Best 2D Animation Software of 2018

Rebecca Spear ·
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We spent 96 hours evaluating and researching nine different 2D animation programs. We looked for features that made animating more convenient, along with sound track and dialogue capabilities, and importing and exporting options. We looked at user reviews and compared products' features to determine which programs best let you capitalize on your creativity while also helping to create smooth animations. Based on our research, we believe Toon Boom Harmony is the best animation program overall. It allows you to create fluid animations with its bone-rigging and onion skinning techniques while also letting you add dialogue and sound tracks to your projects.   

Best Overall

Toon Boom Harmony

This software is used to create award-winning TV shows. You can create professional clips, shorts or movies using the camera controls, audio features and advanced animation options.
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Best Value

Reallusion CrazyTalk Animator

This program is inexpensive and you don't even need drawing abilities to use it. You can pull limbs and expressions from the library, and it can even choose mouth movements based on your audio.
View on Reallusion
Best for Stop-Motion Animation

Stopmotion Studio

It can help you make stop-motion animations using everyday objects or physical characters that you create. It also features a simple image editor to help you enhance your videos.
View on Amazon
Best Overall

Toon Boom Harmony

Toon Boom's Harmony software has become a popular animation program for many animated TV shows.
This professional-level animation software gives you a lot of control over your music, sound effects, scenes, camera angles and character movements, but this customizability comes with a steep learning curve, making it challenging for beginners. Several user levels are available, but all require payment on a subscription basis. You can choose between five different animation techniques: rotoscoping, stop-motion, cut-out and puppet animation, digital animation and traditional paper animation. These techniques can also be combined to give your projects an interesting look. To help your frames run smoothly from one to the next, this program uses onion skinning, which allows you to see where your objects are placed in the next and previous frames. You can control your characters using bone-rigging, which make movements look smooth and natural. This program lets you sketch and create new characters. Like most drawing programs, this one is compatible with drawing tablets to make the sketching process easier. You can also import digital images and manipulate them from within the program. You can use imported sound effects and dialogue to add depth to your animations. A time-saving feature is the lip-sync tool, which automatically picks mouth movements that match the audio you provide. You can quickly change the look of your animations using premade effects modules.
  • The lip-syncing feature matches mouth movements to your audio.
  • The rigging system gives you more control over your characters.
  • There are dozens of effects modules for you to use.
  • This program has a steep learning curve.
  • The user interface isn't the most intuitive.
  • Toon Boom Harmony is pricey and requires a subscription.
$38.00Toon Boom
Best Value

Reallusion CrazyTalk Animator

CrazyTalk Animator is a simple animation tool that costs less than other programs. The user interface is less cluttered and daunting than other animation software, which makes it good for beginners.
However, the simplicity of the program and the lack of advanced features can make this a frustrating program for more experienced animators. This program uses puppeteering as its animation technique, which helps you control your characters. There are even preprogrammed expressions and body movements that you can apply to your characters. This program comes with a library of limbs and facial expressions so you don't need to have drawing abilities in order to make animations. However, this library is limited, which can make customizing your character difficult. Creating your own characters from scratch is possible, but the tools can be clunky and limited compared to other programs. CrazyTalk Animator allows you to manipulate your characters from 10 different angles, adding depth to your projects. You can also import photos and manipulate them into moving characters, backgrounds or props within your videos. You can import dialogue and sound to your animations. However, the audio effects and editing tools are very limited, so you will likely need to make audio edits in another program. Fortunately, CrazyTalk Animator does have a lip-sync tool that automatically chooses mouth movements based on the audio you provide. (Note: This refers to CrazyTalk Animator 2. CrazyTalk Animator 3 has an updated interface, and we'll update this information once we test the new version.)
  • This program is easier to learn than most animation software.
  • Your imported photos can be used as backgrounds, characters or props.
  • It is an inexpensive program.
  • There are limited character customization options.
  • It is difficult to create your own characters in this program.
  • This program will likely frustrate advanced users.
Best for Stop-Motion Animation

