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10 Best Animation Software for Freelance Animators

ben marvazi 2020

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The life of a freelance animator has changed drastically since the early conception of the art of animation so many years ago. Both the hardware and the software have improved dramatically to assist in making the animation process that much friendly, and easier.

Not only have the specific tools of the trade evolved brilliantly, but with the accepted rise of the internet and with a vast array of forums, video sharing websites, and social media outlets at your disposal, it’s far easier to see which tools are the best overall, and which ones are suited to you.

Whether it’s animation software that specializes in 2D and 3D art and animation styles, or software that caters to both, there’s something for everyone out there.

You need to make sure, however, that the animation software you choose caters to your specific style, has a wide range of effective features, has a great user-experience design that works for you, and is compatible with you and your workspace.

In this blog, we’ll be having a look at some of the best animation software that’s out there, but be sure to take everything we say with a pinch of salt. To help you figure out which works best for you, we’ll include some pros and cons as well.

What is the Best Animation Software for Freelance Animators?

there is more than one best animation software for freelance animators

Gif by The Good Place via Giphy

You need to be choosing the best animation software that’s out there if you’re planning on making quality products that show your true artistic worth. The best thing about there being so many different types of animation software out there is that you can find one that assists you in both making and developing your own unique style.

There is animation software out there that caters specifically to freelance 2D animators, 3D animators, tablet users, beginners, studio professionals, and home-based power users.

We’re only going to give you 10 examples of some of the best animation software that is out there so make sure to have a look for more if you’re not convinced. We’re going to list the software alphabetically, so as to help you make your own decisions on which you think is best for you.

1. Adobe Animate

adobe animate as the best animation software for freelance animators

Image via Adobe

Adobe has a great reputation with all their products for good reason. They’re interconnected and their ability to function well with social media makes them helpful tools for those who are still making their mark on the industry.

Adobe Animate itself is clean and user-friendly, however, it isn’t entirely powerful for the more professional freelance animators.

  • Animate features a free 30-day trial
  • Animate goes from $24,14/mo
  • Creative Cloud (includes 20+ Adobe products) from $34,49/mo
Animation Software Best For:
  • The software is easy to use 
  • The Adobe Creative Cloud boasts more than 20 desktop and mobile Adobe products that often seamlessly integrate with each other, including Photoshop, Illustrate, Animate, InDesign, and more
  • The Cloud also offers a 40% discount on your first year
  • There are better alternatives out there that are more suitable for intermediate freelancers and above

2. Adobe Character Animator

adobe animate as an animation software for those doing character animations

Image via Graphic Mama

Much the same as Adobe Animate above, Adobe Character Animator is a great entry-level tool and even better if you’re already familiar with Adobe products.

It allows you to efficiently animate your 2D characters with motion capture technology.

Another neat feature is the integration it has with other applications like Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, helping you to transfer assets, or use their own presets with ease.

You can also make triggers and save them to efficient keybinds that help with speeding up your animated decision-making.

  • Same as above as with Adobe Products
  • Creative Cloud (includes 20+ Adobe products) from $34,49/mo
Animation Software Best For:
  • All freelance animators: beginners, professionals, hobbyists
  • 2D animation that you want to follow “lifelike” movements
  • You can animate in real-time
  • You can live-stream your animations to your audience
  • Once again, Adobe products integration 
  • Limited usage; really only applicable to certain animation styles

3. Autodesk Maya

autodesk maya as an essential animation software for freelance animators

Image via Animation World Network

Autodesk Maya is a great and powerful tool perfect for professional freelance animators who need powerful 3D animation software.

It comes with one of the best physics engines and rendering systems that you can find on the market. If realism is what you’re going for, then Maya is what you need.

While it may be favored by animation studios, it’s entirely possible for freelancers with experience and desirability to make extensive work of it. Of course, if you’re neither of those, and you still want it, what’s stopping you?

