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(Last updated on October 8th, 2020)

Adobe Animate or Adobe After Effects, which editing software is better in 2020?

We extensively tested both of these platforms and read hundreds of reviews to create an ultimate comparison of the two to help you decide which one is the best editing platform for YOU.

Adobe has created an array of media applications that fit just about any type of creator. Two fantastic options for compositing and animation are Adobe Animate and Adobe After Effects. While these programs differ greatly, they can create similar results, just in vastly different ways.

One thing worth noting is that Adobe’s products are offered on both Mac OS and Windows operating systems.

Comparison at a Glance

1. Ease of Use
Winner: Adobe Animate. It’s no secret that animation software generally takes a decent amount of time to learn. However, Adobe Animate aims to limit this learning curve and allow users to create high-quality animations for less time invested. After Effects has a much wider scope of possibilities, thus giving it a steeper learning curve. The lack of excess tools aids Adobe Animate’s user-friendliness.

2. Character Animation
Winner: Adobe Animate. Adobe Animate was designed particularly for cartoon animation. While After Effects does offer many of the same effects that Adobe Animate does, it’s other features and interface can be cumbersome when just attempting character animation. Adobe Animate’s interface and tools are specifically designed for character cartoon animation.

3. Compositing
Winner: Adobe After Effects. After Effects is the industry standard for compositing and VFX. With its interface, masking tools, and extensive layering style, After Effects is designed for advanced compositing. It can also be linked to Adobe Premiere Pro CC through Adobe’s Dynamic Link for a seamless VFX application.

4. Features
Winner: Adobe After Effects. After Effect’s steep learning curve can be explained by its extensive list of complex and advanced features. But don’t count this as a disadvantage, this means that After Effects can be used as a versatile tool. From layered composition to 3D text, to camera tracking and rotoscoping, After Effects is one of the only programs on the market to offer this many features.

5. Tools
Winner: Adobe After Effects. Similar to its feature list, After Effects offers a wide array of tools fit for advanced compositing, VFX, and cartoon animation. Whereas, Adobe Animate’s focus lies in character animation.

6. Interface
Winner: After Effects. Like Adobe Animate, After Effects offers a customizable interface. However, the timeline in After Effects is a unique blend of animation and video editing, as to match it’s composition design, which effectively acts as a hybrid of animation and video editing.

7. Pricing
Winner: Tie. Both Adobe Animate and After Effects can be purchased with an Adobe Create Cloud subscription. With this, you also get access to many industry-standard media software such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Audition, and many more. Adobe Creative Cloud costs $52.99 per month.

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1. Ease of Use

It’s no secret that animation takes a lot of time to master. Due to this, both Adobe Animate and After Effects have a steep learning curve. But once you get over the hump, there are few limits to what you can do on these platforms.

If we were to choose a more user-friendly application, it would have to be Adobe Animate. The interface is set up for simple use; the timeline is tailored more for animation, so it makes sense when selecting frames and adding keyframes to create motion. This, however, does not mean that you do not have to watch several tutorials and tinker with the platform quite a bit before even creating simple animations.

After Effects has an even steeper learning curve. Because many of the tools are present in the interface, the program can look confusing and intimidating upon first glance. After Effects is also kind of set up like a hybrid of animation and video editing. This means that the timeline and interface are designed to have features of both animation and video editing, which can be extremely confusing until you use them for an extended period of time to wrap your brain around the maneuvers.

Because of these reasons, Adobe Animate is slightly more user-friendly and we recommend it be used by beginners for simple cartoon animation.

Winner: Adobe Animate.

2. Character Animation

This is what Adobe Animate was designed for. It’s mesh keyframing and lip-sync features make this program best suited for cartoon and character animation.

Adobe Animate offers tools that are specifically designed for cartoon animation, and much of that is manifested in the characters. These tools are vector-based so you can create original, scalable artwork inside of the program. On top of that, the tools are designed for you to have access to free-draw certain vectors inside the program, as well.

Adobe Animate Character Animation

Another aspect of Adobe Animate that makes it great for character animation is its use of mesh points. When dragging and animating a character, Animate integrates points that animate together on the body of the character to make it move as if it’s one unit. This allows for realistic and lifelike movements.

Adobe Animate Character Animation Mash Points

After Effect’s, though inferior to Adobe Animate’s cartoon animation, does have character animation capabilities as well. With After Effect’s puppet tool, you can add extensive keyframe animation to characters.

