Whether you grew up watching Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, The Smurfs or the South Park kids, you've probably wanted to create your own animated productions at some point. Fortunately, with 2D animation software you no longer have to spend years in art school or work as an intern at Disney to see these dreams come true.
2D animation programs allow aspiring animators to create simple or complex animations, giving them the opportunity to explore this fun, exciting medium in an affordable way. With this type of software, you can draw, color and animate your creations to your heart's content. As you begin your search to find the right program for you, be sure to check out our articles about 2D animation software.
Choosing The Best 2D Animation Software
2D animation software is a fun way to bring scenes from your imagination to life, and you want to buy a program that fits your needs and experience level. Since each animation software has a unique set of features and tools, you need to consider your options as you shop around. Take into consideration what you want your result to be, for example whether it’s feature length or short films, ad banners, presentations or motion comics. Once you figure out what to animate, you need to decide how you want to create your animations. The best 2D animation software provides you with the tools to be as creative as you want as efficiently as possible.
Best Beginner Software
Anime Studio offers both beginner and pro animation programs. The beginner program has a collection of tools that are tailored to novice animators. It covers the basics and gives you what you need to build a foundation in the art of animation.
The professional program gives you all the tools that the beginner version has plus additional advanced features to create more complex animations. Some features in the beginner version have limitations that the pro version doesn’t. For instance, there is a two-minute limit on the animation length in the beginner version, but the animation length is unlimited in the pro version. Both are affordable based on the features they offer. If you are not sure how far you want to go with animation, many companies offer the option to upgrade if you outgrow the beginner software.
Smith Micro Software makes beginner and professional versions of its Anime Studio 2D animation software, Anime Studio Debut and Anime Studio Pro, to help you bring your imagination to life. Its programs have libraries of premade characters and assets you can use to quickly create and populate scenes. This cartoon maker software also includes a character wizard that uses preset character features you can mix and match and adjust. In addition, both versions have tools you can use to draw your characters on your computer like freehand drawing tools, brushes and vector conversion so you can trace imported sketches. In addition, both versions are compatible with drawing tablets.
Best Tools and Features
Toon Boom has a huge and versatile toolbox for animators that provides many choices to customize the look and feel of your project. It also automates your work by letting you set palettes for your characters. Using palettes, you can paint several drawings at once. If you want to swap palettes, you don’t have to go back and recolor everything.
Toon Boom’s animation software gives you a lot of control over your 2D animation projects. With the program, you can choose from five different animation techniques: traditional paper animation, digital animation, cut-out and puppet animation, rotoscoping, and stop-motion. You can also mix these together for some interesting effects.
DrawPlus offers a unique feature, called a Rostrum Camera that you can use to animate slideshows for professional looking presentations. This is an interesting way to create dynamic animations to keep the audience’s interest.
DrawPlus by Serif is drawing, illustrating and 2D animation software that allows you to create animation masterpieces using a single program. This animation software is full of tools you can use to create high-quality backgrounds, scenery and characters. It includes drawing tools, complete with pencils, erasers, shapes and vector path pens. You can also scan your paper drawings and trace over them to convert them into vector graphics for coloring and animating.
Beginner or Advanced
You should consider your current experience level when choosing 2D animation software. If you are just starting out, a complicated program that’s packed with features will likely have a steep learning curve and require a bigger investment, which may not be worth it if you are just testing the waters. Beginner animation software is usually less complex and easier to use.
However, where you want to end up is also an important consideration. If you are willing to put in the time, companies that make advanced applications often include resources and training tools to grow your skills. Consider your goals – the program you choose depends on whether you want a simple software to animate as a hobby or a program that has advanced features you can learn in order to develop as an artist.
2D Animation Tools & Features
The most important part of any 2D animation software is its toolset. As you start out, you may not need or use all of the tools in the most feature-rich animating programs. On the other hand, as an advanced user, you may require a comprehensive set of features that give you a high degree of control over your animation work. Whichever category you fall in, the application you choose should take you through the entire story and animation creation processes.
Storyboarding is a vital part of the preproduction process. Creating an animated feature can be expensive and labor intensive, and planning your plot and animation before you start drawing and animating 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 work 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.
Animated characters can be very detailed, and a lot of work goes into creating them. There are also a lot of different ways to do so. You may want to draw them on paper and import the drawings into your program. Not all software has this ability.
Some animation programs come with drawing tools so you can create your characters within the application. For more control over your illustrations, look for programs that allow you to customize implements such as brushes and have several style options such as pencil, watercolor or felt tip. The lines you use help define your style, and having many pencil options helps you draw the way you like best. In addition, multiple layers and the ability to stack, cut and combines shapes can give depth to your characters.
Other programs have premade art you can put together to create your characters. These templates are helpful if you don’t have an art background. Before you purchase a program with premade parts or assembled premade characters, check out the size and quality of the character art library, and make sure the style is to your taste.
After you create your characters, it is time for them to interact inside their virtual world. The animation step is where 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 much more time and a high-end animation application, you can create very complex and realistic animations.
Rigging is the term used to describe the method of making a character move. Whether you want realistic or cartoonish animation, you use rigging to decide how your character’s bones, muscle and fat move. An extremely helpful tool is a bone-rigging tool. With bone rigging, you can create skeletons inside your characters and objects, which helps you make them move naturally. This method is faster than frame-by-frame animation. Some programs offer sophisticated bone-rigging tools to create more nuanced and realistic movement by providing a greater degree of control over which parts are manipulated and the type of motion they perform.
In order to create smooth motion, it’s helpful to use onion skinning. Onion skinning allows you to overlay the previous and next drawing over the current one so you can see where you need to draw to create flowing movement. Not all 2D animation software includes this feature, so check for this if it seems like a feature you would use.
In keyframe animation, 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 should move and change by using interpolation. Toon Boom, Anime Studio and DrawPlus help you save time when you use this feature.
Software with lots features gives you more creative options. Look for 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 streamlines your workflow by matching your characters’ dialogue with their mouth movements.
Import & Export
When you can import files into your projects and save your animations in a variety of formats, it expands what you can do with your 2D animation software. Some packages can import directly from a scanner or digital camera. The most popular image formats include JPEG, PNG and BMP, and most 2D animation software can import those file types. Only Toon Boom, Anime Studio and DrawPlus can import Adobe Photoshop files, and only Toon Boom and DrawPlus import 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, allow you to 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 has the option to export your project as AVI or Quicktime files. Many also export as a Flash animation. Toon Boom and DrawPlus export PDFs, which is a valuable way to review images. In addition, a few programs can even post your videos directly to YouTube and Facebook.
Look for a program that allows you to import many types of files and save your projects in several different file formats. It’s better to have a wide variety of options in both areas so you can create the best animation project.
Help & Support
The number of available help and support options is important to consider when choosing an animation program. Not every artist is computer savvy, so a manufacturer should provide email or phone support to assist customers who have problems installing or using the software. Other support options to look for include tutorials, user forums and FAQs pages to find answers to common questions.
Consider whether you need versatile drawing tools, sophisticated animation features and the ability to import less common file types when making your decision. You may save some money if you don’t need advanced features. Look for upgrade options that make it easy to take your work to the next level without having to learn a completely new program. If you are a beginner, look for companies with a variety of support and training options.