  • Maya features a free 30-day trial
  • Maya goes from $1,295/a
  • Three-year plans from $3,690/3 years
Animation Software Best For:
  • Freelance power users 
  • All-purpose animation: modeling, animation, effects
  • Projects that desire a significant degree of realism
  • There is a great deal of functionality for full studios, but also for freelancers who focus on bigger projects
  • Phenomenal physics and rendering systems
  • Relatively expensive software, but for good reason
  • Decently hardware-dependent and requires a lot of resources to run effectively

4. Blender

blender as one of the best 3d animation software

Image via Blender

One of the best and most well-known pieces of software out there is Blender and is often compared to Maya, which we mentioned above, due to its fantastic 2D and 3D capabilities.

While Maya is often more suited to studio environments, Blender is often sought after by freelancers.

Blender includes a wide range of features such as a pose editor, modeling and lighting, sound synchronization, and provides you with automated walk-cycle options as well.

Probably the best thing about Blender is that it’s free and open-source. Community backing for the win!

  • Blender is free and open-source
  • You can join the Blender Studio with a monthly renewal price of €9,90/mo which equates to around $10,87/mo
Animation Software Best For:
  • Freelance beginners, professionals, hobbyists 
  • Any and all animation styles
  • Free, open-source software with a thriving community
  • Many capabilities with its software such as ultra-realistic rendering, python scripting for customization, etc.
  • Very steep learning curve; confusing user interface

5. CelAction 2D

celaction 2d as one of the best 2d animation software for animators

Image via CelAction 2D

CelAction 2D is an animation software standard for Windows users, with various versions that cater to everyone. CelAction has Studio, Professional, Animator (yes there’s a difference between Animator and Professional), and Educational editions.

It’s a fantastic tool for studios where teams are going to be working together, but the Professional edition is great for freelancers as well. The Animator edition is different in that you don’t have any rigging tools, and cannot build assets. You’re just animating.

Because of the vectoring functions, the character assets can be used as skeletons whose animations can be reused for other characters. This speeds up the entire process tremendously.

CelAction 2D is often considered one of the best and is the most powerful 2D animation software in the world. Awards all ‘round.

  • Studio Edition rent: $75
  • Professional Edition perpetual licence: $745
  • Animator Edition perpetual licence: $409
  • Educational Edition can get purchased by recognized educational institutions and cannot be used for commercial purposes
Animation Software Best For:
  • Each edition allows for different working conditions and situations, catering to freelancers, studios, and educational institutions alike.
  • Freelance 2D specialists who use Windows.
  • Vector support that aids in smoother animation
  • No cross-platform capabilities

6. Houdini

houdini as one of the best 3d animation software

Image via SideFX

Houdini is an advanced piece of software that caters to professionals and works with a procedural workflow, which essentially allows you to animate in real-time.

This allows animators to simulate effects such as fire and smoke, hair and fur, and more. It’s used to create added realism to your animations and was used in the creation of works such as “Frozen”. 

Houdini also uses nodes that allow you to store an action which is then “‘wired’ into networks” and save it to be used throughout the project.  It promotes a flexible workflow not available in a lot of other software. 

  • Several editions
    • Free Learning Edition
    • Indie Edition: 1 year rental at $269
    • Indie Edition: 2 year rental at $399
    • Artists Core Edition: Perpetual licence at $1,995
    • Artists FX Edition: Perpetual licence at $4,495
    • Artists Engine Edition: Annual Rental licence at $499
Animation Software Best For:
  • Advanced freelance users who want to make high-end, realistic animated effects
  • Advanced software with features not available in a lot of other programs
  • Software is cost-effective thanks to the node-based workflow
  • User-friendly functionality
  • No free version is available to create commercially-viable work.

7. Moho Pro

moho pro is one of the best 2d animation software used by the biggest animation studios

Image via Filehorse

Moho Pro is an award-winning piece of software with various built-in features that can make your 2D animation stand out above the rest.

Moho is constantly being updated with features that help make work easier. Much like Adobe Character Animator, you can import Photoshop assets which can also help those who work with Adobe.

It is widely considered to be an industry standard for 2D animation due to the number of studios that utilize it.