Stopmotion Studio

This is a very basic stop-motion program that is perfect for beginners because the interface is designed to be simple and easy to use. Stopmotion uses onion skinning to help you place your characters in the correct locations, which is a feature most advanced programs use.
You can cut, copy, paste, delete and merge images with just a few computer keystrokes or swipes on your phone. You can also add subtitles and credits to your animation projects. The chroma key feature uses a blue or green screen to help you change the background in your videos. Be aware that this feature can be tricky to use and doesn't always do a believable job. You can upload audio files or you can record your voice for use in your videos. It lacks audio editing tools, so you might have to make changes using another program. This is one of the most inexpensive programs we evaluated, but it also doesn't do as much as other programs. It will feel frustrating for advanced users looking to do serious stop-motion projects, but it is great entry-level software for beginners and children.
  • This is a very basic program that is easy to learn.
  • You can use onion skinning and rotoscoping to help position characters.
  • The green-screen feature lets you change the background of your videos
  • This program is not Mac compatible.
  • You cannot import pictures from your scanner.
  • It lacks sophisticated customization options for advanced users.

Why Trust Us

We wanted to find a range of programs – some that were suited to advanced users and some that were perfect for beginners to learn on. For this reason, we tried to find some programs that provided character libraries and others that allow you to create characters from scratch. We looked for programs that included convenient animation tools, such as storyboards, bone-rigging, onion skinning, tweening and lip-syncing audio. Be aware, though, that most of these animation programs only come with the most basic audio editing tools. If you want to edit your audio, you might need to invest in another program.

How We Tested

We have been reviewing 2D animation software for seven years. In our most recent evaluation, we spent more than 96 hours researching and comparing nine different 2D animation programs. We scoured the web for information on these programs, noting features and the skill levels needed for each product. We read dozens of user reviews for each program to get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses they had. Whenever a product offered a free trial, we tested the software and got hands-on experience with it. Our testers are artists and graphic designers familiar with 2D animation and drawing programs.

Testers played with each of the program's tools and made a list of each software's most useful features. Programs that offered the most creative freedom and convenience scored higher. Short animations were made and we paid particular attention when testing the lip syncing audio, onion skinning and tweening features to see how well they worked. Programs that worked better in these areas scored higher. Since bone rigging can help make characters move more believably, programs that had this advanced feature scored higher. While we didn't score programs based off their price, we did note if a program was on the pricey or inexpensive side of the spectrum.

Choosing 2D Animation Software

When deciding on 2D animation software, you will need to consider your skill level and your willingness to learn. Experienced users will obviously want a variety of advanced tools and features. Beginners should determine whether they are willing to invest time in learning advanced tools or not.

Useful Tools to Look For

More-advanced 2D animation programs allow you to create storyboards to visualize each shot of your project. The best storyboards help you add dialogue to each scene, apply sketches and figure out camera placement. Not all 2D animation programs come with storyboards, but if you simply want to have fun with the program, it isn't necessarily a needed feature.

The tools you use to create your characters can give them added depth. Some programs come with a variety of brush types to help you find the right style to match your visions. Example brushes include watercolor, pencil and felt tips. Layers are also useful in helping you design the perfect visual style. Advanced programs will help you add effects to various layers that can be altered independently of the other layers.

Defining Onion Skinning, Bone-Rigging and Tweening

When it comes to animating your characters, there are a few advanced tools that can make your creations move more smoothly and believably. The onion skinning feature can be found in both advanced and beginner programs. This allows you to compare your current frame against the previous and upcoming frames in order to make sure your character moves fluidly.

Rigging is basically the same as puppeteering: It allows you to move your characters in the way you want. Bone-rigging is a more complex tool that basically allows you to create a skeleton within your characters that you can move. This gives you more control so you can orchestrate more lifelike movements. Tweening is a term that refers to making transitional images between various character positions in order to create the illusion of movement. Some programs can complete tweening for you, which saves time and helps your animations move smoothly.

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