I spent 84 hours testing and comparing 11 different 2D animation programs this year. Based on my work, I recommend MOHO Debut as the best animation program overall, especially given its relatively low cost. It's a great option for artists and non-artists alike since it comes with a huge library of characters and also provides drawing tools.
MOHO Debut 12
MOHO Debut is perfect for both the seasoned artist and anyone with limited drawing skills. It is packed with drawing tools, so you can create your own scenes and actors, but it also comes with a huge library of character elements that you can mix and match.
Muvizu Play+ is the perfect program for those who don't have artistic abilities. It's inexpensive and gives you access to a library of characters and premade motions so help you quickly tell your stories.
Toon Boom Harmony
Toon Boom Harmony Advanced offers some of the best drawing and animating tools on the market, but it also has the steepest learning curve making it better reserved for serious hobbyists and professional animators.
MOHO Debut, previously known as Anime Studio, is perfect for beginning, intermediate and advanced animators.
You can easily toggle between the beginner and standard modes of the software, which makes the interface easier to navigate. This software uses bone rigging so you can move your characters around like puppets for easy animation. There is no motion capture software and no automatic lip syncing so you'll need to move your characters frame by frame within the timeline to give the illusion of talking.
I loved the character library, which offered several different body parts and accessories that we could mix and match to create a unique figure. You'll also find premade effects and backgrounds. I will say that the premade artwork wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing, but it will still help you make animations in a quickly.
I was able to use my Wacom tablet to sketch using the adjustable brush tools. The layers and pen sensitivity allowed me to create freehand drawing with ease. If you'd prefer to import your drawings from another program, MOHO is compatible with PSD, JPEG and BMP image files. This software also allows you to record audio as well as edit it, which is something you don't always find with animation software. When you are done, you can export your animations as AVI, MP4 and SWF files, but you cannot post directly to social media sites. MOHO works on both PC and Mac so you won't have to worry about computer compatibility.
Muvizu Play+ has the best price value of any program we tested, especially considering the huge library of customizable premade characters and backgrounds it comes with.
However, it isn't a good choice for anyone wanting to draw their own characters as it doesn't provide any drawing tools. It's great for established animation hobbyists and beginners alike as the tools are simple but give you plenty of freedom when creating your scenes.
You can mix and match various body parts as well as change the color of skin, clothing and hair to make your own creations. Unlike many other animation programs, this one doesn't use bone rigging. Instead, it comes with a large collection of premade animations which you can apply to your characters throughout the course of your timeline. At the click of a button, characters' mouths respond to audio automatically, giving the illusion that they are talking. This means you won't have to painstakingly choose the correct mouth positions to fit every little sound.
The audio does have one major flaw, while you can record you cannot edit. This is especially bad since you can only play one audio file during the course of a timeline. If you want to have multiple dialogue and sound track files play throughout your animation, you'll have to use an external program to combine them into one file and then import it back into Muvizu Play+. This software can be a bit glitchy, so you'll want to take advantage of the active user forum to see how other users get around specific problems.
Best for Professionals
Toon Boom Harmony is the industry standard for professional 2D Animation. That being said, it has a huge learning curve with no beginner mode, so you'll want to take learning courses or be very devoted in order to use it.
It has been used to create popular shows like The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers, and Rick and Morty. The program responded beautifully to my Wacom tablet allowing me to sketch and draw my own characters. You can adjust the brushes to different opacity and the pen sensitivity allowed us to add fine and thick strokes.
The program uses bone rigging to allow your characters to move in a realistic fashion. You'll also find an onion skinning feature to help you line your characters up in various frames to create fluid motion. Since this program focuses so heavily on drawing and animating tools, there is no character library and no premade background. You can find a premade character in the resources section of the Toon Boom website, but it's mainly there to help you learn how to use the tools.
Import common image files like JPEG, PNG and BMP, as well as your own PSD and AI creations. This software also lets you import several different audio and video files. When you're finished, export your animations as AVI, MP4, SWF or PNG Sequence. Or, post your creations directly into Facebook or YouTube.
Best for Motion Capture
CrazyTalk Animator 3 Pro is simple enough for beginners, but also offers the necessary tools to help professional artists animate their works.
