Just because you’re an animator, you don’t always have to dish out hundreds of dollars just to buy software and practice your animation skills. There are some free software options, which are used by many 2D and 3D professional animators.
To help guide you as you practice with and explore software, here is a list with some impressive free and paid 2D and 3D animation software.
Software for 2D Animation
1) Adobe After Effects
Adobe After Effects is one of the most powerful creative tools in animation history. It’s a 2.5D software used for animation, visual effects, and motion graphics. It isn’t free, but Adobe offers a free trial.
It has hundreds of effects that animators can use, including combining layers of videos and images in the same scene. Using After Effects, you can design titles, create 2D characters, and more.
After Effects is known for being versatile. It’s used in the postproduction phase for television, film, and web videos. Some famous films, TV series, and YouTube channels that have used After Effects include: The Walking Dead, Star Trek: Into the Darkness, Ender’s Game, and Action Movie Kid.
2) Plastic Animation Paper (PAP 4.0)
Image by Plastic Animation Paper
Plastic Animation Paper 4.0 is one of the best free 2D animation tools that you can download and use on Windows.
PAP 4.0 includes onion skinning, light setup, layers, and pens for planning and drafting scenes. Its layout is simple, but it has many features for traditional animation.
It has shortcuts for zooming, rotating, and toggling between the draw and erase modes. With PAP 4.0, you won’t need line tests, scanners, and cameras. You can see the results and learn quickly.
3) Pencil 2D
Pencil 2D is free but powerful open source software that you can use for vector and bitmap animation. It will let you create your own compositions in color with a pen, pencil, and brush tools.
The tool has layers, a timeline, colors, onion skinning, pressure sensitivity, as well as workspace panels, which you can rearrange. You can also easily switch between bitmap and vector files.
The clean timeline will make it easy for you to add new frames, duplicate or change frame rates, and work quickly. It also has cross-platform functionality, which means you can use it on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Pencil 2D’s layout is intuitive and minimalistic. Inexperienced animation software users will be able to easily use Pencil 2D.
Image by CreaToon
CreaToon is a free, simple, and user-friendly software. It allows you to make cut-out 2D animation, add special effects, combine bitmap with vector graphics, and edit animation changes in real time.
CreaToon’s straightforward layout may look simple, but it can help you complete complex tasks with remarkable results. It offers menus to give you quick access to the main features, is arranged to give you a clear view of the project you’re working on, allows you to work on the elements of your animation in slabs, and lets you play with the progression of your brush movements.
Image by TVPaint
TVPaint Animation is a 2D software based on bitmap technology. It is paid software, but with one purchase, it’s yours going forward; there are no subscription fees. With it you can animate natural renderings with watercolor, oil painting, crayon, pen, and more.
TVPaint enables you to manage layers and images, make storyboards and view them instantaneously, combine FX, touch up images, and modify live camera parameters.
It doesn’t impose a workflow nor a graphical style. You can mix traditional animation with digital animation, and you can use another software or make your entire animation project withTVPaint Animation.
6) Animate CC (Flash)
Image by Download Bull
Animate CC is a popular 2D animation software. It has an intuitive layout and comes at a cheap price. It’s popular among 2D animators and YouTubers. It’s a good choice for animators who are just starting out in their careers.
It helps you design interactive bitmap and vector animations for apps, games, and websites, and with it you can create new poses for vector images, arrange layers in a parent-child hierarchy, and export VR animations and images.
Image by Synfig
Synfig is a free, open-source animation software that’s perfect for beginners.
It allows you to design in front end and back end mode. This means you can design the content at the appearance level and not just behind the scenes. It also has a bone system, which allows the user to create cutout animations from bitmap images and sound support to add voice-over and/or music to the video.
It has more than 50 layers to make a simple or advanced animation. It’s compatible with Windows, Linux, and OSX.
