The best 2D animation software in February 2024

A sketchy illustration of a dragon using the best animation software
(Image credit: Maya)

The best 2D animation software will make your work stand out and help bring your creations to life. With the wide array of applications and animation types out there, it can be hard to choose one fitting your requirements. Our handy guide will help you find the best software whether you're a new or experienced animator. 

When selecting the best animation software it's important to consider the multitude of tools, exporting types and compatibility with other programmes if you create across multiple apps. Each application has a different interface and tool suite, so it's important to do your research before downloading to make sure you will be comfortable learning it. Our expert guide details elements like platform compatibility, price and who we think each piece of software is suitable for.

If you're already happy with your software, why not check out some new animation tools? See our list of the top animation tools for all kinds of digital arts, or check out our guide to the best 3D modelling software if you want to get into 3D creativity.

The best animation software available now

Why you can trust Creative Bloq Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

best animation software - screenshot from Moho training course

(Image credit: Moho)

01. Moho Pro

The best animation software for Mac and a powerful rigging tool.

Specifications

Platform: Windows and Mac
Price: $399.99
Best for: Mid-level hobbyists and professionals

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful rigging system
+
Content library

Reasons to avoid

-
Confusing UI
-
Steep learning curve

Moho Pro is award-winning animation software for Mac that has everything you need to create professional-quality 2D animations. Its powerful rigging system will have your creations jumping off the screen, while the Smart Bones feature will enhance your character's facial expressions and body turns.

Moho has been used by Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon on their Oscar nominated films The Breadwinner, Song of the Sea, Secret of the Kells and Wolfwalkers, and is widely considered to be an industry standard 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 $70/£50 monthly
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals

Reasons to buy

+
Supports large teams
+
Vector and raster support

Reasons to avoid

-
No cross-platform support

With Studio and Educational editions, this 2D animation software for Windows has something for experienced animators and learners. The Studio edition is an excellent choice if you're working with a team, producing feature films, animating television series or creating animated shorts. This edition includes upgrades and support and is always the first to receive new features.

CelAction2D can rig both vector and bitmap graphics via the a skeleton system, and couples well with Photoshop, Illustrator or Adobe Animate. Animation can be achieved in various styles and the textures and line work finessed in the production stage.

The Educational edition is identical to the Studio edition but only recognised educational institutions can purchase it, and it can't be used 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/£12.99
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 a deceptively powerful animation tool in the palm of your hand? Well, now you can with Procreate for iPad. With the Animation Assist feature, you can sketch out animatics, make looping GIFs and create beautiful animations without ever having to touch your computer. As we found when we tested it in our Procreate review, you can sketch, illustrate, and animate your next masterpiece on the go. And the latest version has some pretty dreamy 3D tools, too. Embraced by everyone from beginners to hobbyists, and even professionals, this software is the top pick if you're looking to create frame animations on the move.

Don't have an iPad yet? Take a look at our guide to all the different iPad generations and find the right one for you.

Motion capture facial animation in Cartoon Animator 5

(Image credit: Reallusion)

04. Cartoon Animator 5

The best 2D animation software for content creators on Windows.

Specifications

Platform: Windows
Price: $149
Best for: Beginners, hobbyists and professionals

Reasons to buy

+
2D and 3D animation
+
Works with PSD tools and Wacom

Reasons to avoid

-
Steep learning curve
-
No drawing tools
-
Windows only

Cartoon Animator 5 is the latest release from the team at Reallusion, and golly if it's not jam-packed with useful features for creatives. While it may not be considered an industry standard, Cartoon Animator is perfectly capable of creating professional-quality animations.

From smart IK motion editing to full-body motion capture, Cartoon Animator has the tools to do it all. For example, with its sprite-based facial system, you can quickly transform a 2D face into a 3D talking head. Vector and bitmap graphics are supported, including Photoshop layers. There's also a helpful rigging and bone tool that allows you to create believable multi-angled 2D characters. The motion path tool is handy for creating simple animations quickly and easily, while for pro-end creators it has a suite of post production tools as well.

It's not the easiest software to learn your way around, but if you have the time and patience to get to grips with it, Cartoon Animator is a fantastic animation software for all kinds of content creator. Unfortunately, the latest version is Windows-only.

best animation software - screenshot from Adobe Cartoon Animator

(Image credit: Adobe)

05. Adobe Character Animator

Beginner-friendly animation software.

Specifications

Platform: Windows and Mac
Price: $59.99/£56.98 monthly
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 to life in Character Animator. You can even live-stream your characters!

While Character Animator is still a useful app for hobbyists and professionals, this is a particularly great software if you're new to animation and want to wrap your head around the basics.

best animation software - screenshot from Clip Studio Paint

(Image credit: Clip Studio Paint)

06. Clip Studio Paint EX

A cross-platform drawing and animation software.

Specifications

Platform: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Price: From $76.99/£59.99 annually
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 EX 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 EX 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 EX runs on nearly every major platform.

If you can find your way around its slightly confusing user interface then Clip Studio Paint EX can be a great addition to the digital toolkit of beginner, hobbyist and professional animators.

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: From $20.99/£21.98 monthly
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 have a lot to offer animators. 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, but if you're looking to create interactive animations and simulations with ease then Adobe Animate could be the software for you.

The best free animation software available now

A 2D animation frame with timeline in Blender

(Image credit: Blender.org)

01. Blender

An impressive set of free 2D drawing and animation 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 without Blender. And the same goes when talking about 2D animation. Even though it has a full 3D toolset, many 2D animators use Blender, benefitting from 2D drawing and an animation stage that supports both 2D and 3D work.

Onion skinning with layers, colours, stroke and fill controls using the famous Grease Pencil tool take Blender to the professional level for 2D animation. Blender supports different approaches to how you create your animations and, best of all, it's free.

best animation software - screenshot from Synfigr

(Image credit: Synfig)

02. Synfig Studio

A powerful and open-source animation software.

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 that allow you to link the parameters of various layers, so that you can create advanced character puppets and other dynamic structures.

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.

It's got a steep learning curve, but if you're up to the challenge then Synfig Studio is a great app for beginners and more experienced hobbyists alike.

best animation software - screenshot from OpenToonz

(Image credit: OpenToonz)

03. OpenToonz

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 the bank, then OpenToonz is the software for you. 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 (not to mention free of charge) 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 really important – your animations.

This cross-platform tool is available on Windows, macOS, Linux, and FreeBSD. With support for raster and vector graphics, this beginner-friendly software is an excellent choice for hobbyists and beginners. 

Read more:

How we test 2D animation software

As in other creative software categories, 2D animation software is tested and evaluated by experts who have years of experience creating animation projects in studio contexts – whether that be in gaming, online, television or film production. Well versed in boning, inverse kinematics, facial animation, vector and bitmap graphics, animation workflows and post production, our reviewers are able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of 2D animation packages and give you the best advice on which to choose.

How to choose 2D animation software

Your animation ability and the scale of your projects are the most important criteria when choosing 2D animation software. If your goal is to learn the basics of 2D animation and improve your skills, then some of the free or inexpensive applications in this buying guide are a good place to start. You can acclimatise yourself to concepts such as onion skinning and tweening, setting up skeletons and so forth, without having to learn a complex interface. However, if you are already familiar with the basics then the tools and workflow will be your focus. Higher-end paid-for applications will help you achieve professional results. Perhaps try one or two of the demos before buying.

FAQ

What do I need to become a 2D animator?

In the beginning, the best thing to do is to develop your drawing skills using a pad and pencil, iPad with stylus or a graphics tablet. Hand drawn characters have always been the basis for 2D animation. When you're able to draw convincing characters that you're happy with, then animating them on a Mac, PC or tablet – using software like that listed above – is a logical next step. If your aim is to make 2D animation your career, consider taking courses to learn 2D animation software or even enrol in an animation programme at an art college or university.

Which software should I learn for 2D animation?

There's no right or wrong 2D animation software package. Most operate using the same principles, based around a timeline and a set of tools for transitioning the shape and position of the forms in your drawings. When you've learned the basics in one package, move on to something more complex in the the professional range. It's not the software that will determine your talent – that's down to your creativity, ability to learn and the application of skills.

What are the basic principles of 2D animation?

In addition to being able to draw expressively, good 2D animation relies on timing, creating a sense of anticipation, an understanding of physics, frame composition and the ability to depict relatable poses. You can learn a great deal about these things through observation – by watching the work of leading animators and, once you've started animating, by shooting reference video of the scenes you want to create.

Tammy Coron

Tammy is an independent creative professional, author of Apple Game Frameworks and Technologies, and the maker behind the AdventureGameKit – a custom SpriteKit framework for building point and click adventure games. As an innovative problem solver and industry leader, Tammy enjoys working on projects from content creation – including books, tutorials, videos, and podcasts – to the design and development of cross-platform applications and games. For Creative Bloq, she has written about an array of subjects, including animation, web design and character design.

With contributions from