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9 Best Free Animation Software: Ranked & Reviewed

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Are you struggling to find an animation software that you can use in freelance animation jobs without stabbing you from nowhere with hidden fees?

Many artists who are just getting into the business suffer from the same dilemma. If you’re one of them, then welcome to the solution of your problem.

In this post, we’ll talk about free animation software that, even if they have a paid version, will still deliver fantastic results. 

What Is the Best Free Animation Software?

The best free animation software is Blender. The arsenal of tools it has allows the users to create fantastic graphics and video editing animations that rival paid programs like 3Ds Max. However, Blender isn’t beginner-friendly at all, as it has a steep learning curve, but we’ll get to that soon. 

An Overview of Free Animation Software

Before diving into the deep details, let’s have a bird’s eye view of the whole free animation software situation and its relevance. 

What Is a Free Animation Software?

A free animation software is a program you can use to create animated images, objects, and videos without paying any licensing fees. 

These programs are often known to be somewhat behind in terms of capabilities compared to their paid versions. However, they’re still more than capable of producing excellent content that you can use to earn decent money. If you want to become a freelance graphic designer, free animation software can help you start. 

Why Are Free Animation Software Important?

Animation isn’t an easy task. You don’t want to realize how much of an overbite you’ve taken after paying a hefty sum for animation software only to end up dropping the idea because you can’t use it.

A free animation software allows you to test the waters before you invest your money. Since each program has its pros and cons, you’ll get a feel for what you like and what you can work with. Only then can you think of actually purchasing paid software. 

Do I Need Free Animation Software?

Having free animation software programs is necessary if you’re starting your career as a graphic designer. Some of them are specifically designed to help you create simple animations within minutes, while others are as complicated as their paid versions.

On the other hand, if you already have a decent experience in the field, the free animation software may not have the professional-grade tools you’re looking for. In that case, you might want to upgrade to its paid plan.

Features to Look for in Free Animation Software

Here are the features you should look for before getting free animation tools (or even paid ones):

1. The Type of Animation You’re Creating 

Are you creating 2D animations, 2.5 interactive animations, or fully-fledged 3D animations in a massive world?

Different programs are packed with different tools. Some programs can only create 2D animations and they’re often fairly easy to use.

On the other hand, 3D programs will often give you the results you need if you’re patient enough to learn and get the desired results. 

2. The Features You Need

Speaking of features, a graphic designer needs to have the features they need in mind. For example, advanced features like motion tracking, bone rigging, and onion skinning aren’t available in every software. 

If your animations are simple and don’t require such complicated features, then going for more complex animation software could be a waste of time. 

3. The Ease of Use

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to find reliable animation software that we can label as “easy to use for everyone.” While some programs are easier than others, they’re still often loaded with different tools that need a certain degree of learning, which brings us to our next point.

4. Available Tutorials 

The availability of online tutorials for using a certain program depends on its popularity. For example, you’ll find tons of tutorials for Blender and Autodesk 3Ds Max because of their reliability and popularity.

5. Platform Availability

While this is an issue that you’re unlikely to face, some animation software programs are restricted to a certain OS. For example, you can only use Final Cut Pro if you have a Mac OS computer, as it’s not available to use on Windows or Linux. 

Best Free Animation Software: Our Top 3 Options [Ranked & Reviewed]

Here are the programs that took the podium:

Blender – Our Pick

Because of its extensive animation features, Blender is one of the most popular free animation software out there. 

Blender is an open-source 3D animation program that can produce professional-grade animations even though it’s free.

It supports various features like rigging, rendering, simulation, modeling, and motion tracking, making it fantastic if you want to create an animated video. 

Also, because it’s a public project, its maintenance is forever thriving because of creators contributing from all over the world. 

Keep in mind that while Blender is often used for 3D animations and realistic creations, you can still use it to create 2D animations. However, the process is still fairly difficult. 

The final results you get from Blender rival some of the best 3D programs out there, making it one of the best free animation programs you can start your career with. 

Key Features of Blender

  • Rigging and animation tools: The rigging tools available in Blender include non-linear animation (NLA), character pose editor, both forward and inverse kinematics for those fast poses, and even sound sync. There’s even a grease pencil that lets you directly draw in 3D.
  • Video editing: It has a built-in video editor that you can use to perform simple and complex tasks alike, eliminating the need for having a separate video editing program.
  • Modeling: It’s rich with modeling tools that help in retopology, curves, modeling, and more. 
  • Rendering: It has a ray-traced renderer called cycles. It allows you to produce non-photorealistic rendering with fantastic quality. 
  • VFX: It has various post-production fixes that you can apply, like masking, compositing, and camera motion tracking. 