After Effects is entirely capable of character animation, however the interface and easy access of tools for this specific purpose is not as clearly laid out as it is in Adobe Animate. This allows Adobe Animate to really shine when animating cartoon characters on this platform.

Winner: Adobe Animate.

3. Compositing

Like character animation for Adobe Animate, compositing is where After Effects shows its muscle. With an interface, tools and features specifically designed for extensive compositing work, After Effects is a VFX dream machine.

After Effects Compositing

With the use of After Effects, it is possible to combine 2D animation art and live-action raw footage. With tools that match the noise and blur of the footage, After Effects allows consumers to create effects that are seamless and amazing.

Possibly most impressively, After Effects allows you to compose multiple 3D layers on top of each other. With this, you can place fire, objects, or two different live-footage video layers in the same frame. You can also control the lighting and shadows of the place-in objects to make them match the setting footage for a completely realistic look.

After Effects Compositing multiple 3D Layer

If you’re looking for a detour from an exclusively cartoon animation program and seek a more full-bodied composition VFX machine, After Effects is surely the program for you.

Winner: Adobe After Effects.

4. Features

Adobe Animate has a great array of features that aid in professional cartoon animation. One of these features is vector brushes. Vector brushes allow you to utilize a touch-sensitive device with a pen or stylus to create 2D patterns, shapes, curves, or lines.

Another Adobe Animate feature is Animate Camera. With Camera, you can match the animation style you’re looking for with the camera movement of the footage in place. This means that if there is an action scene, you can match the dramatic camera zooms and pans to the animation in place.

A real cartoon powerhouse feature in Adobe Animate is Lip-Sync. This will match the audio dialogue with the mouth movement on your cartoon character automatically. While it’s true that you do have to have your own mouth phenoms, there are many available online. From there, you match the sounds with the mouth phenom and auto lip-sync these animations. The program works pretty well, although you may have to make some minor adjustments for perfection.

Adobe Animate Feature Lip Sync

Despite these enormously powerful features, After Effects offers more. On top of the previously mentioned Adobe Animate features, After Effects offers compositing and extensive text features.

Possibly After Effect’s most powerful feature is its compositing. While it can be commonly used for 2D workspaces, the compositing features really shine when used in 3D environments. With After Effect’s camera tracker, you can manipulate the space of raw footage by adding explosions, snowfall, ambiance, and just about anything, really. This gives consumers access to advanced VFX.

After Effects Feature Compositing

Another feature commonly used in After Effects is title design. This is used to animate graphics or text. Oftentimes it can be seen during logo animation at the beginning or end of videos. Because all of the compositing, scripts, and plugins can also be applied to text, titles and logos can be manipulated in 3D space, as well.

After Effects Feature Title Design

Winner: Adobe After Effects.

5. Tools

It’s no secret that Adobe Animate and After Effects both offer an extensive set of tools for compositing and animation. However, if we have to choose one, it would definitely be the tools offered in After Effects. This is because it doesn’t only offer cartoon and character animating tools but tools for text, compositing, VFX and puppet animation. 

First, let’s take a look at the tools offered in Adobe Animate. Adobe Animate’s asset warp tool is one of its standout tools. This tool makes for realistic movements of 2D animation objects and characters. By using a mesh design on the object, you can add points that can transform and rotate. This also moves the mesh, which moves the object, creating realistic movements.

Adobe Animate Warp Tool

Adobe Animate also offers its lip-sync tool, which we’ve mentioned previously. Another powerful tool in Adobe Animate is the audio synchronizing tool. This will synchronize your audio with movements in your animations.

After Effects has so many effects, it is impossible to delve into everything in a comparison article. However, we can cover the main attractions. After Effect’s legacy puppet tool is similar to Adobe Animate’s asset warp tool. Here you can layout a mesh-like structure on a 2D object and animate to your liking, creating realistic movements.

Adobe Animate Legacy Puppet Tool

With a keyframe in After Effects, you can apply and customize an ease into or out of it. Best of all, you can copy those ease settings and apply them to other ease ins or outs. Another fun tool is the gif gun, where you can render and export a gif with the click of a button. This can be a huge time saver if you’re creating a lot of gifs.

The camera tracker in After Effects is top of the line. With this, you can select a point in the frame and hit play. After Effects will automatically track the movement of the camera. Afterward, you can apply this motion to other layers to match the footage you’re working in. This can be hugely helpful when adding and compositing layers into live-action raw footage that is handheld. This same effect can be applied to 3D compositions.

