While there was definitely a time when finding an animation app was not an easy thing, that time is long past. Today, it’s very easy to find high quality animation apps for your drawing tablet that produce quick but excellent results.
In fact, there is so much choice in the market that it is easy to get overwhelmed and not know what to go for, exactly.
In this article, we try to tackle that problem head-on. We have here a fairly diverse of both free and paid animation apps that you can use with a PC or Mac and, if your drawing tablet has a display, with Android and iOS, depending on which on your tablet runs on.
These apps come in all types, allowing you to do a variety of things, including stop motion, tweening, onion skinning, voice overs, and even 3D animation.
What apps do animators use?
First, we’re going to look at some of the most popular apps used by professional and amateur animators use. The best thing about all of the apps here is that you don’t need to have crazy production skills or be Walt Disney or anything. They work well for people who have vast animation experience as well as for those who are just starting out. Whether you’re a consummate artist or are just starting out, there is definitely something for you here as well.
Adobe Animate CC (Paid)
This animation app is available both on Android and iOS. In fact, it’s rare to find a conversation about the best animation apps on these platforms without mentioning Adobe CC.
Adobe CC lets you design pretty much whatever you want, ranging from start screens to game environments to entire AR and VR experiences. With the Adobe Fresco Live Brushes, you can add as much detail and expression to your characters as you would like to, allowing them to respond to such things as clicks, mouse movements, and touch.
Adobe CC has all the technical features an animator might need, such as overlay and onion skinning. In addition to all of those, it also allows you to publish your animation to just about any platform you want, including mobile, television, and desktop.
Blender is arguably the best free 3D animator out there. This free and open source tool allows you to create super realistic 3D scenes and models with its path tracer rendering engine.
Blender is pretty versatile, allowing you to do the complex as well as the simple. If you just want the bare bones tools and functionality, then you will also find them here. Onion skinning and the other basic technical requirements of animators are here. However, where Blender really shines is that it allows you to go the extra mile. You can create 3D characters and scenes with an amazing level of detail. Object tracking is also included to allow you to work better with any raw footage you import into the app.
Harmony is a 2D animation app created by ToonBoom. It has grown pretty popular over the years and has been around for over 25 years. From students to seasoned animators and designers, many use this app for their 2D animation work.
Harmony has all the technical animation features you need in an animation app. It has a paperless animation interface that integrates well with both 2D and 3D animation, even though Harmony is more popular for 2D animation. It also includes a drawing ruler, special effects, and an isometric perspective curve, among many other great features.
Harmony has been used by many large companies, including Fox, NBC, Ubisoft, and Universal.
This app appears deceptively simple when you first begin using it, and that is a huge part of the appeal it has for animators. It can be used by all animators, including beginners and experts alike. However, don’t mistake the simplicity for a lack of effectiveness. It is a powerful and popular app used by some of the most high profile animators, including Don Bluth, Disney’s Animation Director. It’s particularly liked for how well it lends itself to pencil animations. For people with drawing tablets, that means it will work very well with your hand drawn content.
FlipBook works particularly well with display tablets in that you can draw your animations directly into it, even editing them on the go, shooting through all of them, and adding soundtracks, right from the comfort of your tablet!
Synfig Studio (Free)
Synfig Stdio is a free and open source 2D animation app that lets you take vector shapes and transform them into any shape you like with its powerful vector tweening feature. To take advantage of this feature, all you need to do is specify the positions of the vector images and Synfig Studio will automatically calculate the intermediate tweening frames for you.
Synfig also helps you add as much detail to your artwork and animations as you want by offering you over 50 design layers to work with. Layer types include, among others, fractals, filters, distortions, gradients, and gemortic layers.
You might also like the app’s bone tool, which lets you do cutout animation using bitmap images and also to attain finer control over your vector animations. If you want to render particularly complex deformations to your bitmap art, the skeleton distortion layers let you do that easily.
Clara.io is an online animation platform, so you’ll need to create an account on their website to use the platform. It was created by Exocortex, who are known for their work with 3DS Max, Maya, and Softimage.
Clara.io lets you do 2D and 3D animation online, which is pretty cool for animators that don’t want the hassle of having to download software onto their devices. All you have to do is set up an account and you can immediately take advantage of their professional yet intuitive animation user interface to create your animations. Anything you create will also be saved on the cloud, on their servers. Clara.io has a free tier that offers 2GB of storage and 1 hour of render time per month. The rest of the tiers, offer progressively more storage space and render time for higher amounts.
Pencil 2D (Free)
Pencil 2D is a great application for doing quick and easy animation jobs. It has a simple and straightforward user interface with a short learning curve. This application is free and open source, which allows you to take full advantage of its capabilities, as well as tweak them (if you have some programming skills under your belt) to suit your needs and preferences.
Pencil 2D lets you paint and animate your hand drawn artwork with both bitmap and high quality vector graphics. You can switch between raster and vector workflows easily when working on your animations. The UI is probably this app’s greatest strength, as it is minimalistic and very light and yet gives you a fully immersive experience.
Aurora 3D Animation Maker (Paid)
Aurora is one of the most diverse animation apps on the market. It lets you create great 3D animations and even to animate logos and text.