Pros of Blender

  • Superior quality: Despite being free, Blender’s production quality is as great as they come.
  • Extensible: It allows you to add new features by installing add-ons.
  • Open source: Its source code is available for anyone to modify, allowing for a lot of creativity if you know Python (Blender’s programming language).

Cons of Blender

  • It’s complex: Blender isn’t easy to use and beginners will find it a challenge.
  • It’s somewhat buggy: While it’s rare, some bugs can still occasionally happen.
  • It’s demanding: Blender requires quite the memory space on your disk and graphics card to operate, making it slow on older machines or newer ones with underwhelming software.

Blender Income

According to ZipRecruiter, you can make around $4,100 a month using Blender. However, you can make much more if you’re above the average skill level. In other words, learning more about the program will be worth it. 

Conclusion: Should You Choose Blender?

Despite being difficult to use for beginners, Blender is an excellent free tool for those who want to push a free program to the limit. Further, having an open-source code allows for great modifications if you know your way around programming languages.

In other words, Blender is a powerhouse that can only be used effectively by power users. If you’re just starting, Blender may not be the most suitable option. 

Animaker – Runner-up

Animaker sits on the opposite pole of Blender, as it’s beginner-friendly and easy to use. However, 3D creations aren’t its forte. 

Despite being easy to use, Animaker is a fantastic tool for creating 2D and 2.5D digital art. Its drag-and-drop interface allows beginners to reduce the learning curve steepness so they can focus on what matters the most: creativity. 

It’s also a web-based application. Accordingly, you won’t have to worry about whether it’s compatible with your OS. Many of the tools you can use are free, but you can also pay for the pro version to get some extra tools like transition effects, multimove, curves, etc. 

There are hundreds of pre-made animations that you can choose from. These animations include humans, shapes, objects, and animals. There’s also an in-depth character customization so you can create an animation that looks like you if you want to. 

Key Features of Animaker

  • Preset libraries: Animaker has multiple libraries of pre-made animations that you combine.
  • Individual customization: You can deeply customize the characters as you see fit.
  • Text-to-speech: You can quickly convert any readable text to speech.
  • Background noise: You can add your sound effects or choose from the premade sounds.
  • Extra effects (pro version): There are many effects that you can add if you choose the pro version, like transition effects, in-app camera, and multimove.

Pros of Animaker

  • Ease of use: The primary advantage is how easy it is to use Animaker.
  • Large library of assets: The possibilities you can choose from are many and always updated.
  • Collaborative: Animaker allows more than one person to work on the same video, making it fantastic for team projects.

Cons of Animaker

  • Lacks power: It excels in 2D animations but won’t help you create powerful 3D animations.
  • Options are a bit limited in the free version: You can use Animaker as it is, but the real experience comes from the pro version.
  • Buggy interface: Switching between full and lite modes can cause some bugs.

Animaker Income

According to ZipRecruiter, using Animaker, you can make up to $8,550 a month. 

Conclusion: Should You Choose Animaker?

You should choose Animaker if you need a great application to make 2D videos. Companies like Videoscribe and Doodly base a massive chunk of their ads and tutorial videos on 2D animations, so don’t be afraid to include those in your arsenal. 

However, don’t expect complicated 3D or realistic animations here. The program isn’t designed for this. 

Pencil 2D Animation – Also Great

Pencil 2D approaches 2D animations from pencil-style hand drawings, making it unique among other programs.

You’ve probably come across various pencil-style animations while watching tutorials or ads online. While they look basic, they’re especially excellent for tutorials, product-promoting, and educating. 

Much like Blender, Pencil 2D is open-source. It’s also totally free whether you’re using it personally or commercially. 

There are also no tools hidden behind paid plans, so you can use the full power of the application once you download it. 

Further, since it’s compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac, you don’t have to worry about the operating system you have. 

Key Features of Pencil 2D

  • Free import (image and audio): You can import your pictures and audio into Pencil 2D. Keep in mind that they don’t get animated, though.
  • Raster and vector: You can easily switch between raster and vector workflows, allowing you to paint, sketch, and ink.
  • Frame rate modification: You can adjust the animation frame rate to suit your liking.
  • Onion skinning: This option allows the artist to see whether the animation lines are correctly lined up.
  • Toolbar customizations: Pencil 2D provides many customization options placed right in front of you, allowing for easy and quick access.

