11 Best Animation Software of 2021 (Free, 2D, and 3D)
Emile Cohl, a French cartoonist and animator, created the world’s first animated film ‘Fantasmagorie’ in 1908. Ever since, telling animated stories has fascinated and captivated people’s imaginations.
From cartoons like The Lion King and Spirited Away in the 1990s and early 2000s to modern Netflix anthology series like Love, Death, and Robots, animated stories have attained more than just cult status – they’re persistent in our culture.
And by 2022, over 80% of internet traffic will be video, making web-based video creation an increasingly important endeavor.
With the help of online animation software, even an amateur can create advanced animations like CGI, 2D vectoring, stop-motion animation, typography and motion graphics and more.
This guide will help you choose the best animation software to use, whether you’re a professional looking for advanced 3D modeling or a business owner wanting a simple animated explainer video.
To help you choose the best animation software, I’ve curated a list of some of the best 2D animation software, free 2D animation software, and 3D options this year.
What is Animation Software?
Animation software is used by animators to create motion graphics on a single frame basis. Individual frames are combined to create motion graphics used for video games and animated movies.
Computer animation first started in the 1940s and 50s, but it was in 1988 with a product called Softimage that modern animation began. For the first time, animation, modeling, and rendering were combined into one tool, which has now been used to create hundreds of feature films and video games.
Animation is prevalent in nearly everything we do. From sending GIFs and creating presentations to creating video games and feature films, animation software is at the heart of it all. Making an animation involves a series of images that you manipulate over a set of keyframes.
You can either create animations yourself with software, or hire someone to do it for you. For example, Twine.fm is a platform that has over 5,500 freelance animators ready for hire.
If you’re ready to download and use a tool yourself, this article ranks and reviews the best animation software to try this year.
Let’s get started.
Here are my picks for the best animation software for animators and businesses.
Initially established in 1998, Maya is an Academy Award-winning (2003) 3D computer graphics and animation software. Currently owned by Autodesk, it is especially useful for the creation of interactive 3D applications like motion pictures, video games, TV series, special effects, and more.
It is, without any doubt, one of the best software tools in the market providing 3D animation, and has been acclaimed for its use in notable films like ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ‘Spiderman,’ ‘Star Wars,’ and ‘Ice Age.’
The best part is that it is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Maya is one of the best animation software tools for creating animation pictures, video games, and adding 3D effects in motion pictures. If you require high-quality visual effects, then Maya has you covered.
- Clip matching feature
- Bifrost liquid creation feature that creates simulations of photorealistic movies
- Excellent character animator
- Allows deep adaptive liquid simulations
- In-built accelerated modeling workflows
- Paint effect feature that allows you to make 3D shapes by freehand drawing software
- Enhanced viewport 2.0 and DX11Shader rendering engine (blur reflections, shader effects, imparting translucency)
- Free-form approach to 3D modeling that allows you to add as many layers as you want
- Arnold integration – this RenderView feature can be used to view scene changes in real-time
- Create your own scripts and plugins for better customization (in Maya-embedded Language or python scripting)
- Voice-o-matic provides lip-syncing technology, motion capture, and walk cycles
- Complex hand-made animation tasks made extremely easy
- Efficient color management (useful Boolean operations on polygon geometry)
- Create realistic effects including explosions and cloth simulations
- Excellent rendering technology even for the most advanced projects
- Comes with a 30-day free trial and 30-day money-back guarantee
Maya is easily the best 3D animation software in the market and comes in at a reasonable cost of $1,545/year (or pay $195/month). They also offer a 30-day free trial so you can test the software before making the purchase.
Maya is the best software on the market and my #1 top pick this year.
You can test out Maya for free with a 30-day free trial or purchase a yearly plan and save 33%.
Renderforest is an all-in-one online video, animation, logo, and website maker. This tool is great for web designers, business owners, and those who aren’t necessarily looking for advanced 3D modeling.
If you aren’t a design expert but need to create a logo, animated video, music visualization, or professional intro, Renderforest is the obvious choice.
Renderforest is Best for:
Business owners that don’t want to hire an animator but can follow easy online instructions will benefit from joining Renderforest. If you don’t know how to code but want professional animations at one monthly price, this software is for you.
- Machine learning and AI deliver the best logo design options with just a few clicks
- Over 50,000 unique artwork files to choose from
- Professional mockups and uploadable brand guidelines
- 100+ pre-made mobile-friendly website design templates
- Hundreds of animated video templates to suit your needs including slideshows, intros, explainer videos, logo reveals, corporate presentations, and animated infographics,
- Ready-made animated blocks
- One-click web page animations
- A super-intuitive user interface allows you to create animated videos in a few clicks
- Their advanced AI does truly understand how to provide you high-quality logo and graphics
- Simple monthly pricing depending on how many videos you need
Plans range from free to $49.99/month depending on how many animated videos you need. I recommend their popular $39.99/month plan, which is made for businesses that create a lot of videos. This plan includes 40 GB of storage, 60 720p or 30 1080p videos per month, unlimited vector logos, and one free website.
