11 best animation tools for digital artists


Animation tools are an essential part of the process for a digital artist, game developer, or character designer. Seeing your animated illustrations is a pretty cool feeling, and whether your animation is super short and simple or a complete cartoon, bringing them to life with movement gives them an exciting new dimension.

However, leaving your comfort zone of static images and entering the world of digital animation can be daunting. With so much to learn (including the 12 principles of animation) and a mountain of tools to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start.

This summary gives you some of the best tools for creating 2D animation. The focus is on games, using pixel art for vector graphics. So what are you waiting for? Let’s go!

If you want something a little more hardcore, also check out our best animation software roundup.

01. OpenToonz

Animation tools: OpenToonz Morevna Edition

You will find all the tools you need in OpenToonz (Image credit: OpenToonz / Morevna Project)

Want to be as good as Studio Ghibli? We can’t promise that, but we can at least connect you with the animation tool used to create Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, and customized along the way.

Ghibli started using Toonz during the production of Princess Mononoke, and in 2016 this powerful animation tool was made open source and renamed. OpenToonz (there is still a commercial version – Toonz Premium – available, if you insist on paying). It has all the tools you are likely to need, from drawing tools and effects, scripting, tween, and more, and new features are added regularly.

The latest version, 1.4, was released for Mac and Windows last year, adding a new stop-motion panel with support for Canon DSLRs, and more. And in addition to OpenToonz, there is another open source version, the Morevna Edition, which is also available on Linux and includes additional features such as wizard guides to make it easier to add perspective to your environments, integration with the MyPaint brush engine, a horizontal timeline, and an advanced color picker. If you are not sure which version of OpenToonz to use, we recommend this one, especially since the basic OpenToonz documentation appears to be in Japanese only.

02. Piskel

Animation tools: Piskel

Piskel is an easy to use online tool

Piskel is an online tool for creating animated sprites and pixel art. It is easy to use and does not require any registration. However, if you want to create a gallery, whether public or private, you can do so by signing in with your Google account.

With Piskel, you get a live preview as you create your image. You also have the option to import animated PNG, JPG, BMP, and GIF files. Or you can import .piskel files, the proprietary format of Piskel. On the export side, you have options for animated GIFs, PNG sprite sheets, or a zip with each image rendered as PNG.

This is an online tool, but there is also a download available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

03. Aséprite

Animation tools: Aseprite

This app contains everything you need
  • Price: $ 19.99 (trial available)

Another great pixel art and animation tool is Aseprite. This app has everything you would expect from a bigger editor, including support for layers, onion peels, playback modes, alpha channel control, shading modes, and custom brushes . Like Piskel, you can import and export a variety of formats, like PNGs, sprite sheets, and animated GIFs.

04. spine

Animation tools: spine

Spine lets you animate your existing work of art
  • Price: $ 69 to $ 299 / £ 51 to £ 223 (trial available)

Get out of the domain of pixel art, Spine allows you to animate your already existing work of art. That’s right – there are no illustration tools included in Spine. However, since it is such a powerful animation tool, it is absolutely worth a look.

Spine gives you all the tools you need to animate your characters, including a doping sheet and a Freeform Warp Tool (FFD). The dope sheet gives you a detailed overview of the timeline where you can make changes to the animation timings. And with the FFD tool, you can transform individual mesh vertices and distort your image.

04. Pencil2D

This cross-platform 2D drawing and animation app is ideal for bringing your hand drawn animations to life. Thanks to its lightweight design, Pencil2D lets you focus on art and animation, not the interface. It supports both raster and vector and offers options for importing and exporting various formats.

05. FlipBook

  • Price: $ 19.99 to $ 249 / £ 19.99 to £ 171 (trial available)

Like Pencil2D, Flipbook is another contender if you are looking for a graphics application to create traditional 2D animation. FlipBook lets you draw, scan, and import things like backgrounds, cels, overlays, and even movies. You can also add sound. When you are finished, you can export still images or the entire animated movie.

06. Studio Synfig

Animation tools: Synfig Studio

The spine gives you extra control

Another powerful, cross-platform, open source 2D animation drawing and animation tool is Synfig Studio. While more complicated than most other graphics apps, Synfig gives you control over almost every aspect of your animation and provides you with familiar tools like brushes, fills, masks, layers, and more.

07. Moho Debut and Moho Pro

Animation tools: Moho Debut and Moho Pro

Moho will stimulate your imagination
  • Price: $ 59.99 to $ 399.99 / £ 52 to £ 298

Moho is a 2D vector animation program for beginners (Debut) and professionals (Pro). Both are loaded with tons of content and prebuilt characters to help get you started or spark your imagination.

With the Debut version, you can use a character assistant to compose things like body proportions and predefined 2D components. Or you can import your own images and use the auto-plot option. For Pro users, you get things like FBX support, motion blur, frame-by-frame capabilities, and more.

Discover this for free Introductory Moho course to get you started.

08. TVPaint Animation

  • Price: $ 590 to $ 1,250 / £ 441 to £ 1,104 (trial available)

Let’s move on to the more “professional” set of tools, TVPaint lets you render fully animated scenes from start to finish. It uses bitmap technology, so you can animate natural renderings, like gouache, watercolor, oil paint, pencil and pen, traditionally frame by frame.

TVPaint Animation is one of the more expensive options included in this roundup, but it does offer a trial version, and from what we’ve seen so far, it’s quite powerful and well worth its worth. price. Don’t believe us? Take a look at his Gallery.

09. Toon Boom Harmony

  • Price: $ 375- $ 1975 / £ 280- £ 1474 (trial available)

The harmony of Toon Boom, considered by some to be the de facto standard for animation tools, offers three versions: Essentials, Advanced and Premium. You also have three license options: Perpetual, Monthly (from $ 25 / £ 20 per month) or Yearly (from $ 17 / £ 14 per month).

With Harmony’s illustration and animation tools, you can sketch, draw, and paint in bitmap and vector formats. You also have access to advanced color palettes, deformers, frame-by-frame animations, and special effects.

10. Cartoon animator

  • Price: $ 99 to $ 199 (trial available)

If you are looking for software to help you with audio lip sync for Sprite and Morph based characters, or for 2D face and body puppets, Cartoon animator has you covered.

Formerly known as CrazyTalk Animator, it comes in two versions: Pro and Pipeline. The Pro version will get you started with the Basic Timeline Edition and G3 character models, but to take full advantage of creating your characters directly from PSD, you’ll need the Pipeline version. Both versions include support for importing images and videos in a variety of formats.

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