Platform: iPad
— Affordable (if you have an iPad)
— Also a wonderful digital painting software package
— Lots of community support
— Requires an iPad
— Not as powerful for sprawling projects
Isn’t Procreate a drawing app? Well… yes, but it also has the best animation software for iPad
built right into its core. With a simple interface change, all your layers in Procreate are converted to frames in the animator. It’s Procreate’s lush set of drawing tools that make it such a great animation package. The powerful image manipulation toolset gives you wonderful control over every frame while the advanced options allow you to adjust how long the animation holds on any given frame.
Procreate won’t give you the advanced smart-rigging capabilities you’ll get with a suite like Moho Pro, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a great platform for simple animations for the web, and it’s also an excellent option for someone who’s preparing assets from a more involved animation suite like Moho, as the software easily bounces files out in all sorts of ways. If you want a simple animation suite that comes with the tactile control you get with an iPad, then Procreate is a great option.
Best Free: Blender
Why It Made The Cut: Blender is a free software package with capabilities that include a state- -of-the-art wireframe editor, intuitive sculpting that rivals Zbrush, VFX tools, and even audio editing.
— Style: 3D and more
— Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
— Hugely powerful state of the art tools for 3D art and animation
— Vast libraries of importable assets
— Lots of help on the web
— Incredibly versatile tool set with lots of different roles and functions
— Free and open source
— Very steep learning curve
With a hotkey map that rivals the periodic table in detail, Blender is complex, but this complexity comes with a level of control that is breathtaking once grasped. A free and open-source software package, Blender is many things: a wireframe manipulator, Zbrush style sculpting tool, texture mapper, animator, VFX rigger, video editor, a sound editor, and more. Yes, this level of versatility comes with a steep learning curve, but the results are worth it. Check out Next Gen (which was made in Blender) for a taste of what the software can deliver.
Blender is a great tool for anyone animating in 3D, whether you’re aiming for a sprawling full-length film, designing game animations, adding VFX to video, or simply sculpting the characters that you’ll be dropping into the action elsewhere. Competing with Autodesk Maya, Blender is used by an increasing number of professionals. Because Blender is free and open source, you’ll have the access and tools to get a world-class animation software package under your belt.
Best 3D: Unity
Why It Made The Cut: With powerful controls for animating, Unity is a world-class tool kit for 3D animators and the best professional animation software out there.
— Animation Style: 3D
— Platform: PC and Mac
— Free version available for hobbyists and those starting out
— Tools that built many famous games
— Great for 3D film animation as well
One of the big names in game creation, Unity is a state-of-the-art tool that has made some of the most impressive game titles out there. If you’ve piloted the glowing forest sprite Ori as it makes its way through the lavish world of “Ori and the Will of the Wisps,” you’ve already experienced some of the wizardry that Unity can create. And the platform is also just as powerful for 3D video.
This free, revolutionary tool set ensures that everyone all over the world has the capabilities required to access a powerful game and 3D animation engine. If you’ve dreamed of sculpting vast 3D forests of purple-stalked trees that sparkle in the AI-generated wind, then Unity will give you the power to make it happen. For students of animation, or those just starting out on an indie game, Unity is a gift — a world-class suite that gives you the power to bring your vision to life.
Unity also syncs up well with some other software on this list. For example, the Moho Pro contains FBX support, which allows you to drop 2D animation assets from Moho into 3D spaces in Unity with little hair pulling. Models you’ve built in Blender can also be directly uploaded to Unity to be used in your animation. With a vast toolset Unity’s capabilities are endless.
Things To Consider Before You Buy Animation Software
Before you commit to an animation software package there’s a few things to consider.
2D or 3D
One of the most important decisions you need to make before you invest in animation software, is whether you want software optimized for 2D art or 3D art. While it’s possible to find crossover software that can help you with both styles of artwork, most software will be better suited to one type than the other. For some projects, you may end up using two different software packages. For example, a project that’s drawn in Procreate could be rigged and animated in Moho Pro, or a Moho Pro 2D animation sequence might get added into limited 3D-level design in Unity.
While lots of animation software requires that you import artwork that you’ve made in other software before you can rig it for animation, some software packages allow you to create inside the same framework that animates it. Maybe you want to make hyper realistic 3D humans, or work with cartoons. Consider whether you’ll want to bring wireframe objects or layered art from other software, or if you’d rather learn a software package with all the digital painting tools included natively. Some software like Procreate works as a digital drawing program first, but doubles as an animation studio.
Unlike many digital spaces, you can get a lot of power in free and open-source animation software. Blender is completely open-source and gives you a wealth of sculpting and animation tools. That’s the reason that we recommended it over Autodesk Maya, which works similarly but is expensive. Other programs like Unity might be free as a beginner, but begin to cost money when your project sells. Consider the budget you’re willing to spend on your animation software before you download and buy. Fortunately, when it comes to animation software the free options are very much worth a look.
Q: Which animation software is best?
Our favorite animation software packages are Moho Pro and Unity. Moho Pro offers powerful rigging tools for 2D animation, as well as native drawing tools that will get your characters moving. Unity is an ultra-powerful game engine that does a great job animating in 3D. It’s also free for hobbyists or anyone who’s just starting out.
Q: How much does animation software cost?
Animation software can cost anywhere from thousands of dollars to nothing. Some software like Unity is free for new animators, but will cost thousands of dollars to use in a professional studio setting. Other software like Blender is open-source and completely free. Some other decent software can be bought for around ten dollars.
Q: Which animation software is best for beginners?
Adobe Animate is the best animation software for beginners for its ease of use and seamless integration with the Adobe Creative Cloud. You’ll find easy pipelines to bring Photoshop and Illustrator assets into your animation, and you can seamlessly draw with brushes from Fresco. Procreate is another powerful tool for beginners with its intuitive layer-based animation window.
Q: What software do Disney animators use?
Walt Disney animators use the proprietary software Pixar, which is called Presto, but they don’t stick to just that. Characters are sculpted and rigged using a few different packages, including Autodesk Maya, Zbrush, and others.
Q: What software do YouTubers use for animations?
While Youtubers use all sorts of animation software for animations, Adobe Animate is a popular choice.
Q: What is the best animation software for Chromebook?
Chromebooks generally aren’t the most powerful creator laptops out there, so Chromebook owners might have trouble running some of the more complicated animation software. Still, Chromebooks can handle Adobe Animate and Adobe Character Animator as well as others.
Animation software comes in lots of different types, price points, and learning curves. The software you pick should depend on your aims and project goals. For those looking for a deep 3D animation experience, both Unity and Blender are good animation software. If you’ve got an iPad and you’re looking for simple software to make animations for social media or as personal art projects, Procreate is a great place to start. For 2D animators who want a powerful animation suite that’s tried-and-tested for making great animated films, check out Moho Pro.
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