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Anyone interested in diving into animation may be shocked to see just how many free software options are available these days. And these aren’t cookie-cutter programs — many of these free applications are frequently used by animation-industry pros!
SketchBook’s free animation program is easy to use, even without the tutorial. Image via SketchBook.
Let’s look at the selling points of each free animation program, where to download them, and where to find some beginner tutorials.
Pencil2D is a simple, user-friendly 2D animation app, widely considered to be a perfect starter program for beginners and ideal for frame-by-frame animations.
Pencil2D is a free, open-source animation program — even for commercial use. It supports both bitmap and vector graphics, and has features like onion-skinning.
Onion-skinning allows you to keep track of each frame in the drawing process. Image via Blender.
FYI, onion-skinning refers to the ability to see previous frames of your animation while you create the next frame. Check out the Pencil2D Tutorials page to get started.
Krita is probably one of the most highly-regarded free animation applications. Ideal for hand-drawn animation, Krita includes over 100 pre-loaded brushes, each with a wide variety of effects.
Krita is great for hand-drawn animations, has built-in brush stabilizers, and a wide variety of effects. Image via Krita.
Krita also has built-in brush stabilizers that can smooth out the effects of shaky hands, making it great for tablet use. Really, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what Krita has to offer. Want to learn more? Check out this amazing starter tutorial from kdsketch!
SketchBook was previously a paid animation app from Autodesk, but now it’s completely free! Similar to Pencil2D, SketchBook is a perfect starter program. It has a beautiful user interface that’s easy to pick up and understand — even without a tutorial. The brushes also feel really natural when you’re drawing on the canvas.
SketchBook’s user interface has a wonderful layout and is user-friendly. Image via SketchBook.
SketchBook was the first free animation app I tried out, and I wasn’t disappointed. As a filmmaker, I could see myself using it to create write-on text or animation arrows. It also has features like onion-skinning and allows you to rearrange the UI to suit your needs. Check out Autodesk’s Sketckbook Starter Tutorial playlist to learn more.
Blender’s recently overhauled drawing tool — known as Grease Pencil — allows you to draw in a 3D environment. It’s perfect for creating traditional 2D animation, cut-out animation, and hand-drawn motion graphics.
This tool allows you to draw in a 3D environment, create hand-drawn motion graphics, as well as traditional 2D animation. Image via Blender.
If you’re already familiar with Blender’s 3D tool set, then you should be able to dive right in. If you’re totally new to Blender, check out this beginner Grease Pencil tutorial by Dedouze.
OpenToonz is another popular 2D animation application, and it’s widely accepted as a free substitute for apps like Adobe Animate. It may have more of a learning curve than other beginner apps, but it has a host of professional features — onion-skinning, bone rigging, node-based editing options, and more. OpenToonz also supports bitmap and vector images.
For a closer look, check out this beginner OpenToonz tutorial by NobleFrugal Studio.
Synfig Studio is an animation app similar in depth to OpenToonz and Adobe Animate. While the user interface looks a bit sterile and comes with a bit of a learning curve, it does have many advanced features.
One of those advanced features is vector tweening, which allows layers to automatically transform into other shapes. The software also includes layers, filters, and bone-rigging, and it supports both bitmap and vector images.
There are a few other free software apps that may be helpful in your animation journey. Take Inkscape, for example, which is an open-source illustration application. It allows you to create vector graphics, which can be ideal for animated character designs.
Inkscape is a perfect tool when creating character designs for animation. Image via Inkscape.
Want a more advanced video editor that lets you cut animation clips together or add post-effects? Check out DaVinci Resolve and HitFilm Express. Both of these free video editing apps include a plethora of effects.
Cover image via Krita.