2D Animation Software – A Comprehensive List
What with all the 3d and CG animation movies coming out these days, many folks often forget that 2d drawn animation is where it all began. It used to be very expensive and required a ton of cumbersome equipment to do 2d animation, even as little as 10 years ago, but now, thanks to digital technology there are a whole host of animation software programs designed to let you do traditional or modern Flash-style animation.
Below I’ve compiled a list of as many 2d software programs as I could think of, from beginners to advanced, both free and paid, so there should be something for everyone.
Some of them have free trial versions that you can use for 30 days to see what you think. Where possible I’ve added a link to those trials.
If you know of any other 2d animation programs that I’ve not mentioned here, then please leave a comment in the guestbook at the bottom of the page and I’ll add it to the list.
(Don’t know some of the technical terms here? Check out our glossary for a complete description)
FlipBook is DigiCel’s flagship 2d animation software and a favourite among Disney and other high-level professional animators. It allows you to do traditional frame-by-frame drawn animation as you would normally do on a lightbox. You can draw directly into the program or, if you prefer, do your drawings on paper first and then scan them in to do your clean up and ink and paint in FlipBook.
Toon Boom Studio
Toon Boom is the premier name in 2d animation software, whose products are used in companies like Disney, Nickelodeon, and Warner Bros.
Their Studio software is by far their most popular program and is used by both professionals and amateurs alike, but is particularly popular and useful for the home user and hobbyist, and it’s reasonable price makes it a very accessible and all-round tool.
You can use it in a traditional way (drawing on paper first, then scanning your drawings into the software), or even to do Flash-style animations. The bones feature of the software means you can create a simple skeleton for your characters and move their body parts individually, instead of having to make new drawings every frame.
Toon Boom Animate
The Animate software from Toon Boom builds on their Studio program and is really the next level up, designed for professionals or those looking for the high-end tools and effects.
It has really been designed and marketed as a serious competitor to Flash, since you do Flash-style animation but in a more intuitive way – and most animators who have used it say it is a much better animation tool than Flash from a purist’s point of view, since you can also do traditional style animation techniques as well, at which Flash is notoriously cumbersome.
The 3D and multi-plane camera effects make this a great piece of software, but the price may be prohibitive to some.
Toon Boom Animate Pro
As the name suggests Animate Pro is the super-high end professional version of the Animate software mentioned above. It does all that Animate can do as well as a number of other effects, more powerful cameras, compositing tools, as well as cinema size output, and 3D stereoscopic capabilities.
This then is for the really serious professional or studio looking for specific tools. This is obviously reflected in the price.
Retas!Pro by Celsys is a high-end 2d software which is most popular in Japan and used heavily in the Manga / Anime industry.
It is mostly used by professional studios and as such is comprised of four separate modules which reflects the different departments:
- STYLOS HD – for digital drawing
- TraceMan HD – for scanning and cleaning up the drawings
- PaintMan HD – for painting the drawings
- CoreRETAS HD – for compositing and shooting (i.e. doing the camera work)
You can download a demo here:
Cost of the software is around: US$3,799
Crater Software’s CTP (Cartoon Television Program) is in my view a great piece of software that is not that well known, yet is fairly easy to get started with (we had a copy at University some years ago).
This is a purely traditional animation software, meaning you’ll have to draw all the frames, on paper and then scanning them in, or directly into the software itself (it works best when done on paper first since the drawing tools are not as flexible as those on other softwares).
My biggest gripe with CTP Pro is that it hasn’t really developed over like the last 10 years, and is still pretty expensive, especially when compared to Digicel’s FlipBook or Toon Boom’s Animate. Plus, although they have now separated out the various modules and created “Satellite” versions which you can buy individually instead of opting for the whole package I still think they are a tad expensive.
In saying that though, if you can get a copy of CTP for a reasonable price I think you’ll enjoy it.
You can download a demo here:
CTP Pro HD version costs US$699 and is available here:
CelAction 2D is an animation software in the vein of Adobe Flash and Toon Boom Studio where you rig up a drawn character and animate its skeleton, rather than drawing individual frames.