Between CelAction 2D and Moho, you have the two best and most powerful pieces of software for 2D animation out there.

There is also a Debut edition for starting out animators and hobbyists.

  • Moho Pro (Digital and Physical version) one-time purchase: $399,99
  • Moho Debut (Digital and Physical version) one-time purchase: $59,99
  • Discounted upgrade from older versions with a one-time purchase
  • Moho 13.5 edition owners get FREE updates
Animation Software Best For:
  • Professional 2D freelance animators and specialists
  • Rigging characters’ skeletal structures allow the animators to do their job of bringing the character to life
  • It has a very impressive character rigging system
  • Extensive content library and Photoshop integration capabilities
  • Confusing UI and a steep learning curve

8. Pencil 2D

pencil2d is one of the essential 2d animation software

Image via MacUpdate

Pencil2D is a lightweight piece of open-source software that really allows you to focus on the animating side of your projects, as opposed to the learning curve of the best animation software.

It features a really nice interface that allows you to seamlessly switch between your vectors and rasters, which allows you to sketch, ink, and paint all at once.

Pencil2D is also cross-platform which can really be great for freelancers.

  • Free and open-source
Animation Software Best For:
  • Freelance beginner animators, and hobbyists
  • Learning how to use 2D software
  • Simple and easy to learn, and use.
  • Free and open-source with constant updates
  • Cross-platform capabilities
  • Limited to 2D and the few tools it provides

9. Procreate

procreate is one of the best animation software for the ipad

Image via Procreate

Procreate is an incredibly powerful tool for iPads and the only tablet-exclusive software on this list, that allows you to do almost everything you need, without having to sit at your computer. You can sketch animatics, make gifs and animations on the go!

It boasts an extremely wide range of brush styles and a complete and dynamic color control system that allows you to sketch, color, and animate with ease. It’s great for artists and animators alike.

Despite its fantastic design and usability, we recommend it not be the only piece of software a freelancer uses as the animation support structures are minimal. They’re still there though.

  • Procreate costs $9,99 on the app store for iPad
Animation Software Best For:
  • Everyone freelance, from beginners to professionals, caters well towards those with a low budget
  • Mobile, tablet-using freelance artists, and animators
  • Mobile and iPad application
  • All-in-one capabilities for artists and animators
  • No cross-platform
  • Not a great deal of supporting structures for your animation process

10. Visme 

cloud based animation software visme can be used for mobile freelance animators

Gif via Visme

Visme is one of the most well-known tools for artists and animators. It’s a cloud-based piece of software with a massive library of stock and pre-animated characters and images.

There is a huge amount of in-app interactivity that allows you to tackle a variety of types of projects, such as infographics, presentations, and social media animations.

We include it here on this list because every freelancer should have a look at Visme to help build, create, and promote their brand.  

It’s very well catered to beginners, professionals, and everyone in-between!

  • Basic edition: Free
  • Personal edition: $29,00/mo OR $12,25/mo billed annually
  • Business edition: $59,00 OR $24,75/mo billed annually
Animation Software Best For:
  • Freelance beginner and professional animators, and hobbyists
  • Exploring the world of animation, and the possibilities that exist to do work
  • Creating your brand 
  • Very intuitive design; easy to use
  • A large variety of effects at your disposal
  • Massive library of stock photos and animations
  • Limited to small-scale workloads, not suitable for big animated pieces
  • A potentially steep learning curve

The Best Animation Software Requires The Best  Research

There’s a heck of a lot of animation software out there that caters to animators and freelancers from all walks of life. Some software is more suitable for beginners, while others are less user-friendly and more likely to be used by professionals due to their associated steep learning curves.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that what works for some won’t work for all, and you must journey through the fields of the internet in search of what works for you.

Research, research, and then research some more!

One of the best things about the time we live in is that we’re going to constantly see change and improvement from both software and hardware, so you as an animator will be able to evolve with the times as well while you work on becoming a more solid animator.

For more info about animation software and which software would be right for you, be sure to follow our blogs, check out our free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!

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