Sign up for Renderforest for free today to test it out.
Pencil2D is a simple and intuitive tool that helps you create 2D hand-drawn animations.
Open-source, and entirely free of cost, it is open to use by anyone, even for commercial purposes. On top of that, it is decidedly user-friendly, making it a perfect tool even for beginners.
This tool is tailor-made for traditional artists trying to learn about and master digital art. Pencil2D is also an easy-to-use platform for novice digital artists with very basic requirements.
- Very lightweight and easy-to-use
- Seamlessly switch between workflows (Raster and Vector), which allows you to streamline and speed-up your work
- Cross-platform software (runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux)
- Unique ‘Timeline’ feature that will enable you to choose the pace at which the animation moves
- One of the cheapest tools on the market
- User-friendly and intuitive user interface
- Comes with in-depth tutorials to help you get started
- Minimal designing that lets you focus on the job at hand (animation)
- Website continually updates you with the latest news and information regarding the software
- Free access to a community of users to discuss problems, developments, and for brainstorming sessions
- Must use separate layers for every image (similar to PhotoShop, Anime Studio, Adobe Animate, Adobe After Effects, Disney products, and Toon Boom Harmony)
- Not yet available for 3D animation
- Importing and exporting feature needs to be better
Pencil2D is entirely free of cost since it is an open-source software tool. You can access and download it online easily.
Launched in 2014, Animaker is a do it yourself (DIY) video animation software. It offers a wide range of services, including aiding users to create animated videos using in-built videos and infographics.
In 2017, it launched a vertical video creator tool (animated), the first animation company to do so.
The in-built templates are extremely self-sufficient for basic animation work, including educational tutorials and classroom teaching.
- It is a cloud-based animation and video maker
- Uses HTML and Adobe Flash
- Can directly upload animated videos to platforms like Facebook and YouTube (videos can also be downloaded as mp4 extension)
- Offers Google Chrome extension
- Has one of the largest collections of animated characters, properties, icons, charts, and maps
- Offers video creation in six different, unique styles (you can use single or multiple styles within the same video)
- Offers video infographics
- Allows you to edit and customize explainer videos (text-to-speech, background music tracks, more than 100 sound effects)
- Pro-level features (record, multi-movie, camera, curve, transition effects, enter, and exit effects)
- Animaker deck (pools all the features of animated videos and convenience of powerpoint on the same platform)
- Text support for more than 50languages (custom font support)
- Export video in full HD (1080 p)
- At times, previewing can make the video lag
- Sometimes there are errors in case of video upload
- The free version does not offer HD animation
For starters, it offers a freemium version with basic and limited functionalities.
After that, Animaker offers three paid plans, including:
- The ‘Personal’ plan is $12 per month (payable annually).
- The ‘Startup’ plan costs $19 per month (payable annually).
- The ‘Business’ plan is priced at $39 per month (payable annually).
Initially released in 2016, OpenToonz is a free 2D animation software program. Since it is an open-source software tool, any developer can edit and modify its code to make it better and customize it to suit their needs.
Its main aim is to link academic research and animation to facilitate ideas and research.
OpenToonz is perfect for developers and animation artists who are looking for a high level of customizability. It is also suitable for small and medium businesses and creating education tutorials.
- Offers GTS scanning tool that you can use for sequence scanning (only available for Windows)
- Compatible with TWAIN (and an animation program interface)
- Comes with an impressive variety of animation effects, including changing picture styles, affected incident light, and more
- Offers a wide range of keyboard shortcuts so that you don’t have to use the mouse all the time
- It is compatible with four types of scanning (black and white, colored and with or without binarization)
- Creates efficient and seamless cutout animation
- Offers FX schematic feature
- It can develop wavy distortions and change picture styles
- Offers in-built particles effect feature (create rain, snow, sparkles, smoke, and much more)
- Supported on a large number of platforms like Windows, Mac, and Linux
- Open-source software (can be edited at the source for high customizability)
- Free for use
- Trustworthy and endorsed by major animation studios (Studio Ghibli)
- Comes with starting manual for first-time users (comes in English and Japanese)
- User-friendly, intuitive interface
- Needs an enormous RAM size to work seamlessly (otherwise, it may crash)
- New frame animation and frame creation requires drawing (it is not an automatic feature)
- Provides only 2d animation but provides onion skinning
OpenToonz is a free animation tool. It can be accessed online and can be used for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.