Pros of Pencil 2D

  • Pencil style: The hand-drawn style makes Pencil 2D stand out among other programs.
  • Open-source: If you have some programming knowledge, you can customize the open code yourself for more options.
  • Compatibility: It’s available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Cons of Pencil 2D

  • It lacks power: It isn’t as powerful as other animation software, as it lacks complex tools.
  • It’s not easy to use: Pencil 2D can be overwhelming for new users, especially if they don’t have experience with other programs.
  • Its user base is small: Not many people use Pencil 2D for their work. As such, you may struggle to find quality tutorials for it.

Pencil 2D Income

Using Pencil 2D, you can make around $8,550 a month as an animator. 

Conclusion: Should You Choose Pencil 2D?

If you seek minimalistic animation but still need good quality and frame-by-frame control, Pencil 2D is a great option.

However, don’t expect complex 3D or realistic animations. If that’s what you seek, Pencil 2D might not be for you. 

Notable Mentions: Other Free Animation Software to Check Out

With our top three taking the podium, here are a few honorable mentions that still deserve a spot on this list:

Vyond – The Easiest 2D Animator

Vyond is often compared to Animaker because they both produce more or less the same result. Both programs make fantastic 2D and 2.5D animations, and both programs are easy to use.

Why Is Vyond a Great Option?

Much like Animaker, Vyond also has a drag-and-drop interface where you can choose from over 200 fully animated video templates, making it easy to use for those who are beginning their graphic designer career.

Some people even believe that it’s easier to use than Animaker. Add to that, Vyond is an online animation software, so you don’t have to worry whether your computer can handle it.

Drawbacks to Vyond

Here’s why you may not want to use Vyond:

  • Vyond’s premium plan costs a decent chunk over Animaker’s premium plan.
  • You have to pay at one point, as you have only a 14-day free trial before you have to select a plan.
  • It’s not fully optimized for phone usage yet, as the website is a bit clunky to use if you access it from your phone.

Vyond Income

Much like most 2D graphic designer jobs, you should expect about $8,550 per month when working as a 3D animator.

Cinema 4D – Great for Complex Animations

Cinema 4D is the application you should be using if you’re not using Blender. Why? It pretty much can do everything it does; sometimes, even better.

Why Is Cinema 4D a Great Option?

Many of its users reported that it’s easier to learn and use than Blender. It’s also adaptable to cartoon rendering, making it a jack of all trades.

The quality of the 3D production is also on par with the best animation programs out there. 

Drawbacks to Cinema 4D

Here are the cons of using Cinema 4D:

  • Your usage is limited to 14 days only.
  • It lacks the programming language that Blender has.
  • It doesn’t have a realistic rendering, leaving the animations slightly unreal-looking.

Cinema 4D Income

According to ZipRecruiter, you can make a decent $11,662 per month if you use Cinema 4D. That number can increase or decrease based on your skill level.

Animation Paper – A 2D Animator With a 3D Touch

Animation Paper is the 2D pencil’s rival and the successor to the discontinued Plastic Animation Paper. The animator primarily focuses on sketch-like 2D animations, but it can also tap into the 3D realm and create some decent work.

Why Is Animation Paper a Great Option?

Animation Paper isn’t as sophisticated or detailed as Blender and Cinema 4D, but it still gets the job done. 

The editing experience is easy to learn for beginners, even if it’s a bit clunky. Also, like Pencil 2D, Animation Paper is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Note: At the time of writing this, the application is still in the testing phase and is free to download and use freely. However, once Animation Paper is fully released, you’ll have to pay to purchase it. 

Drawbacks to Animation Paper

Here’s why it’s not on our podium:

  • It’s currently free, but that won’t last long.
  • It doesn’t support image or video editing, so you’ll have to be completely content with any external images you provide.
  • It’s still in the pre-release phase, so you’re more likely to find development bugs than any other program on the list.

Animation Paper Income:

Since it’s primarily a 2D program, you should expect the usual $8,550 a month that you can get from 2D programs.

Autodesk Maya – A Fully-Featured 3D Animator

Autodesk Maya is one of the 3D animation powerhouses that you can download on your Windows and Mac devices. It’s one of the go-to options if you want to create professional, Hollywood-grade animations that you can easily fit into the latest movies.

Why Is Autodesk Maya a Great Option?

