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Almost all animation professionals grew up watching cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Anime, South Park and Disney.  We have a certain passion for animation that leads us to search the question “How do they do that?” and “Can I do that, too?” I am here to tell you, yes you can create these cartoons with essential animation design software, and more importantly, how.

The first steps is to recognize that it will take a lot of time and practice to become good at creating animations – as well as the right kind of education.  If you want to make a career out of it, you will have to be great! “Good enough” is not good enough! Your goal is to be awesome.  In addition, all artist begin by figuring out what are the best essential animation design software and tools to use.

There are several animation design software available that you can learn to animate.  Some tools are dedicated to 2D animation, while others focus on 3D.  Some animation development software are free and others come with a monthly subscription.  There are animation design programs that will give you a taste of what professionals animators do, and there are software that the animation industry depends on.  All animation design software have their strengths and weakness. 

So where do you start?  I have compiled a list of some of the best essential animation design software that will give you the tools to create 2D animations, 3D animation, concept art, models, render and more!

Best Animation Design Software for Digital Painting:

These animation design programs main purpose is to draw high detail art. Their focus is creating concept art, digital paintings and textures. Their strength is not 2D Animation, but these tools are essential in your animation toolkit to produce high quality work.

animation design software

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Photoshop: Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, uses Photoshop. This is the animation design software that every company and freelance artist has in his or her arsenal.  Photoshop is the paint program that has a smooth pipeline with almost every program out there including Maya and zBrush, to name a few. Learn it and love it!

This does come with a monthly subscription, but it’s worth it.

Gimp: This is a cross-platform image editor. Whether you are a graphic designer, photographer, illustrator, or scientist, GIMP provides you with sophisticated tools to get your job done. 

The best part, it’s free!

Best 2D Animation Design Software:

2D animation is the traditional animation design method that focuses on creating movement frame by frame. Put these frames together and you have a character that comes to life! Below are some of the best 2D animation design software to create your animated projects.

animation design software

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ToonBoom: For the 2D animators out there, ToonBoom is a fantastic animation design tool that the pros are using. You will be shocked at the number of animations produced with this software. If you want to perfect your 2D animation skills then you need to check out Toon Boom Studio 8. Incredibly, hundreds of top shows and movies have used Toon Boom Studio 8 to create their 2D animations. Learn on the best 2D animation software for movies and shows, which can also be transferred to games.

This does come with a price, but there is an essential student version that is significantly less than the professional edition.

GoAnimate:  Is an easy to use design software that creates 2D Animations.  It has a wide range of features that even beginners will be able to produce some advance animations. Some features include automatic lip-sync, plug and play characters, and pre-keyed animations.

Try it out free for 14 days.

Best 3D Animation Design Software:

3D animation is the process of creating three-dimensional moving images in a digital environment. They are computer-generated images that create animated sequences. Compared to 2D animation, 3D can have more depth and look more realistic.  Below is a list of the best 3D animation design software used by students, freelancers and pros!

animation design and development software

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Autodesk Maya: Similar to Photoshop, almost everyone uses Maya.  If your goal is to be the world’s greatest 3D animator then there is only one tool out there that you need to use. Autodesk Maya. Over the years, they have pushed the limits of 3D animation, so if you want to learn all there is about this art form then this is the program for you.

For students, this is free!

Blender:  This is the animation design software that you will need to start learning how to create an animation in 3D space.  It is great for the starter level animator and has all the essential features and tools which one would find in a more advanced software.  There is also a lot of online tutorials in YouTube to get you started. 

Best part? Blender is free!

Zbrush: This particular animation design program excels in modeling and texturing 3D models. You won’t be able to produce the quality of work by any other program. Almost every company and freelancer has this program in their toolbox.

This program does come with a price, but students get a discount.

Believe it or not, this is just a short list of the best animation design software out there for you to play with.  There are new animation design software programs continuously hitting the market which can be overwhelming.  However, this list states the most essential animation programs out there that almost every freelancer and pro recognizes and uses. Just ask them.

Remember to keep practicing and make awesome art!