The Best 2D Animation Software

“I’m looking for free or cheap animation software to turn images into cartoons.  What do you recommend?”

There’s no good free 2D animation software!

I tell everyone the same thing.  There’s no such thing as good free 2d animation software.  Now, if we were talking 3d, I’d recommend Blender, although it takes forever to learn.  As for 2d programs, though, you get what you pay for, and free is junk, IMHO!  If you really want to look into free, check out Pencil, Creatoon, and Synfig, but don’t blame me for the quality, and don’t hold me responsible for what happens.

I’ve tried nearly all the free programs and paid programs, and I can tell you this:  You will want to rip your hair out after trying the free programs.  They frequently crash, they don’t have good user interfaces, and they are usually lacking a lot of features, especially features you need to make quality cartoons, like animations you’d see on TV.

If you don’t have much money for software:

Don’t go with free programs!  I can’t stress it enough.  If you go on, you can find an outdated copy of Anime Studio for dirt cheap.  When I say dirt cheap, I mean Anime Studio Debut 6 used to be around $6, and it’s quite capable of making great cartoons.  Other versions may cost you about $20 if they’re outdated, but compared to other software that may cost closer to $1,000, you can’t go wrong with $20.  You’ll find it’s much smoother than free programs, it’s way more intuitive, it renders faster, it has more options, and it’s capable of producing a rendered animation that rivals the expensive software, like Toon Boom (undoubtedly the industry standard), or Adobe Illustrator.

If you plan on animating a lot of text:

Don’t go with version 6.  Go with Anime Studio 7 or newer.  Why?  In version 7, they changed the way text was processed, making it much more stable and faster.  Version 6, while great for making cartoons, was slow in processing text and would crash on occasion.  If you plan on using a lot of speech bubbles, go with version 9.  Version 9 built the speech bubbles, much like you’d see in comic books or manga, right into the software, and they added even more text animation features, making the text side of things much, much better.

Be aware that version 9 is the most recent version, as of today, January 2013, so you will pay more.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of time making cartoon characters:

Anime Studio 8 and newer versions include a character wizard that will put together characters for you.  If you want higher quality characters you can always add your own cartoon hands, mouths, and other body parts to get the look closer to what you want, but you may still have to do some tweaking on the body of your character.

If you want extremely professional cartoons:

Anime Studio 9 Pro is the way to go!  It has something new called smart bones, which let you tie vector points to the rotation angles of bones.  It may sound complicated, but it really isn’t, and it’s not like you have to use them.  They’re there for when you get to that stage in your career as an animator, though.  That’s the nice thing.  You don’t have to use every feature that’s in the program, but it grows with, so you can use them.

The Pro version of the program will also let you save animation as something called an action, which means you can re-use all that animation later on when you need it.  This is extremely handy if you’re going to be doing a complete cartoon series.  Think of a show like Family Guy.  How many times have you seen Peter fall down where his arm ends up behind his back?  You know the position.  There’s no need to animate something like that every time with Anime Studio (Pro versions), because all you have to do is animate it once and save it.  Then you click a couple buttons to insert the sequence into your new animation.  It’s a HUGE time saver.  Think of Scooby-Doo.  How many times have you seen Shaggy and Scooby walking down an old creepy hallway in a house?  Image animating that scene every time, verses doing it once and re-using it.

Am I biased?  After all, I teach Anime Studio in my Animation Trainer course.  That’s true, but I teach that program because I fell in love with it, and I saw the potential it had, even years ago.  Before anyone asks; no I don’t work for Smith Micro, the makers of the software, nor have I ever worked for them.  In fact, as much as I love their 2D software, I have a different favorite for my 3D program.  So, with all these things in mind, I hope you can trust my opinion of the best 2d animation program, and I hope you really consider checking it out.

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