One of the strengths of Aurora is that all the animation work is done in a single timeline, this allows you to all your work in one place and also to get all the tools you need while working on your animations, including free-hand shapes, particle effects, and Quick Styles.
One of my favorite things about this animation app is that you get lots of free animation templates. All you have to do is plug in an SVG and then pick an animation. It takes away much of the thinking and technical know-how when creating simple animations, such as moving text and logos.
Animotica is a great Windows-only animation app that allows you to create simple animations in a couple minutes. It’s a great application for beginners that are just starting to try out animation.
Even though Animotica is positioned to be easy to use for beginners, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t powerful. It has all the important features you might want in an animation app, including slideshow features, overlays, rotation, trimming, and video splitting, among others. Animotica also allows you to import your own audio files into your animations and also to define your own transitions when transitioning from one video clip to another. Animotica has a basic free tier with watermarks and basic features. Other tiers has a monetary cost.
Vyond is yet another online animation platform. It’s particularly designed to be easy to use for marketers and other business professionals. It’s easy to learn and has features that are easy to use for animators of various skill levels.
Vyond lets you create custom characters and make dynamic content with them. You can use all sorts of styles in your animations; Vyond does not limit you here. You can also use the automatic lipsyncing feature of the app to make your characters talk. The mix-and-match philosophy of the app doesn’t stop there; you can also import your own audio files, videos, and images and incorporate them into your animations.
Vyond is big on teamwork, and lets you share your animations, characters, and templates with your team members so that you’re all on the same page.
What are the best free animation apps?
Now that we know what are the most used animation apps by animators, let’s dive right into looking at the best free ones. These are great for a beginning animator as they have a lower barrier to entry. Many of them are also very easy to use, making it easy to learn to use them.
Plastic Animation Paper (PAP 4.0)
PAP 4.0 is one of the best 2D animation apps for hand-drawn animations. It was done as an indie project by animators who were passionate about the craft. They also intended to release another application: Animation Paper, but it hasn’t yet been released.
PAP 4.0 is pretty cool and echoes traditional light-table animation, with light setup, onion skinning, and red and blue pens for drafting scenes and poses as well as for planning. The layout of the application is very simple and yet packed with a ton of features to help you animate. They also have plenty of tutorials on their website through which you can learn.
Once you get a good sense of what each of the icons on the application means, you will realize that there is plenty you can do with this small but powerful animation app. In particular, it works very well with pressure-sensitive Wacom pens and has simple shortcuts for common tasks, such as rotating, zooming and toggling between drawing and erasing modes.
Creatoon is a simple but powerful animation app that lets you create cut-out animations with special effects. Cut-out animation, though an old form of animation, is still pretty relevant, and Creatoon lets you do it with some of the most advanced features out there.
With Creatoon, you can combine vector and bitmap graphics as well as edit and preview any changes made to your animation in real time.
Creatoon also offers auto-tweening in a simple layout. This is a relief as the menus and panels cannot be rearranged. You can also add special effects to your animations with Creatoon.
One of my favorite features of Creatoon is the ability to separate different animation elements in an animation, manipulate how brush movements progress, and tweak the precision of the sketch tool.
Whether you’re just starting out as an animator or have years of experiencing and don’t mind using cut-out animation, Creatoon is bound to be a joy to use.
Stykz, as you might have guessed from the name, lets you create stick figures. You can manipulate simple vector figures and create cool animations out of them. Stykz is great a planning tool but can also be used to do much more, just like PAP 4.0. Another great thing about this application is that it can be used on multiple platforms, including Mac, Windows, and Linux.
If you’ve used PivotStickFigure or any other application that uses STK files before, then you’ll be happy to know that Stykz also supports STK files. Stykz also has all the basic features that you might want in an animation app, including onion skinning and frames for natural transitions.
Bryce is an awesome free 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software made with beginners in mind. It has a library of 3D objects you can try your hand in manipulating while also allowing you to create your own.
Bryce has actually been around for a pretty long time (it was first released in 1994). Since its inception, it has developed a reputation as a great platform for manipulating fractal landscapes, such as mountain ranges and coastlines. Other things Bryce includes are a light lab, an instancing lap, and particle emitters.
ToonBoom Animate Pro 3
ToonBoom Animate Pro 3 is actually a paid software, but it has a free trial version, and it is so good that the trial version alone is worth it. It has a bit of a complicated interface, and does take some time and patience to learn. However, once you get the hang of things, you will begin to see all the incredible things you can do on the app.
With ToonBoom Animate Pro 3 you get powerful cut-out rigging as well as frame-by-frame animation features. You get a pressure sensitive pencil, which is great for tablet users, lots of texture brushes, onion skinning, Bone Deform, an intuitive interface, and lots more! Bone Deform, in particular, lets you deform cut-outs around their bones for more realistic motion. Think fingers moving around their natural joints and that sort of thing.
As you can see, there are plenty of options when it comes to animation apps, both free and paid. The ones listed here are among the best in the market, used by professionals and beginners alike, and are therefore a great place to start. Pick whichever you like and start using it. Really learn it and build some cool stuff with it. Once you start down this road, there’s no going back!