8) Toon Boom Harmony
Image by Toon Boom Harmony
Toon Boom Harmony allows you to make anything in the 2D animation world. Beginners and even professional animators from Disney, Pixar, and Warner Bros. have used it. This is paid software, but Toon Boom offers a free trial.
Toon Boom is an advanced 2D software with frame-by-frame animation and rig-based animation. It has a full range of pencils, brushes, color palettes, and painting options.
It has features such as rigging systems, post-production special effects, camera tools, vector drawing, and lip-syncing.
Software for 3D Animation
9) Autodesk Maya (or Maya)
Image by AIT Open University LeMass
Autodesk Maya is an industry standard for computer animation. It’s perfect for modeling, 3D animation, simulation, and rendering with an integrated toolset. It’s a paid software, but you can download the software for a 30-day free trial.
You can use it to create characters, build environments, make motion graphics, create virtual reality, and more. It has a video-based editor that’s in the non-destructive and non-linear mode that helps animators make quality and realistic animations. The software updates periodically and has new and fun tools.
Autodesk Maya can easily import and export SVG files. SVG files are scalable and resolution independent. It may be an expensive software, but it is worth buying and trying.
Image by Blender
Blender is a popular free, open-source software that experts, scientists, game developers, and studio artists use around the world.
It has features such as modeling, lighting, video post-processing, texturing, and animation. It also has automated walk-cycles along paths, an editor for character animation poses, a mirror function, and non-linear animation for independent character movements.
You can also easily import outside objects such as animation and textures. It has cross-platform interoperability and an integrated workflow. Beginners may need some time to understand how the application worlds, its features, and its application, but it’s worth learning the features.
11) Cinema 4D
Image by Softpedia
If you’re looking for a more affordable 3D software, Cinema 4D is a good choice for you. It is known for having the best animation effects and tools.
Cinema 4D is a program with a wide and comprehensive variety of 3D animation tools. You can use it for motion graphics, procedural modeling, and other techniques.
3D artists and animators love that it gives fast and accurate results, and its simple and easy-to-use interface makes it appealing for beginners as well.
12) Aurora 3D Animation Maker
Image by ColorMango.com
With it you can insert special effects to your images and videos and add your own watermark and logo. You can also add effects like flames, snow, and fireworks.
Aurora 3D allows you to convert your finished animation video to Flash, GIF, or a video format. The software is not free, but you can try out its features before purchasing a subscription.
Image by Clara.io
Clara.io is a cloud-based 3D modeling and rendering software that helps you make complex 3D models and photorealistic renderings. It is a web-based tool and doesn’t require any plugins for your browser.
It offers features for modeling such as sub-object editing, operators, mesh instruments, etc. It also helps in doing bone adjustments and skinning to make 3D characters.
When you finish creating your animated video, Clara.io allows you to import your files into several 3D formats. It is a cross-platform tool that works well on Firefox, Chrome, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, Windows, and Android.
Image by Foundry
Modo is a powerful and flexible 3D modeling, sculpting, painting, texturing, and rendering tool. From rough to detailed animation, Modo allows you to focus on creation. Its well-thought-out tools make it very user-friendly.
With a highly efficient built-in toolset, Modo supports UDIM workflows and integrates fully with modeling and selection workflows. Modo’s advanced tools for virtual camera creation and digital matte painting are perfect to use for product placement shots and set extensions. Its spherical camera rig lets you work with a 360-degree video.
There is a variety of 2D and 3D animation software available. Some programs can be complex and difficult to use, while some are very user-friendly and minimalist. Some are free and some are paid.
Each program has its advantages and unique features that can’t be replaced by other programs. If you want to try out different video styles and effects, you should check out each software and see which ones work best for you. Go ahead and take advantage of free trials and limited use versions of paid software if you’re not ready to commit to purchasing software just yet!
To avoid spending too much money, only buy the software you need the most and use free software to complement your purchased one.
If you want to learn more about how to get clients and grow your business as a freelance animator, check out our marketing handbook and join our masterclass.