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The best animation software in 2021

best animation software - screenshot from Adobe Character Animator
(Image credit: Pixabay/Blender/Tammy Coron)

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

best animation software - screenshot from Moho training course

(Image credit: Moho)

01. Moho Pro

The best animation software for Mac is a powerful rigging tool

Specifications
Platform: Windows and Mac
Price: $399
Best for: Mid-level, hobbyists and professionals
Reasons to buy
+Powerful rigging system+Content library
Reasons to avoid
-Confusing UI-Steep learning curve

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.

best animation software - screenshot from CelAction2D

(Image credit: CelAction/Tammy Coron)

02. CelAction2D

The best professional animation software for Windows

Specifications
Platform: Windows
Price: From $71/month
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals
Reasons to buy
+Supports large teams+Vector and raster support
Reasons to avoid
-No cross-platform support

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.

best animation software - screenshot from Adobe Character Animator

(Image credit: Procreate/Tammy Coron)

03. Procreate

The best animation software for iPad

Specifications
Platform: iPad
Price: $9.99
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals
Reasons to buy
+All-in-one solution+Mobile
Reasons to avoid
-No cross-platform support-No vector support

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.

best animation software - screenshot from Autodesk Maya

(Image credit: Autodesk)

04. Autodesk Maya

Powerful 3D animation software for VFX and character creation

Specifications
Platform: Windows, Mac and Linux
Price: $1,700/year
Best for: Professionals
Reasons to buy
+Full animation solution+Physics engine and rendering
Reasons to avoid
-High yearly cost-Resource heavy

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.

best animation software - screenshot from Reallusion

(Image credit: Reallusion)

05. Cartoon Animator 4

The best 2D animation software for all content creators

Specifications
Platform: Windows and Mac
Price: Starts at $79
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals
Reasons to buy
+3D motion to 2D animation+Works with PSD tools and Wacom
Reasons to avoid
-Steep learning curve-No drawing tools

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.

best animation software - screenshot from Adobe Cartoon Animator

(Image credit: Adobe)

06. Adobe Character Animator

Bring your characters to life with this beginner-friendly software

Specifications
Platform: Windows and Mac
Price: $52.99/month
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals
Reasons to buy
+Animate in real-time+Integrates with other Adobe products
Reasons to avoid
-Limited use cases-No drawing tools

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! 

best animation software - screenshot from Clip Studio Paint

(Image credit: Clip Studio Paint)

06. Clip Studio Paint

A cross-platform drawing and animation software

Specifications
Platform: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Price: $219 or 2.29/month
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals
Reasons to buy
+Includes drawing tools+Multiple export options
Reasons to avoid
-Confusing UI-No rigging tools

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.

best animation software - screenshot from Adobe Animate

(Image credit: Adobe/Tammy Coron)

07. Adobe Animate

The best animation software for beginners

Specifications
Platform: Windows and Mac
Price: $20.99/month
Best for: Beginners and hobbyists
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+Good for interactive animations
Reasons to avoid
-Better alternatives

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

best animation software - screenshot from Blender

(Image credit: Blender)

01. Blender

An impressive set of free rigging and modelling tools

Specifications
Platform: Windows, Mac and Linux
Price: Free
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals
Reasons to buy
+Full animation solution+Free and open source
Reasons to avoid
-Steep learning curve-Confusing UI

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.

best animation software - screenshot from Synfigr

(Image credit: Synfig)

02. Synfig Studio

The best free animation software is powerful and open source

Specifications
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Price: Free
Best for: Beginners and hobbyists
Reasons to buy
+Digital tweening+Vector support
Reasons to avoid
-Steep learning curve-Software sometimes crashes

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.

best animation software - screenshot from OpenToonz

(Image credit: OpenToonz)

03. Open Toonz

This professional animation tool is free and open source

Specifications
Platform: Windows and Mac
Price: Free
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals
Reasons to buy
+Offers plugins and an SDK+Professional level output
Reasons to avoid
-Slight learning curve-A little buggy at times

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.

best animation software - screenshot from Adobe Character Animator

(Image credit: Pencil2D)

04. Pencil2D Animation

This free software is ideal for 2D hand-drawn animations

Specifications
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Price: Free
Best for: Beginners and hobbyists
Reasons to buy
+Simple user interface+Supports raster and vector
Reasons to avoid
-Limited tools-No 3D support

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.

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Tammy Coron

Tammy is an independent creative professional. She enjoys working on projects from content creation – including books, tutorials, videos, and podcasts – to the design and development of cross-platform applications and games.