I felt that CrazyTalk Animator Pro offered the most professional and aesthetically pleasing premade characters of any other software we tested. You can mix and match clothing, hair and accessories to create the perfect character. Due to the motion capture feature, when you record audio, the premade characters automatically move their mouths to the sounds while their heads match your own movements. This will save you hours of animation work.
The software offers clipping mask tools and pins so you can import stock art or personal images and quickly animate them. When you are done creating, you can export your movies videos with full screen HD as AVI, WMV, MP4 or popVideo3 files. Mac users are also able to export as MOV PRoRes 4444 files. You cannot upload directly to YouTube or Facebook from within the program. CrazyTalk offers a decent range of support features on its website. I found video tutorials, a FAQs page, knowledgebase and a lively user forum. The one thing I didn't find were written tutorials to help guide you through the animation process. If you need to contact a representative, you can do so via phone and email.
You cannot draw from within the program. If you're an artist, you might be interested in the "Pipeline" version, which allows you to import your PSD and AI files and animate them. This more-in-depth version of the program even has sprite templates for cats, dogs, humans, wings and a general one for spines, which you can attach to your characters within Photoshop. This makes it so your designs will respond to the premade animations found in the animation library to do things like walk, stretch and jump with just the click of a button.
Best for Stop-Motion Animation
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 Studio uses onion skinning to help you place your characters in the correct locations, which is a feature most advanced programs use. Since this program expects you to use physical options in your animations, it doesn't include drawing or bone rigging tools.
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’ll 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.
We contacted Caitlin Troughton, marketing content manager at Toon Boom Harmony to get more insights on this top-rated animation software. We also spoke with Tyrel Hanby, an artist with an animation degree, to learn more about his creative process and experiences. Our testers are artists and graphic designers familiar with 2D animation and drawing programs.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Pricing||Animation Tools||Features||Import & Export||Help & Support||Supported Configurations||Free Trial||Ease of Use||Recommended User Level||Drawing Tools||Bone Rigging||Audio Tools Score||Template Score||Import & Export Score||Help & Support Score||Mac|
|MOHO Debut (Anime Studio)||View Deal||5/5||5||4.7||5||3.4||4.7||5||30 Days||90||Beginner||✓||✓||88||100||80||86||✓|
|Toon Boom Harmony Advanced - Annual Subscription||View Deal||4.5/5||7.3||5||4.2||5||5||5||21 Days||85||Experienced||✓||✓||63||88||100||100||✓|
|CrazyTalk Animator 3 Pro||4/5||4.3||3||4.2||3.2||4.2||5||15 Days||100||Beginner||✖||✓||100||95||72||86||✓|
|Clip Studio Paint EX||View Deal||3.5/5||3.9||3.8||2.9||3.4||4.7||5||30 Days||95||Intermediate||✓||✖||50||100||78||86||✓|
|Adobe Animate||View Deal||3.5/5||2.9||4||3.2||4.3||5||5||7 Days||90||Intermediate||✓||✓||75||88||87||100||✓|
|Muvizu Play+||View Deal||3.5/5||5||2.2||4||2.7||4.2||3.8||Unlimited||100||Beginner||✖||✖||88||100||88||86||✖|
|FlipBook Pro 6||View Deal||3.5/5||4.9||3.3||1.4||2.4||2.9||5||Unlimited||93||Beginner||✓||✖||50||0||63||57||✓|
|Adobe Character Animator CC||View Deal||2.5/5||2.9||1.8||2.8||1.4||5||5||7 Days||100||Beginner||✖||✖||100||75||50||100||✓|
|Honestech Stopmotion Studio 4.0||View Deal||2.5/5||3.5||1.9||1.3||2.2||2.5||3.8||None||92||Beginner||✖||✖||63||0||71||57||✖|
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.
How Much Does 2D Animation Software Cost?
As fun as it is to use, Animation software can be rather costly, especially if you're wanting to get a version that allows you to draw your own characters and use onion skinning and bone-rigging tools. Fortunately, the larger animation companies tend to offer 2-4 different versions of their software so you can find a software that fits your price range and usage needs.
The most basic programs tend to sell between $35 and $80 while the most advanced versions can be upwards of $400. Some animation programs, like Toon Boom Harmony, are subscription based so you will have to pay a monthly fee in order to have access to the software. This can range from $15 a month for the most basic version or $73 a month for the most advanced.
