Animation is a wild thing. From Toy Story to Flash cartoons, animation has captivated the world for years. Specifically, 2D animation has roots in history going back to the advent of movies. This also ties into gaming as well. We all love games like Braid, Metroid, and Castlevania.
However, it is one thing to sit on the sideline like me and just merely enjoy the games. It’s another thing to dive right into the animation process. Scared to get started?
Don’t be! There are tons of options for the newbie animator to get their feet wet in the industry. In fact, I’ve ranked such a list of said products just for you.
I will be ranking these programs on some criteria like ease of use, price, and quality. For example, a program that super easy to use but is extremely expensive will probably suffer in the scoring department as one that might be more difficult to use and is free to use.
Overall, I’ll use one of three rankings: Light recommend, moderate recommend, and hard recommend. Let’s get to the list instead of having me drone on! What follows first is the list of the best free 2D animation software.
Best Free 2D Animation Software
First up we have Synfig, a program first released for free in 2005. This software is great because beginners can just hit the ground running.
It allows for both front-end and back-end design, meaning that you can design the actual content at the appearance level, not being constrained to just code behind the scenes.
TupiTube is a software project focusing on the younger children’s market of animation. This is a much more casual program for animation. But sometimes, the more casual the better I say. It has great ease of access, with users being able to download it easily and get started making some videos.
Its versatility is great as well, as it can be seamlessly used between different platforms.
Its casualness may rub some more serious-minded animators the wrong way, and that’s why I’m lowering its score a bit. But if you have no idea what you’re doing at all, this software can’t steer you wrong.
This free program uses a great little design where it gets rid of all the complicated mumbo jumbo that might intimidate animation amateurs. Its simple design is simple yet serves a great purpose.
It’s a no-frills kind of experience, but one where even the most newbie animator can draw and create videos. Pencil2D also has a great cross-platform capability.
Opentoonz has a range of cool in-house effects that can be seamlessly used while making your animations. Opentoonz allows for extensive editing of the code, too. So, once you get good enough at animation, you can bend the toons to your whim! However, that could be difficult for some users.
This is entirely a web-based animation program. It’s a nifty, free little browser gem. It allows you to move scenery around, props, move your characters.
It’s primarily used by businesses to spice up their boring old meetings. But good on them for moving in the right direction!
2D Animation Training School
Animaker is much like PowToon in that you set up a storyboard and animate the characters or props in that scene. It’s used by companies like Google, Verizon, and Pepsi.
It’s ideal for ad placement on websites and it’s super easy for beginners to use. They make it super-fast and easy to get lost for hours animating.
Plastic Animation Paper
Plastic Animation Paper is another piece of software that deals heavily with the concept of pencil drawing.
The program is designed for quick and easy use and includes clear resolution. You can do whatever you want with your drawings and using this program could elevate them to the next level.
Pencil allows your drawings to come to life. It adds a little zest to your creations by allowing you to insert different image layers to your drawing, as well as integrating sound and different cartoon features.
It reminds me of a lot of GIMP and Photoshop, except with the emphasis on the actual drawing. Pencil is free to download and is a no-brainer for anyone who loves pencil drawing, or who just wants to casually tool around on it.
Ah, a classic! Back in the day, Adobe Flash ruled the animation world for beginners. Users worked day and night on their cartoon series, their fun games, and other media ideas using this program. It has a long history, and it has earned its reputation.
Adobe pulled support for Flash by the end of 2020. I recommend one of the newer, more unique apps and software to start or continue your animation journey.
This one was a little gem I dug up, and I’m glad I did. Krita is a free program created by a team of passionate artists that wants everyone to be able to have access to advanced art tools.
You can create beautiful paintings, drawings, and animation scenes using Krita. It was voted the best painting software of 2019 by TechRadar.
Now it’s time for the more polished, paid 2D animation software. I’ll use the same scoring criteria above: Light Recommend, Moderate Recommend, and Hard Recommend.
Top Paid 2D Animation Software
I’ve heard a lot about Moho and it’s no wonder why. It’s a comprehensive animation program where your animations are basically on the level of some of your favorite creations. Yeah, I’m talking professional-looking animation here. It’s geared toward animators looking to hone their craft.
The price can be a little steep for first-time animators, so take care. But I think there’s a lot of gold here. If you’re up to the task, (and the price), you could create some unforgettable stuff here. Not to mention they’re constantly adding updates.
Crazy Talk Animator 3
Crazy Talk is a fun little program that requires little to no effort to make some cool animations. The company even states it’s all about ‘low effort’ when it comes to their software and the relationship to users. Want to dive right in and animate? Crazy Talk Animator 3 might be just what you needed.
Currently, the 4th version of Crazy Talk Animator is in development, so keep an eye out!
Toon Boom Harmony
Aside from having a catchy name, Toon Boom Harmony is especially geared towards beginners. Touting itself as ‘The most powerful software ever created for animation production’, it mixes user-friendly UI with advanced animation potential. The extensive features of this thing are insane.
Detailed painting and drawing, 2D/3D integration, and even pipeline integration are all in this one package. However, the learning curve on Toon Boom Harmony might be problematic for some.
CelAction2D allows you to create truly unique animation projects. Its ease of use is a dream and the controls are pretty easy to pick up, even for newer animators. Not only that, but it’s heavily used in making TV and movie spots, so you know it’s quality.
You’ll look—and probably wince—at the price, but there are so many features that I got to say, it could very well be worth your time and energy.
Stop Motion Studio
Right off the bat, I’m drawn into Stop Motion Studio’s opening pitch, ‘Want to create movies like Wallace and Gromit or those groovy Lego shorts on YouTube? Stop Motion Studio helps you to create terrific stop action movies with a whole host of unique features.’
Now I’m a huge fan of both of those beloved franchises, so I’m in. I guess those super cool and easy-to-use features are great too. This is great for everyone, as it’s an easily downloadable app, and you can use it across your Apple devices. For the price and potential, how could I NOT recommend it?
FlipBook is a great animation program that beginners can easily pick up. It teaches you the fundamentals of simple animation through the process of your creation. Watching the video about it was somewhat soothing with the simplicity and familiarity it exuded.
Just pick up your stylus and you’ll be moving on from MS Paint to the big times. Senior Disney Animator Andreas Deja had this to say about FlipBook,
“As a lover of pencil animation, I am thrilled using FlipBook, because it is so user-friendly. It completely serves my needs to experiment with some short film ideas. I highly recommend it.”
Need I say more?
I like this program. As a sucker for pencil drawings, it harkens back to the older days where I was an avid sketch artist. They’re determined to bridge the gap between paper animation and current as well as future animation.
Their autocorrecting software is great, always updating to make sure your drawing is up to date. Ever hear of a little show called Futurama? Toonz Premium was used for it. It’s currently in build 7.4.
DP Animation Maker
Now compared to the others on this list, this program is a little simpler in its aims. You can take any 2D image and animate it, bringing it to life. It has an easy user face and no complicated jargon or code to wrestle with.
It reminds me of a lot of photo editing programs, as it has a multitude of brushes and different effects that you can add to your image.
Sprinter is great for animating games. I imagine if in the early-mid 2000s, if the guys over at Newgrounds, known for animating, didn’t’ use Flash, they’d use Spriter. They utilize modular animation to make your gaming dreams a reality.
Modular animation is animations built out of individual sprites. This allows for an easier time when animating, and saving you time.
Now here’s a unique one to us Westerners. RENAS is a special suite of programs that have to do with the creation and animation of anime. It’s highly regarded in Japan as the gold standard in animation programs.
Its sheer number of possibilities is too numerous to list, but the endorsements it garnered are a testament to its greatness.
It seems to me that nearly all the paid software is pretty dependable and robust. I noticed a lot of ‘Hard Recommends’ from me. Of course, some prices are steeper than others, but it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
For my money, I would most likely go with Toon Boom Harmony or Stop Motion Studio if I were taking up the mantle of an amateur animator.
Regardless, we are all so fortunate to have such a great little menu of animation programs to choose from in this day and age. No matter your preferences as a beginner animator, you can find a 2D animation program for you.