You can achieve fantastic results thanks to motion graphics, 3D animation, vector graphics, and hyper-realistic models. In a sense, the results are even better than our top pick, Blender. 

Also, regarding the complexity of use, it’s as sophisticated as Autodesk 3Ds Max. That’s why it’s best used by a professional or at least a student who knows their way around it.

Drawbacks to Autodesk Maya

Here’s why Maya could not suit you:

  • The massive price tag, which, unless you’re making a decent income, can punch a hole in your wallet
  • The extreme complexity of usage, which makes it overwhelming for beginners

Autodesk Maya Income

Autodesk Maya can be used for many fields, and the average income will vary accordingly. The salary you can get can range from $50,000 to $140,000, according to Payscale.com.

Rive – Best 2.5D Animator for Beginners

If you’re tired of the learning curves of professional-grade 2.5D programs, Rive might be a fantastic place to start learning. It’s a web-based application where the quality of the final products can be placed above Animaker and below Blender. However, the crown jewel is the ease of use and great versatility. These reasons are perhaps why Rive is used by many companies like Duolingo, Google, and Samsung.

Why Is Rive a Great Option?

The first thing that overwhelms any new Autodesk user is the user interface. That’s not a problem you won’t have to deal with while using Rive. 

You might think this means a lack of features, but you’ll be happy to know that Rive is as feature-rich as they come. You get a collaborative editor to add images and assets so you can create animated videos uniquely. 

Using Rive, you can create a variety of colorful animated icons and game characters, making it stand out compared to other animated creations. The beauty is that most of the creations come from selecting items and widgets from libraries and animating them together.

You also get a “State Machine,” a program used to add interactions to your animations. With that, you can even mimic 3D animations using 2D objects. 

The features you can use are somewhat limited unless you get a premium subscription. Luckily, that’ll cost you around $20 a month (which is a breeze compared to Autodesk tools that range around $200 a month)

Drawbacks to Rive

Rive may be a bit of a hassle because:

  • It can be slow during certain processes
  • It needs a subscription if you want to use the full package of the application
  • It won’t create realistic animations or true 3D animation

Rive Income

We weren’t able to find an income that’s specific to using Rive. However, as a 2D freelance artist, you can make around $8,550 a month. 

VistaCreate – A Massive Collection of Premade Templates

VistaCreate is a free online animation software with over 150,000+ premade templates, allowing for a lot of versatility in creating stunning visuals. 

Why Is VistaCreate a Great Option?

The best value you can get from VistaCreate is its library of over 70 million photos, vectors, and videos. Also, upgrading to the pro version costs only $10 a month.

The interface is quite similar to Canva’s UI. All you have to do is pick a picture from your library or VistaCreate’s library. If you choose a photo of your own, you’ll be able to animate everything except for that photo, making it suitable for creating digital downloads and cover designs for marketplace websites.

Alternatively, if you want a fully animated promo video like the ones you see for professional companies, you’ll have to use the 70 million available assets. 

You can also design some photos and wallpapers that you can sell on Etsy or Amazon.

Drawbacks to VistaCreate

VistaCreate may not be worth using for the following reasons:

  • The free version has a considerable amount of limitations.
  • Some users have complained of the unresponsive customer service.
  • It doesn’t provide fully-fledged 3D results.

VistaCreate Income

VistaCreate can yield an average of $8,550 a month. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the FAQs you might have about animator software:

What Is the Best Thing to Use to Animate?

The best animation software to use depends on your goal and budget. Many people consider Autodesk 3Ds Max and Autodesk Maya to be the best paid animation software out there. Blender is also regarded as the best free animator.

Still, if your work doesn’t require realistic environments and models, relying on 2.5D or even 2D animation software will get the job done just fine.

Is It Worth Upgrading to Paid Animation Software?

Unless your work requires ultra-realistic animations, Blender should have everything you need to animate anything successfully. In that case, upgrading to paid animation software won’t be worth it.

Wrapping Up

The clear winner of our free animation software is Blender. Among our top three, Blender is the only application that can do everything the other two can do and more, which is why it’s the perfect tool to start your freelancing with.

However, if your needs aren’t that extensive, and you don’t have the patience or the time to learn Blender, then the other two podium sitters, Animaker and Pencil 2D, will get the job done.

You can also check our honorable mentions. Who knows, you might find your next animation software there. 

Do let us know in the comments if this guide has helped you. If you think it’s helpful, feel free to share it with your friends.

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