Some animation software offers student editions and pricing to make the software more affordable. If you aren't sure about spending your money, try to find a software that offers a free trial.
Do I Need a Drawing Tablet?
If you plan on drawing your figures and backgrounds from scratch, then we recommend you invest in a drawing tablet. If you’re using a program, like CrazyTalk Animator, that employs pre-drawn characters, a mouse and keyboard will be a better fit. Most drawing tablets connect through USB or wireless connection and feature programmable buttons to speed up your drawing process without having to touch your keyboard too much. Drawing tablets come in several sizes, from small 4-inch surfaces to upwards of 20 inches. We recommend the Wacom Intuos Pro if you are a beginning digital artist. This tablet is also a favorite device for many professional digital artists. It comes in three different sizes, which affects the price and drawing space. It also works wirelessly, so you won’t have to worry about damaging or tangling any cords.
If you’re willing to spend a lot more, drawing monitors like the Wacom Cintiq Pro are incredibly useful. This type of monitor allows you to draw directly on the screen so you don’t have to look between your drawing tablet and your computer monitor when drawing. These monitors feature pen sensitivity so you can create thicker or thinner pen strokes by pressing harder or lighter on the screen.
Which Drawing Tablet Is the Best?
When it comes to drawing tablets, Wacom is by far the best brand, but it also happens to be the most expensive. Wacom tablets are the standard for graphic designers, animators, illustrators and other digital artists. If you’d like to find something a little cheaper that performs just as well, Huion is a good brand to choose. These tablets work beautifully at a much lower price, though some artists find that they don’t have as much sensitivity or as many features as Wacom products. We recommend the Huion H610 Pro as a good entry level drawing tablet.
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.
When we contacted Troughton at Toon Boom Harmony, she told us that depending on your experience level, it can take anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks to become proficient in the software. But it can be made easier with the help of an extensive learning center complete with forums and tutorials. Many professional-level companies will also offer learning courses on their website or on sites like Lynda.com. While you must pay to attend, you will better understand the software in less time. Troughton also told us that Toon Boom has a huge community of users who "are creating content to help others learn [the] software."
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.
Are Animation Jobs in Demand?
You bet they are. As of 2016 there were over 73,700 people employed as animators and multimedia artists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS), the employment of multimedia artists and animators is expected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is average for all occupations. These types of artists will be needed for video games, movies, TV shows, commercials, advertising, etc. The Bureau goes on to state that the median annual wage for multimedia artists and animators was $70,530 in May 2017. However, just because there are jobs out there doesn’t mean getting hired is a walk in the park. Most employers require animators to have a bachelor’s degree for entry level positions. You’ll also have to prove that you have teamwork skills, a knowledge of animation software and the artistic talents necessary to get the job you want. Many animators are self-employed and work from home, but many others work in an office. Keep in mind that animators are sometimes required to put extra hours in or work through the weekend in order to meet deadlines.
We asked Hanby where he finds inspiration when creating new characters. He told us that he believes "all inspiration comes from your own experiences and what you choose to immerse yourself in." That can include the shows you watch, the music you listen to, the books you read or even the games you play. He added, "Your personal experiences are unique and you can merge or combine pieces of various things together to form a new character or idea."
You can find plenty of additional drawing and animation tips online from artists. Additionally, the developers of most animations programs offer tutorials and online courses for you to learn from. If you aspire to improve your drawing and animation skills, you shouldn't be put off by your first drawing attempts. As an artist, I don't know how many times someone has told me something to the effect of, "I can't even draw stick figures." Drawing, illustrating and animation are all about adding layers. You start with a basic shape and then you tweak it or add more details to it until you create something you like. If you don't like the way your creations look, change it and keep trying.
It also helps to take a break from your art for 10 minutes or more and then to come back to it with fresh eyes. You might notice an obvious flaw or perception issue that you hadn't seen previously. When we asked Hanby if he had any additional tips, he told us to always have a sketchbook on you and draw from life frequently. He further said, "If you want to show people your art, have two sketchbooks. One for showing off and one for practicing and working on your skills. Take figure drawing courses or find figure drawing sessions you can attend. Create your own style and develop it." Learning from life will help you develop an eye for believable body movements and a better understanding of the human figure so you can incorporate those skills into your animations.
More Guides for Animators and Filmmakers: