The 10 best free animation software in 2021

A curated selection of 2D and 3D free animation software for users of all skills levels and interests.
May 4, 2021 • 10 minute read
Brad Buzzard @FreelanceBuzzard
Technical Co-pilot
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These days you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for the animation software you need. Internet and open-source communities have given rise to more than a few outstanding free animation programs for both 2D and 3D.

Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, a Windows user or a Mac user, there are plenty of animation programs to choose from: ranging from the ever-popular Blender with its rich features to the simplicity of Animation Paper. 

So let’s jump right into some of the best free animation software you can find in 2021!

Learn how to get animation designed

 

1. Pencil 2D: Best free 2D animation software for beginners

Platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 1

The excellent Pencil 2D is the perfect free 2D animation software for beginners. This free and open-source tool is a powerful piece of software for vector and bitmap animation.

The user interface is simple and intuitive, letting you create your compositions in color, with a pencil, pen and brush tools. Anyone with little to no experience using animation programs — even total newbies — will be able to tell at a glance what they can do with the software.

The tool features layers, a timeline with a simple keyframe manipulation system, onion-skinning, colors, pressure sensitivity, workspace toolbars and panels that you can rearrange to fit your animation needs and workspace.

Animators will appreciate the clean, uncluttered timeline where it is quite easy to add new keyframes on different layers, duplicate, change the frame rate and work quickly to create animations with minimal fuss.

Pencil 2D is true to its name, as it fully supports 2D animation only. 

To maximize the potential of Pencil 2D, and to see what's truly possible even with free software, you could always post a project on Freelancer. Pro animators can work magic even with the most basic tools.

Pros: Intuitive interface; gentle learning curve; perfect for beginners

Cons: Lacking in advanced features

What users are saying:

“Pencil2D: The easiest and simplest program to do 2D animation. If you're going to rely on frame by frame hand drawn animations for your game then this is easy and simple enough to do it perfectly. But if you need anything else then it's super lacking unfortunately.” - u/xTMT, Reddit

“Pencil 2D is free for PC! it has few features, but it's easy to understand if you've never worked with animation software.” - @GaelRice, Twitter

 

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2. Animation Paper: Best overall free 2D animation software 

Platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux (Android & iPad Pro with Pencil planned)

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 2

This piece of software is the follow-up to the highly popular Plastic Animation Paper 4.0 (PAP 4.0).

Mac users will be happy to note this newer, more concisely-named version - Animation Paper - is available for both Windows and Mac unlike its predecessor.

But you’ll have to get in while the getting is good as it is currently in its alpha state and will remain free throughout both the alpha and beta state releases. Once it’s out of beta, you’ll have to cough up $79 if you want to upgrade to the final version. But you don’t have to upgrade, as you’ll still have access to the alpha or beta versions you’ve already installed. 

If you want a finished product, and still don’t want to pay, PAP 4.0 is always free. But remember, this earlier product is for Windows only.

Animation Paper reimagined PAP 4.0 from the ground up, aiming for a more minimalistic and intuitive design. It will remind you of traditional light-table animation, complete with onion-skinning, light setup, layers, and black, blue, red and green pens for planning and drafting poses and scenes. The application layout is unfussy and simple but packed with features for traditional animation. For many, it will be worthwhile to take the tutorials on YouTube.

When you are familiar with the numerous little icons (placed in well-designed minimalist windows around the workspace) and their capabilities, you'll find there is a lot you can do with this free animation software. The app supports your pressure-sensitive Wacom pen, has touch-screen support and has intuitive shortcuts built in for zooming, rotating and toggling between the draw and erase modes - and other little conveniences whose absence can be frustrating.

Pros: Great for traditional, hand-drawn animation; intuitive interface

Cons: Slow release schedule

What users are saying:

“So I'm checking out the alpha for the newest version of Animation Paper (http://animationpaper.com) and I've gotta say, even in this very limited alpha form, it's the most intuitive animation software I've ever had the pleasure of using.” - @StunnerPony, Twitter

“I'm saddened that this has only gotten like 1/16th of the funding it needs, but that doesn't mean it has to die!” - Hayley D, YouTube

 

3. Synfig Studio: Best free 2D animation software (open-source)

Platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 3

Synfig Studio is a feature-rich animation app that is free to download and use. Besides the usual drawing tools, keyframes, onion-skinning and shape tools that you find in applications of this kind, Synfig lets you create bitmap and vector animation and also offers some advanced features that require a bit of a learning curve.

