Finding the best animation software in 2021 just got a whole lot easier. Whether you're new to the animation scene or you're a seasoned professional animator on the hunt for something new, this guide covers it all.
However, when it comes to selecting the best animation software for your projects, there's a lot to consider. For example: your animation style, the software's available features, tools, and export options, interoperability and compatibility and overall ease-of-use. And let's not forget the price. All of these things play a critical role in making the right animation software choice.
In this article, you'll discover our top picks for the best paid-for animation software in 2021. If you've got a budget of zero, then skip to the bottom for the best free animation software options. And if you're after tools rather than full software, see our top animation tools list.
For each piece of software, we'll cover its pros and cons, what it runs on, and its target users (beginner, hobbyist, or professional) and price. So, without further delay, let's see what animation software 2021 has to offer.
The best animation software in 2021
This award-winning animation software for Mac has everything you need to create professional 2D animations. With its powerful rigging system, you'll have your characters jumping off the screen in no time. Use Smart Bones for better facial expressions and body turns – and in Moho 13.5, you can use the new intuitive V-bones system to help with foreshortening and complex actions.
Moho has been used to create plenty of Oscar nominated films, like The Breadwinner, Song of the Sea, Secret of the Kells, and Wolfwalkers, and is one of the industry standards for professional 2D animation.
With four Editions of CelAction2D – Studio, Professional, Animator, and Educational – this 2D animation software for Windows has something for everyone. The Studio edition is an excellent choice if you're working with a large team, producing feature films, animating television series, or creating animated shorts. This edition also includes upgrades and support and is the first to receive new features.
If you're working alone or with a smaller team, the Professional edition might be the way to go. But if you don’t need all of the rigging tools, there’s always the Animator editor; however, you won't be able to build assets – for that, you'll need the Studio edition.
The Educational edition is identical to the Professional edition but only recognised educational institutions can purchase this edition. You also can't use this edition for commercial productions.
Have you ever wanted to create a lossless 4K video time-lapse of your artwork or have a deceptively powerful animation tool in the palm of your hands? Well, now you can with Procreate for iPad. With Procreate's Animation Assist, you can sketch out animatics, make looping GIFs, and create beautiful animations without ever having to touch a computer. That's right, you can do it all with your iPad: sketch, illustrate, and animate your next masterpiece. Used by countless beginners, hobbyists, and professionals, this software is the top pick if you're looking to create on the go.
If you don't have an iPad yet, see our guide to all the different iPad models.
Autodesk's Maya is undoubtedly one of the best if you're a professional animator looking for a powerful 3D animation tool. With Maya, you get it all: modelling, animation, visual effects. As if that wasn't good enough, Maya has one of the best physics engines and rendering systems on the market.
Maya also ships with a unique feature known as XGen interactive grooming. XGen interactive grooming includes tools like sculpting brushes, modifiers, and sculpting layers. Using these tools, you'll be able to create many different styles of hair and fur.
The folks at Reallusion have certainly been busy. Cartoon Animator 4.5 (formerly known as CrazyTalk Animator) is their newest release, and golly if it's not jammed packed with features. While it may not be an industry standard, Cartoon Animator is powerful enough to create professional animations.
From smart IK motion editing to full-body motion capture, Cartoon Animator has it all and more. For example, with its sprite-based facial system, you can quickly transform a 2D face into a 3D talking head. But that's not all: Cartoon Animator includes rigging and bone tool so that you can create believable multi-angled 2D characters.
Adobe Character Animator gives you all of the tools you need to quickly and efficiently animate your 2D characters, from lip-syncing to motion capture technology. With its seamless Photoshop and Illustrator file integration, you can create your characters using your favourite tools and then bring them into Character Animator to bring them to life. You can even live-stream your characters!
Clip Studio Paint is a powerhouse when it comes to an all-in-one drawing and animation solution. While it may not offer a powerful rigging system, Clip Studio Paint lets you combine frame-by-frame animation with camera effects so that you can create stunning full-length animations. In addition, with its simple timeline interface, you'll be able to easily tweak the speed of your animation and even rearrange the animation cels. Best of all: Clip Studio Paint runs on nearly every major platform.
Despite being relatively simple to use, Adobe Animate sure does has a lot to offer. The interface is clean and recognisable, especially if you're already familiar with other Adobe products. And the ability to quickly share and publish your work to social media sites like YouTube and Twitter makes it easy to get your animations online.
Adobe Animate isn't quite the powerhouse you'd need as a professional animator. Still, if you're looking to create interactive animations and simulations with minimum ease, then Adobe Animate could be right for you.
The best free animation software in 2021
No list of the best 3D animation software would be complete if it didn't include Blender. Blender's animation toolset features a character animation pose editor, forward/inverse kinematics, and sound synchronisation – all of which make animating your next professional or hobby project that much easier.
What's nice about Blender is that you can use it for more than simple animation: you can sculpt, model, render, and more. You can even use the Python API for scripting and customisation through app extensions.
More robust than other free and open-source animation tools, Synfig Studio offers advanced controls where you can link parameters of various layers, allowing you to create advanced character puppets and other dynamic structures.
Speaking of layers, with Synfig Studio, you can use over 50 layers and choose from various layer types, like geometric, gradients, filters, distortions, transformations, and fractals. But that's not all: Synfig Studio also includes a full-featured bone system that you can use to rig your vector artwork or create cutout animation using bitmap images.
If you're looking for a professional animation tool that won't break your budget, then OpenToonz is the way to go. This free and open-source program, customised by Studio Ghibli and based on the software Toonz (developed by Digital Video S.p.A. in Italy), is a powerhouse. You can use it to create simple animations or professional productions. It's also an excellent choice for the classroom as it's powerful (and free) and easy to learn.
If you're looking for a lightweight animation solution that's not only open-source and free but also easy to learn, then Pencil2D Animation is an excellent place to start. With its minimal UI design, you can focus on what's essential: animation.
This cross-platform tool is available on Windows, macOS, Linux, and FreeBSD. With support for raster and vector graphics, this beginner-friendly software is free and open source, and is an excellent choice for hobbyists.