Animation Software – Overview

I thought it would be an interesting idea to talk about the best animation software available. I know there are a lot of people out there that are looking to get into animating their own cartoon series. There have even been a few people that have asked me about them before, so apparently there is a demand for this information. It seems like a logical idea for an article anyway, especially since I’ve tried many of the different programs already. Plus I’m not a complete nobody, I’ve been relatively successful with the animations I’ve released so far with the total views approaching two million. I’ll just write an overview of what’s currently available and hopefully that helps you make an easier decision.

I’ll start by talking about the two major programs that people seem to gravitate towards, Adobe Flash and Toon Boom Animate. This is an argument that has been going on for years. I think Adobe Flash had the edge for awhile, but now it seems that the Toon Boom software offers more features and accessibility. There are plenty of things that they have in common though. Both have a large dedicated community online. That’s important when getting answers to questions you have. They both have quite a few written and video tutorials. Those basically guide you along and are the reason your early skills increase. In terms of their layout they’re both pretty similar. In fact, the layouts are completely customizable so you can make them look even closer if you wanted.

Firstly, you’ll need to decide which of the programs you want to use. Adobe Flash is probably the most popular animation software. At least it seems a large majority of people choose to begin with that over Toon Boom. There are a lot of advanced features it’s capable of, but I find that it has limited effects and is more tedious to use. I also feel like you can always tell when an animation is using Flash as it often appears “flat”. You can get much more of a 3D or organic feel using Toon Boom Animate. The effects in particular are what set Toon Boom apart from Flash, it comes packed with all sorts of effects that Flash simply doesn’t have. You’re often required to use a secondary program such as Adobe After Effects to accomplish the same tasks. Don’t get me wrong, Flash has many uses and you can build other programs or games with it, but Toon Boom Animate is better in terms being the best animation software.

It’s important to note that there are a few free or more affordable software options available. If you’re just starting out with animating I’d recommend trying to get Toon Boom Studio. It’s cheaper and actually has a lot of the features in the Animate version. You’ll be able to export in HD resolutions and use a good variety of effects. It’s probably all you’d really need to be honest. Take a look at what’s new in the latest version.

Aside from that there’s also Anime Studio Debut/Pro, but honestly I don’t think I’d bother with those. The community is smaller and the Debut version is limited to only 2 minute long videos among other shortcomings; see here Anime Studio Features. I’ll give you a few links to some free animation programs you can try using. It might be a good start just to mess around with it before upgrading to a full software suite.

Free Animation Software

When you first load up your software you’re going to feel overwhelmed regardless of which one you choose. That’s how it is with any new program you get. There are just so many different buttons, tabs, and cryptic words to click on that you may procrastinate on learning the intricacies of the software. Don’t despair or get discouraged though! The main tip I’d like to give you is to stick with learning the tutorials. Go read them online or watch video tutorials, they’ll really help you get a handle on everything. I know you may not want to, you probably want to jump right into your full series with grand ideas. That’s fine, but I think you’ll likely be underestimating the amount of time and effort it takes to make these animations.

On the topic of tutorials, you’ll be able to find a ton of them on various websites. I’m probably going to be releasing my own shortly so make sure to check back soon. I don’t think I’ll bother with teaching you the basics/interfaces, but rather more advanced topics that other places may not offer.

I recommend you go through the tutorials for your chosen program until you feel you understand enough of how to do basic tasks. Once you feel confident, start creating small “tests” of your own and work your way up into more complex scenes. When I was first starting out I made a wide variety of test animations to build up my skill. I made a fish swim across the screen, lame I know. Then I had a butterfly fluttering around, next was a scene of a green monster jumping and bursting into flames, and finally I had a guy walking out of a room and saying a line. My plan was to start out basic and build onto my knowledge progressively. I added a new effect or used a new tool with each new animation I created. The last scene I mentioned tested the masking effect, shadowing, and lighting of the background for instance.

animation programs

Paid Animation Software options

Adobe Flash
Toon Boom Animate
Toon Boom Studio

Hopefully this will be enough of an opinion to point you in the right direction. It’s important to start with a program that’s accessible if you’re contemplating entering into the animation field. It’s a fun hobby that can definitely be rewarding if you stick with it. I’m always fascinated with seeing a script come to life. If you have any specific questions about the programs please feel free to contact me through the contact page. Maybe I’ll write an FAQ if I receive enough questions. I’ve written up one of the animation tutorials so far, you can read through it by clicking this Animation Software Tutorial. I decided to write it on the lighting and shadowing of a scene. Doing that really adds depth and detail into an otherwise drab background. I’ll try to get a few more written over the coming weeks during any free time I have, make sure to check back soon.


Anthony Fazio is a writer, animator, music composer, and self-proclaimed anti-narcissist even though you'll see his name plastered all over everything here.