Another feature which stands out is that the application automatically appends keyframes, so workflow is smooth. The tool works well with pressure-sensitive tablets and touch screen computers, though there have been reports on minor offsets between the Wacom pen cursor and the application screen.

You can also enjoy some pro features that are surprising in this free animation software. For instance, Synfig offers support for gradient routes with which you can shade your drawings, manipulate vector lines, use a grid, use onion-skinning and choose from a variety of blend methods for your drawing.

Overall, Synfig is a great application for those who have a little experience handling animation software.

Pros: Powerful software; good for vector animation

Cons: Steep learning curve; lack of tutorials

What users are saying:

“Synfig studio can animate pretty much anything you can think of. However it's very, very complex to use and will require some time to learn, and it's hard to draw directly in it.” - @Wtf_Fish_ , Twitter

“Synfig has a lot of polish, nice features like interpolated animations and bones/splines and decent enough basic documentation, but isn't popular making it difficult to find info and tutorials for.” u/harfyi, Reddit

 

4. Blender: Best free 3D animation software for beginners

Platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux 

The 10 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 1

Blender is a free 3D animation software that experts, scientists, video game developers, studio artists and other professionals in the industry use around the world. This open-source, free motion graphic software has been around for quite some time and has evolved into a sophisticated application.

There is a learning curve involved; beginners may find the application a little unintuitive and it could take you some time to understand all its features and capabilities. However once you get the hang of things, you will find building projects with Blender to be a fun and effortless process.

Blender offers tools for modeling, lighting, video operations after conversion, other animation tools and much more. Blender also works across all major platforms and operating systems. But if you have support for OpenGL, you'll enjoy smoother workflow and performance.

Pros: Big community; lots of tutorials

Cons: Slow; steep learning curve

What users are saying:

“Go with blender. It's as powerful, always evolving, and the comminuty is alot bigger. If you need a tutorial for blender it is out there.” - u/theboeboe, Reddit

“...it also is just .. really slow, it doesn't handle millions of polygons very well, or transforming them. for light weight work it's fine, but heavy scenes forget it…” - u/Aniso3d, Reddit

 

Using animation software to build a mobile game? Find out how to build your game from start to finish

 

5. Krita: Best free 2D animation program for onion-skinning

Platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 5

Krita is yet another great software for artists, new and veteran alike. It has an intuitive user interface made for digital artists. Formerly a digital painting software similar to Photoshop and Paint.Net, Krita now supports animation via onion-skinning and frame-by-frame raster animation thanks to the sheer amount of support for a 2015 Kickstarter. Krita also has drawing tablet and touch screen support.

Krita has a strong open-source community that carries a plethora of resources to get you going, from video tutorials to documentation on vector graphics, japanese animation templates and downloadable content such as brush presets and texture packs. It even has a programming feature involving scripting using the ever popular programming language Python.

This free animation program is available for free across all platforms including Linux. 

Pros: Strong open-source community; good for painting

Cons: Random crashing

What users are saying:

“I tried Photoshop, but Krita was just so much easier to get into. It feels closer to a painting program than a photo manipulation program.” - u/Nightfallkitten, Reddit

“please dont tell me krita crashed again i literally just finished my cute jellyfish i hate this” - @hornetsandbees, Twitter

 

6. Clara.io: Best free 3D animation software (browser-based)

Platforms: Any browser

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 6

Clara.io is cloud-based animation software that doesn't need any plugins to work. It offers a good combination of basic stick-figure animation and polygonal modeling.

The software gives you a great range of mesh instruments to use. You also have features like sub-object editing, modeling features like subdivision surfaces and lots of realistic-looking materials that you can tweak with some adjustable lighting.

The simple interface has a clean design and if you still have queries you'd like answered, you can turn to the 80,000-strong community that shares its artwork on the Clara.io's cloud.

Pros: Browser access; easy to use

Cons: Development slowing down

What users are saying:

“Just had a play with https://clara.io by @ExocortexCom and it's quite remarkable! A web-based 3D modelling and animation app, that spits out .fbx and does V-Ray and WebGL renders. Wow!” - @gheedough, Twitter

“Further to this, http://Clara.io is free, browser based and seemingly very good for simple 3d animation.” - @therevmountain, Twitter

http://clara.io seems a bit quiet these days. Is it still being actively supported?” - @CarlBateman, Twitter

 

7. DAZ Studio: Best free 3D animation software

Platforms: Windows and Mac

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 7

DAZ Studio is a free animation app that you can use to pose, render and animate 3D figures. Simply register, download the software, and you are good to go.

The software is user-friendly, has a super-fast design engine, and an enormous library containing materials that you can use to whip up high-quality animations. This allows its users to cover a lot of info in little time. DAZ Studio is not only for amateurs but for pros as well.

Daz 3D is the developer behind DAZ Studio and was once responsible for re-releasing the popular software Bryce 5.5 as a freeware after acquiring Bryce from Corel. 

Pros: Intuitive interface; photorealistic images; powerful engine

Cons: Fine-tuning animations can be clunky

What users are saying:

“Daz Studio has a very intuitive interface. Most likely you will get a notion of the workspace as soon as you open it for the first time.” - Renderguide.com

“But then, of course, you will quickly discover that Daz Studio's tools to fix animations are awkward, to be generous.” - TheMysteryIsThePoint, daz3d.com

 

8. OpenToonz: Best free 2D animation program for anime

Platforms: Windows and Mac

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 8

For any animators, beginners or veterans alike, OpenTOpenToonzoonz is the perfect 2D software for anyone looking to improve on their skills. A fun fact about OpenToonz is that it has a high level of customization and is often used by Studio Ghibli, the Japanese anime film studio responsible for movies like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service. 

The software has a wide range of keyboarding shortcuts to use for easy access in rendering and animating your projects and has an impressive variety of animation effects including lighting effects and picture styles. Some of the features include onion-skinning and frame-by-frame animation, so you don’t have to redraw your work at every frame.

This free animation program is free to download for both Windows and Mac. Because OpenToonz is rich in features, it is highly recommended to have a large amount of RAM size on your computer before installing.

Pros: Feature-rich, professional software

Cons: Steep learning curve; crashes

What users are saying:

“Opentoonz is another one I've used, and it's pretty tricky to get use to, but it's got a lot of good features” - @Jarhingeart, Twitter

“Video animated completely using Opentoonz. Its crashed a few times but I love it so far. have a look” - u/DoubLife89, Reddit

 

9. Toontastic 3D: Best free 3D animation app for mobile

Platforms: Android

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 9

Toontastic 3D is a mobile animation app developed by Google. It is free to download and allows anyone from beginner to advanced artists create their projects and render them into brilliant 3D cartoons to share with friends and family. 

Some of the features include the inclusion of photographic images into 3D models, adding storyboards and customizing music into your projects.

The user-friendly app is great for introducing children to the basics of animation AND storytelling. 

Pros: Great for storytelling; kid-friendly

Cons: Limited number of characters you can create; sound issues

What users are saying:

“Toontastic delivers a level of quality rarely seen in free digital animation apps - perfect for engaging learners in the creative writing process.” - @NFLaFave, Twitter

“I’d definitely include Toontastic -  brilliant free app for kids to create their own short animated films #homeschooling” - @darynsimon, Twitter

“The app is good but it includes limited scenes and characters.” - Haji fangari, Google Play Store review

 

10. Stykz: Best free 2D animation software for stick figures

Platforms: Windows and Mac

The 11 best free animation software in 2021 - Image 10

As the name suggests, StyStykzkz is the perfect animation program for stick figures, letting you manipulate vector figures into 2D animation. It works well as a planning tool for your animation. Like most programs on this list, Stykz is cross-platform, running on both Windows and Mac only (but not Linux).

Stykz borrows features from the freeware application PivotStickFigure, including support for STK files. If you've already worked on files downloaded in STK format, you can import them into the software. Stykz also lets you work with frames and uses onion-skinning to make them transition naturally.

Pros: Kid-friendly; powerful for what it does

Cons: Limited to stick figures and very basic shapes

What users are saying:

“Some of my 7th grade students worked on stick animations this last quarter using the #stykz program.” - @npover, Twitter

“excellent software for beginners... thanks” - Kevin Cmaker, Software Informer

“If you feel you like Pivot but want more features then there is Stykz It can actually import projects make in Pivot and be used to make even more advanced videos.” - u/OgdruJahad, Reddit

 

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