Looking for the best After Effects alternatives? Then first, be warned. After Effects does a lot of different things, and there’s no single app that provides the exact same feature set. Nor will you find it easy to jump from After Effects to another app. Other compositing, editing and VFX tools generally have very different ways of doing things, and so you’ll probably have to learn to use a radically different interface.
Despite all this, there still many reasons you might want to check out some After Effects alternatives. Maybe you don’t like the way After Effects handles things, or you want more powerful features. Perhaps you just want to be free of a monthly Creative Cloud subscription and just pay a one-off fee. Or you may have no money at all, and simply want the best free alternatives to After Effects. (If you do want to check out AE's free trial, then see our how to download After Effects post)
Also, while there’s no exact like-for-like alternative to After Effects, maybe you don’t need the full feature set; perhaps you’re just interested in compositing, for example. So with all that in mind, we present nine of the best After Effects alternatives available today.
These include free and paid-for options (jump to the free options here); lightweight and super-powerful tools. We’ll provide the details of what they cost, what hardware you need, and what they’re capable of, to help you decide which one is the best fit for your workflow.
The best paid-for After Effects alternatives
If you’re a pro video editor looking for After Effects alternatives that don’t require a subscription, we’d recommend HitFilm Pro. This video editor, compositor and VFX suite is non-linear, as opposed to After Effects’ layer based system. But it does offer a feature set that’s very similar to AE, for a one-off price of around £300. With that, you get 12 months of software updates and technical support, and a licence to run HitFilm on three computers.
£300 is about the equivalent of 10-15 months’ subscription to After Effects, depending on your plan; so you’re not making a huge saving in the short term. But if you’re likely to be a long-term user, or you just prefer the idea of owning rather than renting your software, it’s an attractive proposition.
Particularly because HitFilm Pro has some powerful features for anyone who’s working at professional level but can't rely on a company to pay for their software, such as indie filmmakers and YouTube creators. These include advanced 2D and 3D motion tracking, screen simulation capabilities and sky replacement. Its excellent Chroma Key tool gives you fine control over edge detail, colour correction and spill suppression. You also get more than 875+ VFX presets. And you can include third-party plugins directly in the timeline (including, yes, many After Effects plugins).
If you want to try HitFilm Pro out first, there’s a free trial which gives you access to the full software for as long as you like, although you’ll need to buy it to export your work. Alternatively, you could dip your toes in with the more limited free version, Hitfilm Express.
Apple Motion is a macOS-only tool used for motion graphics, titling for video and film production, 2D and 3D compositing, and visual effects. It’s a good choice for Final Cut Pro users, as it’s closely intertwined with it, and has a similar interface. Most importantly, you can use Apple Motion to create templates and themes (ie. titles, transitions and effects) for use in Final Cut Pro.
Beyond that, Mac users in general will find that that this tool is, as you’d expect, beautifully optimised for Apple equipment, making playback of your clips smooth and seamless. Plus, thrillingly, you can see realtime previews of animations, rather than waiting for them to be rendered.
Overall, though, Apple Motion is certainly not as fully featured as After Effects, especially when it comes to motion graphics or creating advanced effects. And indeed, it’s quite limited generally; for example, you’re restricted to only one timeline per project. However, there’s a lot you can do with Apple Motion, from crafting a title sequence to creating 360° projects, and there’s a wonderfully extensive library of prepared animation elements.
All this for the cheap price of $49.99 represents excellent value. A great choice for either existing Final Cut Pro users or beginners/amateurs wishing to get started with composting and motion graphics.
Wondershare’s Filmora Pro is a non-linear editing tool that offers a cheap alternative to After Effects, whether you prefer to rent or buy. It's a good choice for intermediate-level video editors wishing to create professional looking titles, filters, overlays, transitions, and motion graphics. It's not to be confused with Filmora 9, which is aimed squarely at consumers; at the name suggests, this tool is aimed at pro use, and is a completely different product.
Filmora Pro's drag-and-drop, timeline-based interface is easy to pick up and use, and it offers useful features such as audio noise reduction, automatic audio sync, and auto color correction, as well as unlimited video tracks. There’s support for frame-rates up to 100fps and resolution up to 4K, and you can set custom resolutions and frame rates too. Plus there are some excellent effects, including light leak transitions, film grain effects, and two-tone.
At a one-off price of $149.99, or a subscription of $89.99 per year, this capable tool isn’t quite Hollywood-ready, but it does have a lot of appeal for YouTube creators, short film-makers or low-budget productions wishing to add a layer of professional polish to their footage. There’s also a free version, although be aware that your videos will be watermarked, and there’s no tech support, so it’s best to think of that as a free trial that's not time-limited.
The best free After Effects alternatives
If you’re looking for a professional grade alternative to After Effects, then Blackmagic's Fusion 16 has a lot to offer. Typically used to create visual effects and digital compositing for commercials, TV shows and movies, including The Hunger Games, Guardians of the Galaxy, Empire, NCIS and American Horror Story, Fusion describes itself as “the world’s most advanced compositing software for VFX artists". And it’s hard to disagree.
With a friendly user interface familiar to those who’ve used DaVinci Resolve, Fusion is centred around a node-based system that offers the compositor a huge amount of flexibility and can potentially save a lot of time. As well as tools for visual effects, motion graphics, colour correction and audio post production, you also get support for 3D and a 360º workspace that allows you to edit VR scenes in real time.
The full version of Fusion is available for a one-off price of $299, but amazingly most of the features are available in the free version, which is available as part of the free version of Da Vinci Resolve. The differences are laid out in detail here.
Unlike most similar software, the free version of Fusion doesn't feature watermarks and lets you create commercial projects, albeit with a maximum resolution of 1080p. So it really can be considered a standalone free tool.
You can argued whether Blackmagic Fusion 16 (above) should primarily be described as ‘free’ or ‘freemium’... but there’s no such issue with Natron. Because this open-source, cross-platform compositing tool for VFX and motion graphics tool won’t cost you a penny, period. And it’s very suitable for professional-grade workflows too.
Taking a node-based approach to organisation, Natron offers flexible Roto and Rotopaint tools for generating unlimited layers of masks, mattes and shapes; a powerful 2D and Planar tracker for faster rotoscoping ; strong keying and matte generation tools; and GPU and network rendering capability. There’s also a lively community behind it, with 250+ plugins available at time of writing.
On the downside, Natron isn’t so great for motion graphics. It’s not as stable as most commercial tools. And as open source software, its development is relatively slow. But for zero pennies, this is a surprisingly powerful tool, which is easy to pick up for anyone with experience of a node-based editor such as Fusion or Nuke.
Founded in 2002, Blender is open source 3D software that was once considered strictly for amateurs and students. But like the proverbial tortoise racing the hare, Blender has emerged in recent years to become quite an impressive powerhouse, despite being free. It’s even been used to create feature-length animated movies.
Blender's feature set covers pretty much anything an animator or filmmaker could desire, from rigging and skinning to fluid and smoke simulations. It even offers a (basic) node-based compositing feature which you can use, for example, for keying and blurring effects.
Remember, though, that Blender is primarily a 3D tool: it would be pretty challenging to use for, say, 2D editing. None of its features rival After Effects in terms of sophistication. And for newbies, there’s a big learning curve.
But on the plus side, the community surrounding Blender couldn't be more supportive and friendly. And the fact remains that most of what you can do in AE, you can do in Blender, without spending any money at all. For more on what’s possible, check out our selection of the best Blender tutorials.