The best After Effects plugins can transform the way you work with Adobe's leading motion graphic and compositing software. Whether you're a graphic and motion designer, animator or 3D artist, there's a plugin that can help speed up your workflow, boost your creativity, or both.
As we note in our After Effects review, Adobe's software is already powerful and feature-rich. And a quick glance at the best After Effects tutorials will reveal just how much you can do with it, out of the box. But like with many programs, it can be improved and made more efficient through the use of third-party tools. So in this article, we've collected together the best After Effects plugins, as recommended by experienced designers and animators contributing to Creative Bloq.
We've included both paid-for and free After Effects plugins. Some add features that don’t exist in the core application, others simply make stuff look cool and some can help you do things faster and smarter. If you don't yet have the software, then don't miss our guide on how to download Adobe After Effects free or with Creative Cloud. In the meantime, here's our pick of the best After Effects plugins.
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The best After Effects plugins
- Price: Free
You might think that creating planets is an easy task in 3D – create a sphere, apply textures, done! However, getting a world to 'look' right can be a trickier task than imagined. For example, if making a model of a populated planet, how can the line between nighttime and daytime be adjusted to ensure cities can be seen at night and not in the day?
Video Copilot's Orb offers a range of unique tools to make planetary creation easily. It uses a similar 3D engine to the developer's excellent Element 3D plugin. While it won't work for every planetary shot, Orb will work for 90 per cent of them and is an invaluable tool for previs. This is especially so when combined with other After Effects plugins, or mixed with a 3D camera from a 3D application, which can be imported into After Effects along with foreground plates for objects such as spaceships.
02. Mocha Pro
- Price: Subscription from $25/month
While After Effects does offer pretty good tracking tools (including the bundled Mocha AE plugin from Boris FX), if you're after something more advanced, it's worth upgrading to the feature-rich Mocha Pro. This powerful, versatile plugin supports both After Effects and Premiere. It's built on Academy Award-winning planar tracking, and can easily handle even the most challenging tracking, masking and stabilisation projects.
03. Animation Composer
- Price: Free
Animation Composer is a free After Effects plugin from Mister Horse. Used by more than 100,000 motion designers, it simplifies and speeds up the animation process by providing you with pre-built animation presets and templates, enabling you to create animations quickly, without having to spend a lot of time manually keyframing. It includes over 1,500 animation presets, which cover a range of animation styles, such as text animation, shape animation, character animation, and more. You'll also find tools for working with 3D layers, camera movements, and transitions.
04. DOF PRO
- Price: $199.99
DOF PRO (Depth Of Field Generator PRO) is a depth-of-field generation plugin for After Effects. Backed by over a decade of research and development since its first release in 2005, it's become the industry’s professional choice for crafting sophisticated depth of field effects, quickly and efficiently, as a post process. Its state-of-the-art features provide innovative and cutting-edge technology not available elsewhere, resulting in one of the most powerful and advanced depth of field processors in the industry.
Advanced features include support for chromatic and achromatic aberration; focal plane bokeh differentiation; astigmatism and vignetting effects; support for custom aperture maps; and noise recovery. There is also full alpha channel/transparency support, 32-bit floating-point colour support, accurate aperture display and an iris array display. You can see a feature breakdown here comparing the plugin to After Effects’ Camera Lens Blur effect.
04. Datamosh 2
- Price: $49.99
A bit of glitch in your video can be a beautiful thing, and here's a straightforward way to get it. By dropping I-frames and duplicating delta frames, Datamosh can create the sort of surreal, messy effects that you normally only see in corrupted video files. And while you'd normally have to break out a hex editor to create these effects, Datamosh enables you to do it within After Effects at the touch of a button and with a lot more control.
05. Plexus 3
- Price: $249.99
Plexus from Rowbyte Software has become one of the few plugins that has become synonymous with a certain look: everyone knows what to expect when a brief asks for the Plexus effect. The fact is, with some manipulation Plexus is capable of so much more than dots and lines. This is even more true of Version 3, which comes with even more effects and enhancements. My favourite is the Plexus Object Panel, which offers an easy way to manage the Plexus scene – something I would love to see in other complex After Effects plugins.