However, where it differs from Toon Boom Studio is that it doesn’t have any drawing tools whatsoever (the company actually state this on their website as if it were a positive!). Frankly, I don’t see the point in a 2d software that has no drawing tools, since it requires you to buy another piece of software like Photoshop to draw your characters and other elements and then transfer to CelAction 2D.
Either way, if Flash animation is your thing this software does contain many effects and tools to make your like easier like IK (Inverse Kinematics) and lip-syncing tools, as well as a large number of effects and a variety of output options all the way up to cinema size.
Geared towards professionals and studios, this is reflected in the price which, for the Studio version is based on a rental:
Studio (all features included): $999 (rental only)
Professional (cut-down version): $999 (full license purchase)
There isn’t a downloadable demo available, however you can contact them for an evaluation kit here:
Developed in France, TVPaint Animation is designed for the professional and hobbyist animator who wants to use the traditional techniques of hand drawn animation but with the added ability of using painterly effects. The drawing and paint tools are really extensive and allow you to do all sorts of styles including watercolour, gouache, and felt-tip. It is however, very expensive, so really will only be used by pros or those who are willing to spend a lot of money on their hobby.
(Something I didn’t realise was that TVPaint was originally the Aura software that used to be distributed by NewTek and familiar to old users of Lightwave – like myself).
The good thing with TVPaint is that it is split into two different editions – Professional and Standard, with different features and prices (check out their comparison chart here) http://static.tvpaint.com/products/comparison.pdf
You can download a free demo version here:
Toonz from Digital Video in Italy is used by a number of professional studios the most famous of course being Studio Ghibli in Japan.
There are really two different products – Toonz Harlequin and Toonz Bravo. Harlequin is the top-end and is designed for traditional and paperless workflows, whereas Bravo is paperless only, making it more ideal for the small professional or amateur.
I must say that I found it a little difficult to use when I had a go at it a few years back…much more complicated than a Toon Boom Animate, CTP or FlipBook. However, that was nearly 10 years ago, so I’m sure much has changed since then. If anyone has used it please let me know in the comments below.
In terms of prices, you have to request a quote from them, so I don’t how much it costs
There also doesn’t seem to be a demo version to try out either, but maybe you can contact them to get a trial.
Their website is here:
Anime Studio Pro
Anime Studio Pro is a hugely popular and affordable 2d animation software designed for the Flash-style animator. You cannot do frame-by-frame drawn animation in this software, but its bone system and inbetweening functions are some of the best out there, especially for the price. There is also an automatic lip-syncing function, as well as 3D cameras and physics for simulations and effects.
There are two versions of the program, Anime Studio Pro, and Anime Studio Debut. The Pro version is the whole kaboodle and designed for the pro or budding amateur. While the Debut version (which I talk below) has a scaled down toolset and is more geared towards kids and beginning animators.
Video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTu5zrwFjY
You can download a free trial demo here (although you WILL NEED A CREDIT CARD – so be careful because if you don’t cancel they will charge your card after the 30 day trial period ends):
Pro: US$299.99 ($199.99 if you take a 30-day trial first)
Well pretty much everyone has heard of Adobe’s Flash, in fact the name has become a style in itself after having really pioneered animation technology for the web. However, over the years other programs like some of those above (Toon Boom, Anime Studio, and CelAction 2D) have developed programs that are more animator-friendly and designed for film and tv output with more effective camera tools and effects, in some cases at a much lower price.
However, Flash is still THE web animator’s tool of choice and so I couldn’t leave it off this list
You can download a free trial demo here:
Flash Professional: US$699
Being Open Source, the Pencil software is completely free to download and use. It’s geared towards traditional drawn animation where each frame is created from scratch – so there are no “tweening” tools like you find in Toon Boom Animate or Flash.
The interface is very clear and easy to use particularly if used any type of paint program in the past like Photoshop.
There are Windows, Mac and Linux versions available and don’t require any registration.
You can download a version here:
Price : FREE
Plastic Animation Paper
Plastic Animation Paper, or PAP for short, is a free to download animation software that has a really impressive toolset. PAP used to be a paid animation program but for the last few years has been made available as a free download – Windows ONLY – no Mac version…sorry!
It allows you to do classic style drawn animation right in the program itself – no need to scan any drawings. In my opinion the best aspect of the software is it’s wonderful line and brush tools that really give you the creative freedom to do sketchy style animation or go further and clean it up if you want.
