We spent over 96 hours evaluating nine 2D animation programs, taking into account user reviews and software features. Based on this research, we believe Toon Boom Harmony is the best program overall because it accommodates a variety of animation techniques, has a bone-rigging feature, and lets you add dialogue and sound effects. In addition, you can adjust camera angles and sync your characters’ mouths to audio. There are also many tutorial videos available in case you need help or want to learn more about the software.
Best Budget Software
Best Budget Software: CrazyTalk Animator
Reallusion's Crazy Talk Animator is the best budget 2D animation software. It makes animating easy and is one of the lowest priced products on the market. You don't even need to have artistic ability to use this program. Instead, you can create characters using premade limbs and facial expressions. You can also record audio for your animations, and the text-to-speech function helps you pick mouth animations that fit your recordings.
Best for Animating Objects
Best for Animating Objects: Stopmotion Studio
Stopmotion Studio is the best software if you want to animate with objects like Legos, clay or paper because it has features that help you position them in ways that make sense with previous frames. This program is available for both Mac and Windows, and because it’s so basic, it’s also available as an Android and iOS phone app. If you are more interested in comic book animation, check out MotionArtist.
Best for Beginners
Best for Beginners: Anime Studio
Finally, if you are a beginner just testing the waters, take a look at Anime Studio. It has all the basic tools, as well as some advanced ones, and can help you build a foundation in the art of animation. The company also makes advanced 2D animation software, so you can upgrade when you are ready.
2D Animation Tools & Features
People just starting out may not need or use all the tools in the most feature-rich animating programs, but advanced users require a comprehensive feature set that gives them a lot of control over their animation work. Whichever category you fall in, consider the following features:
Creating an animated feature can be expensive and labor intensive, and planning your plot and animation before you start drawing saves time and money. During the storyboarding process, you can write the script, choose camera angles and draw quick sketches of scenes.
Once you have the storyboard, you can present it to others for critique and make changes before you begin animating. You can also use your storyboard to entice people to collaborate on your project. Not all 2D animation software can storyboard, but you can purchase standalone programs to create your storyboard if this feature isn’t included in the application you choose.
There are a lot of ways to create animated characters. For example, you may want to draw them on paper and import the drawings into your program, and not all software has this ability.
Some animation programs have drawing tools so you can create your characters in the application. For more control over your illustrations, look for a program that allows you to customize brushes and has pencil, watercolor or felt tip drawing tools. In addition, it helps if the software lets you draw in layers so you can stack, cut and combine shapes to give depth to your characters. Other programs have premade pieces you can put together to create your characters, which is helpful if you don’t have an art background.
During the animation step, you choose how characters convey emotion as well as how they walk and talk. You can create simple animations with minimal detail using almost any program. However, with more time and a high-end animation application, you can create very complex and realistic animations.
“Rigging” is a term used to describe how you make a character move. You use rigging to decide how your character’s bones, muscle and fat move, and a bone-rigging tool is extremely helpful. With this tool, you can create skeletons inside your characters and objects, which helps you make them move naturally. This method is also faster than frame-by-frame animation. Some programs have sophisticated bone-rigging tools that create more nuanced and realistic movement.
Onion skinning helps you create smooth motion. Programs with this feature can layer the previous and next drawings over the current one so you can see where you need to draw to create flowing movement.
Tweening is a process used to generate images between keyframes, and it creates the illusion of motion. Some software automates this process and even lets you define how particular objects in images move and change by using interpolation.
Some applications have additional helpful features such as drawing tablet support and scene transitions as well as tools to add text and word balloons to your projects. Also, what cartoon would be complete without sound? Many 2D animation programs allow you to record your voice or sound effects, and some can edit these sounds. Lip syncing is a great feature that matches your characters’ dialogue with their mouth movements for you.
Import & Export
Being able to import files and save your animations in a variety of formats expands what you can do with your animations. Some packages can import images directly from a scanner or digital camera. The most popular image formats include JPEG, PNG and BMP, and most programs can import those file types. Only Toon Boom and Anime Studio can import Adobe Photoshop files, and only Toon Boom imports native Adobe Illustrator files.
Most applications also let you import AVI and Quicktime movie file types. A few, such as Toon Boom and Anime Studio, can also import MP4 and MOV files, which is handy if you are creating content for mobile devices. Almost all 2D animation programs import WAV and MP3 audio files.
The majority of 2D animation software lets you export your project as AVI or Quicktime files. Many also export as a Flash animation. Toon Boom exports PDFs, which is a valuable way to review images. In addition, a few programs can even post your videos directly to YouTube and Facebook.
Help & Support
Not every artist is computer savvy, so manufacturers should provide email or phone support to assist customers who have problems installing or using their software. Other support options to look for include tutorials, user forums and FAQs pages, which can help you find answers to common questions.