Also known as Synfig Studio, Synfig is one of the newest animation tools on the market. It is free and provides 2D animation. Moreover, it specializes in vector graphics solutions.
Synfig is beneficial for creating cartoons for television, publicity campaigns, or a marketing initiative. You can use it for educational purposes as well.
- Supported on Mac, Windows, and Linux
- Provides two versions with different attributes for a different set of people (stable version and development version)
- Provides vector tweening and thus eliminates the need for manual tweening
- Offers a plethora of layers and filters to choose from (over 50 layers to create artwork and animation)
- Stores its own files in XML file format
- Supports animated graphic formats like GIF and MNG
- Provides advanced controls (link parameters of various layers either directly or mathematically)
- Incorporates HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging)
- Free and open-source
- Free video training for an in-depth understanding of the software in four languages, including English, French, and Dutch
- A full-featured bone system that allows you to create cut-out animation using bitmap images or control vector artwork
- Difficult to grasp at first
- Takes a lot of time to wrap your head around its functionings
- The user-interface is not very intuitive
- There have been complaints regarding the bugs in the software in the past
The software is free and open to use by anyone. It mainly relies on donations from patrons to provide quality solutions.
KeyShot is a stand-alone, ray tracing, and global illumination animation program. It is specifically used to create high-quality 2D and 3D animations. With KeyShot, you don’t even need to place an additional graphics card in your PC.
Furthermore, it supports more than 30 file types for rendering 3D animation and is laced with attributes, including interactive labeling, texture mapping, and physical lighting.
This software is especially useful for concept modeling, where the benefits of 3D are needed. You can also use it for jewelry designing, toy designing, and automobile designing.
- Provides real-time 3D image rendering workflow
- Native support for over 30 3D-file formats
- Includes more than 750 preset materials to help you differently style your videos
- Core strength lies in its speed and flexibility
- Animation and VR available
- HDRI lighting enables you to adjust and light your scene as per your requirement
- KeyShot XR allows us to create interactive, touch-enabled visuals for mobile and web
- Real-time ray tracing (progressive global illumination with dynamic lightning)
- Can provide still image animations, interactive web content, and mobile content
- Scattering media feature (adds particle scattering)
- Unrivaled detailing, accuracy, and realism in visualization
- Compatible with both Windows and Mac
- User-friendly, intuitive interface (for those with experience)
- Imports and exports a variety of model formats
- Comes with a hefty price tag
- 3D animation can be difficult to grasp for a novice
- Framing, sizing, and re-sizing the window might get difficult at times
KeyShot offers three pricing plans:
- The ‘KeyShot HD’ is priced at $995.
- The ‘KeyShot Pro’ is $1995.
- The ‘KeyShot Pro Floating’ costs $2995.
All the pricing plans come with a 15-day free trial period.
K-3D is another incredible 3D modeling software on this list. Packed with flexible plugins, it is a potent tool for designers and artists. On top of that, it has been described to be intuitive, easy-to-use, and easy-to-learn.
Compatible with both Mac and Windows, it also offers a vast range of additional possibilities as compared to traditional modifier stacks for visualization. It also provides 2D animation for the basic user requirements. It is, however, not a free software tool.
It is best suited for professional artists, web designers, and animation specialists. It is also perfect for creating films and documentaries, designing jewelry and toys, and more.
- Very flexible and comes with the power of a node-based visualization pipeline
- Creates multiple combinations of your choice
- Advanced undo/redo system
- Can combine flexible plugins to provide you with numerous solutions (robust, object-oriented plugin architecture)
- Designed to provide motion-picture quality animation from the ground-up (render engines)
- Procedural and parametric workflows
- Modification of start of a workflow propagates to the end (intuitive)
- User-friendly and intuitive interface
- Free software and can be used for commercial and non-commercial purposes
- Can offer users both 2D and 3D animation
- Can be useful for low-budget animation artists
- Complex workflows are easy to create, understand, and decipher
- Lacks proper tutorials about how to animate and use the product
- Can be difficult for beginners to use without appropriate guidance
It is entirely free of cost and is open to use by any person. All you need is an internet connection.
Blender is one of the most popular free animation tools used to create 3D animation. Initially released in 1998, it is widely used across a variety of industries. It is most suitable for animating most films, 3D printed models, motion graphics, and cinematographic visual effects.
Blender is perfect for students. Although it is not very frequently used in a professional setting, it can be pretty useful for educational videos in smart classrooms that are VFX, and 3D enabled. Owing to its ‘game engine’ feature, you can use it to create games as well.