06. AE Normality
- Price: Free
Created by Stefan Minning, Normality is a free After Effects plugin that allows you to light 3D objects and scenes directly within After Effects, through the use of normal passes and advanced relighting techniques. The software is production proven and has been used by animation studios around the globe, including CGCG STUDIO.inc, Pendulum, Studio Lampion and Polygon Pictures. And best of all, it's free!
07. Pixy Halftone
- Price: Pay what you want ($19.99 suggested)
If you wish to make videos in a retro game style, Pixy Halftone is the After Effects tool you need. Released by Animation Gym, the add-on makes it simple to create a pixelated halftone effect. With it, you can add a vintage retro style to any animation, video or text, as the above video shows.
What might be of most interest is its incorporation of an Alpha Halftone, which generates based on luminosity so you can easily composite multiple layers over and over each other. Pixy Halftone comes via the AE Scripts platform in a Name Your Price option; $19.99 is the minimum recommendation.
08. PQ FUI Toys 3
- Price: $49
PQ FUI Toys 3 can be a life-saver if you need to add fancy UI graphics to a project. This After Effects plugin offers a great range of small motion graphic elements you can use to enhance your UI design. While the artist in you may scoff at the idea of using pre-made comps, each of these graphics is easily editable to the base level, and they can be a massive time saver when time is tight.
09. Volna 2
- Price: $49.00
Also from AE Scripts, Volna is an advanced stroke plugin for After Effects with built-in arrows, noise distortion, gradients and blend tool. With it you can draw strokes along a path with a lot of possible styles: taper strokes, points mode, and more. Volna can also blend different paths from two layer masks to create a new shape. This After Effects plugin draws intermediate lines between masks, smoothly blending from one path to another.
- Price: Free
After Effects does have a good basic rigging system, but Duik takes rigging to a whole new level. Increasingly, clients are asking for Duik for any advanced animation work, and the plugin is becoming seen as the animation backbone for a wide range of projects. Oh, and did we mention that it’s completely free, along with the rest of Rainbox’s After Effects plugins?
11. Nodes 3
- Price: $299
Yanobox's Nodes 3 is a plugin for After Effects, Premier Pro, Final Cut Pro and Motion that's capable of creating a huge range of imagery, from advanced 3D UI elements to more abstract elements. All of these can be manipulated and navigated through in 3D space. The only downside to this AE plugin is that there's still no Windows support. However, if you are Mac-based, it's definitely worth checking Nodes out.
- Price: $89 per Adobe application
One of the biggest issues many motion graphics artists face is how to encode footage to the right format. Thankfully, AfterCodecs provides a solution. AfterCodecs makes ProRes encoding possible on Windows, as well as offering extra goodies such as the ability to export H264s larger than 8K. It’s available for both Windows and Mac.
- Price: Free
Video Copilot has a well-earned reputation as one of the most innovative After Effects plugin creators. However, as many of its plugins come at a not-inconsequential price, it is great to see the company release a plugin that is completely free. Saber is a hugely powerful lighting and effects tools for a wide range of purposes. Not only can it be used to create beams of light (for example… lightsabers), but it also comes with a wide range of presets and the ability to work with layer masks.
- Price: $199
If there is one After Effects plugin that's become universally popular among artists and studios, it is Lenscare from Frischluft. It's really two plugins. FL Depth of Field can use depth data from a 3D render to create a realistic depth of field in CG, without the overhead of rendering DoF in CG. With this plugin, the focus point and depth amount is animatable. FL Out of Focus is a quicker version with no depth input. It uses the Frischluft engine to create beautiful lens blurs.
For more on After Effects, we have a round up of the best After Effects transitions. We also have a guide to the best After Effects alternatives. And if you're also looking to upgrade your hardware, don't miss our pick of the best laptops for video editing and the best monitors for video editing.