After Effects Camera Tracker Tool

Lastly, you can’t talk about the tools in After Effects without mentioning its rotoscoping capabilities. Think of it as a green screen keying process without a green screen, but rather applied to objects, limbs, heads, windows, or anything really! This sophisticated tool will track the object you wish to rotoscope out automatically throughout the footage. Obviously, to achieve perfection, you might need to do some fine-tuning on individual frames. However, this tool is immensely powerful.

After Effects Rotoscoping Tool

Winner: Adobe After Effects.

6. Interface

The interfaces in Adobe Animate and After Effects are different in many ways. For one, the Adobe Animate interface is much more understandable for a first-timer. After Effects takes much more getting used to. However, after toying around for a few days, you’ll be sure to know the basics of advanced compositing.

Adobe Animate’s interface is customizable, as each panel can be shifted in location and size to perfectly fit the user’s intentions. However, the generic interface is preferable to most. Here, you’ll see the timeline at the top, where each individual frame can easily be selected and manipulated, unlike many video editing platforms. The Library panel on the right gives quick access to assets. The color, alignment, and scene panels on the left give easy access to animation tools.

Adobe Animate Interface

Now let’s dig into what After Effects interface looks like.

After Effects Interface

The After Effects interface is set up like a hybrid between an animation and video editing software. The timeline at the bottom of the interface is pretty standard for most platforms. But the quick access to effects in the upper right gives you searchable results for placement of effects onto clips.

The effect controls lie on the left of the interface, where this program shows its power. Here you can take a deep dive into each effect and create keyframes. You can also add masks into the program panel from here and layer compositions.

Winner: After Effects.

7. Pricing

ProductRegular PriceDiscounted Price
Adobe Creative Cloud$52.99/monthCheck here
Adobe After Effects$20.99/monthCheck here
Adobe Animate$20.99/monthCheck here

If you want access to both of these programs, and many other Adobe Creative Suite applications like Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, InDesign, Animate, Dreamweaver, and Audition, they have a subscription plan for that. This price would be $52.99 per month or $599.88 per year. 

Adobe Pricing

There are student plans that are significantly lower in price. There are also teacher, school and business plans as well.

For Adobe Animate or After Effects individually, the subscription costs $20.99 per month or $239.88 per year.

Winner: Tie.

8. Users

The greatest determining factor in choosing the right program for you is what type of user you are. And that can be determined by what type of work you do or are seeking to do. 

Adobe Animate is primarily for users that create cartoons, TV episodes, advertisements, films, games and interactive content for publishing on Flash Player & Air, HTML5 Canvas, custom platforms like Snap SVG, or WebGL.

Adobe Animate has been used for Nickelodeon TV shows, for example. It’s features, tools and interface are decently easy to use and work efficiently and effectively to create super high-quality cartoon animations. 

Working with Adobe Animate has been described by many as interesting and fun. While there is a learning curve, like many powerful animation platforms, Adobe Animate has been around for many years and continues to strive for the industry standard. Because of this, Adobe Animate is a great resource for a user seeking to create high-quality cartoon animations fit for the big screen and beyond.

Adobe Animate Example

Adobe After Effects, however, has a different user base. After Effects is primarily used for creators compositing 2D footage or text in 3D spaces, extensive VFX artistry, character animation, text and title animation, green screen and rotoscope styling.

Because After Effects offers more features, the user base is more vast and extensive than that of Adobe Animate. Most After Effects users take their footage from another platform to hyper-focus on one clip or section that requires compositing or VFX. In fact, many video editors utilize Adobe’s Dynamic Link by taking the footage from Premiere Pro in After Effects for VFX work.

Like Adobe Animate, many users have used After Effects for many years, as it has been in the media industry for many years. This makes After Effects a safe choice to learn, as it will be sure to be around for many more years and continue to be the industry standard in compositing and video graphics.

After Effects Example

Final Thoughts

Both Adobe Animate and After Effects are immensely powerful programs. Both, however, offer different features and tools. If you’re an animator seeking a software for strictly cartoon and character animation, Adobe Animate might be for you. Adobe Animate’s interface and features are designed for easy access to these types of tools and effects.

However, if you’re looking for a more jack-of-all-trades type of composition software, After Effects is one of the best on the market. After Effects offers a wide variety of tools and features for advanced VFX, as well as cartoon and character animation.

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