It is best for individuals and small studios and agencies whose requirements are not very demanding. It also works well for those with Apple iPhone and Android devices, people with OS X, or those using integrations with Cinema 4D, Moho, Stop Motion Studio, Flipbook, or Crazytalk Animator.
- Performs rendering and creates renders using high-end production path tracers
- Performs modeling; offers extensive toolset to perform activities like sculpting, retopology, and modeling
- Robust simulation using industry-standard libraries like Bullet and MantaFlow
- Offers efficient in-built video editor
- Its new ‘game engine’ feature supports game creation
- Offers modifiers to apply a non-destructive effect
- ‘Grease Pencil’ tool for 2D concept designing and 3D modeling
- Supports a wide range of geometric primitives like metaballs, icospheres, and Bezier curves
- Very user-friendly and intuitive interface
- Offers high customizability
- Award-winning animation and rigging features
- Integration with multiple pipeline tools, including Collada, Alembic, and more
- It is compatible with Windows, Linux, and MacOS
- In-depth tutorials to help you understand the working of the software
- A bit difficult for beginners to use
- Steep learning curve
It is a free tool.
Founded in 2012, PowToon creates and sells SaaS software to create animations. It is a web-based animation software that offers a wide range of services, specializing in 2D.
From creating educational tutorials to personal interaction – PowToon comes in handy for everything related to animation.
PowToon provides lots of templates and royalty-free images. Plus, it is great for professionals who deal extensively with presentations.
- No watermarks
- Downloadable as mp4
- Full HD video (1080 p)
- You have complete control over the privacy of your account
- Directly export to various social media sites like YouTube
- Detailed videos walkthroughs and tutorials available to help you get started
- Multiple character animations and cartoons to choose from
- Animations are clever and well-detailed
- 24/7 priority customer support
- Has a free plan but with limited qualities
- Can sometimes become slow (while editing)
- No offline editing options
- A bit expensive
- Does not offer 3-D animation
PowToon comes with four pricing plans:
- The ‘Starter’ plan costs $79 per month.
- The ‘Pro’ plan is $89 per month.
- The ‘Pro+’ plan costs $197 per month (save 69% on annual billing).
- The ‘agency’ plan is priced at $99 per month and is offered only on an annual subscription.
If paid annually, you can save up to 79% for both “Starter” and “Pro” plans.
It also offers a freemium plan with limited attributes for users with basic requirements.
11. Animation Paper.
Animation Paper is one of the best animation software on the market right now and offers a variety of 2D animations for multiple uses. Compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac, this software is useful for pro-animators, film-makers, students, and game developers.
Moreover, its ease of use and speed of working are huge differentiators in ensuring patronage. It is extensively used for hand-drawn animations. The best part is that it comes with a freemium plan.
Animation Paper is best suited for big studios, web-designers, and individual animators. That said, it can also be used in case of small and medium enterprises. You can also use it as an educational tool in smart classrooms.
- High-quality lines (you don’t have to worry about resolution getting degraded upon transformation)
- ‘Light table’ feature
- Customizable toolbar
- Color-coded layering in animation
- Efficiency in coloring and performing post-paint changes
- It offers a free version called ‘Plastic Animation Paper’ (can be used for commercial and non-commercial purposes)
- Many alternative ways of flipping, like keys, wheel, return flip, among others
- Offers smooth real-time rotation and zooming
- Can play video scenes in sequence to check continuity
- Intuitive and user-friendly interface
- Super-fast responsiveness while drawing and flipping
- Lasso (ease of rotation, repositioning and scaling drawings)
- Easy import of video animations or frame stacks
- Real-time full-frame reference on the second monitor
- Lightweight, simple, and efficient
- 3D animation is not available
- The free version has limited functionalities
It has a free version called ‘Plastic Animation Paper.’ However, the paid version costs $79 per month.
The market is full of different types of animation software. However, every business is different, and every individual has different requirements. So you need to establish the exact nature and objective of your work when choosing your software. Simply put, you need to determine what you aim to achieve with your animation.
For instance, if you are looking to create complex, top-notch animations for your professional reel, you might want to go for software like Maya or Animation Paper. However, if you need some basic animations for your website or online business, you can go with any of the free software tools.
If you want advanced 3D modeling for video games and movies, go with Maya.
If you’re looking for business animations like logos and explainer videos, I’d go with Renderforest.
Finally, you may also want to take into account other things, like the price, complexity, ease of use, and customer support you require.
Is there any tools that you like not included on this list? Let me know in the comments.
Read More on AdamEnfroy.com: If you’re looking for more software reviews, you can check out my guides to the best whiteboard animation software, the best video editing software and photo editing software to use this year.