Unfortunately the interface does look a bit dated, but the good news is that the creators are now hard at work on an updated replacement called simply “Animation Paper”. However, this will be a paid program when it is finally released.
You can find out more about it here:
Or download the old version of Plastic Animation Paper here (along with tutorials):
Synfig is a vector-based, free and open source animation program that is ideal for those looking to Flash-style animation rather than traditional frame-by-frame drawn animation.
While its interface is not hugely complicated, it will certainly take a little longer to master than PAP or Pencil, but then again the features are closer to Flash so naturally it has a steeper learning curve. If you’ve used Flash before you’ll find this very similar and an easy crossover.
Thankfully there is a fairly large online community using Synfig, and so there are a ton of tutorials, YouTube videos and various forum posts if you ever get stuck or need help. At the end of the day, it is a pretty amazing piece of software when you consider that it is 100% free.
Available for Windows, Linux, Mac. You can also access the source code if you know how to program.
You can download the latest version here:
Flip Boom Cartoon
Flip Boom Cartoon from Toon Boom is a great little software program designed for young children who are complete beginners to animation. The very simple interface is a really trimmed down version of their higher end software like Studio and Animate, so while it’s easy to navigate it’s also a good starting point that your children can build on later if they want to tackle the more difficult software later down the road.
It’s an all-in-one program where you can draw, colour and animate your drawings as well as recording your own voices or sound effects to add on. This means you won’t need to buy another program for them to finish their cartoons – they can do it all in this software and then even upload it to YouTube or Facebook if they want.
You can buy Flip Boom Cartoon here:
Flip Boom All Star
The Flip Boom All Star software from Toon Boom is hugely popular among kids and teenagers. Its classy, well-laid out interface means your little one won’t get scared off by complicate menus and tools.
It is ideal for beginners as it has a number of preset templates and sound effects, along with an “Auto-Animate” feature which your child will be able to produce their first cartoon in no time. Although Toon Boom market is the next level up from Flip Boom Cartoon, I personally think it is a better idea to start with this one as it has more features than Flip Boom Cartoon and not is that much more complicated to learn.
You can buy the Flip Boom All Star software here:
Animation-ish, also from Toon Boom, is the brainchild of artist / illustrator Peter Reynolds. Designed to be the most “arty” of animation programs, it contains 3 separate modules, Wiggledoodle-ish, Flipbook-ish, and Advanced-ish, with varying features designed to help anyone from small children to intermediates get started drawing and animating.
The simple interface makes things a doddle and removes the steep learning curve associated with more advanced programs, making it an ideal place for small children to take their first animated steps. They can literally open the software and start…it’s that simple.
The main drawback of the program is that you can’t import any sound files, making lip-sync or dialogue animation difficult. You have to export your animation first as a movie and then add the sound in a 3rd party editing program.
You can buy the Animation-ish software here:
The TAB Kids
The TAB Kids is a colourful little software produced by the makers of the high end Toonz software I’ve listed above in the professional section.
TAB Kids prides itself on its easy to use interface, and it certainly is. Very colourful, with no menus or commands, all the functions are represented by visual icons and buttons which means everything is easy to find and understand quickly.
It has great drawing and movment tools, layer capabilities (up to 4), and simple export tools making it easy to save out your movies or upload them to the web. Kids will definitely find this software visually appealing and fun to use.
You can buy The TAB Kids software for Windows or Mac here:
Price: $40 + shipping for the boxed edition, or $40 for digital download.
Anime Studio Debut
Anime Studio Debut is the kid brother of the professional level Anime Studio Pro I listed above. As such it has a similar interface but has been slightly pared down to make life a bit easier for beginners – although I would still contend that it has a steeper learning curve than something like a Flip Boom All Star or Animation-ish.
Like its big brother, this is a software tool designed for Flash-style animation, where you have a rigged character held together with “bones” that you move around and set keyframes with (South Park style) – almost like cut-out animation, but with a much larger digital toolset. As such, if you’re looking to do traditional drawn animation then this is not the software for you, as the drawing tools are pretty much non-existent.
You can buy the Anime Studio Debut software here: