Are you new in the world of motion graphics? Do you feel overwhelmed by all the different options on the market?

It seems every week there is a new piece of software or a new renderer on the scene.

It can take years to learn animation software.

I’ve been animating since 2011, and I still learn new tips and tricks every day. This short guide will hopefully give you a helping hand to discovering the stable software that every motion designer should know.

Without further ado, here are the top five tools you’ll need.

Top Five Essential Tools For Motion Designers

1. Adobe After Effects

After Effects, often abbreviated to as AE is without a doubt the bread and butter of almost every motion designer. Whilst there are other programs to create motion graphics in, AE is the most versatile and comprehensive of them all.

For this reason, it is industry standard and integral for any modern motion graphics workflow. 

After Effects is a 2.5D animation software meaning that is does pretty much everything you would want it to. It ships with a lot of features that make it usable straight out of the bag, but if there is a feature, you think its lacking in, you can most definitely find a third-party scripts and plugins that will allow the software to do so much more (one of the best resources for plugins and scripts is aescripts).

It can be used for a variety of different purposes such as; colour grading, editing, animating, motion tracking, compositing, particle simulations, and colour keying. This is only a handful of the potential uses for After Effects.

2. Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is a vector-based application. Which means images it creates can be scaled up without causing pixelation. For motion designers, Illustrator it uses to create assets, such as characters, objects, environments, logos as well as much more.

These can then be imported into After Effects for animating.



Since they are both Adobe applications, they work seamlessly with each other. You can import an illustrator file (.AI) straight into After Effects, and then go back into Illustrator.

If any of the artwork is amended in Illustrator, it will then update automatically in After Effects.

Any effects or animation you may have applied prior will remain.

3. Adobe Photoshop

Motion designers may use Photoshop in a similar way to Illustrator, for creating assets. The main difference is that it is a bit-map based application as opposed to vector.

Though Photoshop is fundamentally known as a “photo editor”, it can be used for a multitude of purposes by motion designer, this includes and isn’t restricted to:

– Create matte paintings

– Create and edit textures

– Stitch images together

– Layout cel animations

– Edit images.

One other feature that photoshop can be used for is creating storyboards. Some people may prefer to do this by hand, with a pen and paper. But for others, Photoshop is a great tool for jotting down quick scamps and compositions.

4. Adobe Premiere Pro

Simply put, Premiere Pro is a video editing software.

Though there is a vast list of tools that work very similar to Premiere Pro, the relationship between all the software included in the Creative Cloud package is fantastic. One of its greatest features is to be able to create dynamic links between itself and After Effects, to do final adjustments to compositions and shots without the need to render it first.

Premiere Pro is where the motion designers will edit their videos together and add the final touches, such as music, sound effects, add transitions and possible even cut bits of animation to help the flow and timing of the overall video.

5. Cinema 4D

This is the first piece of software in this list that isn’t an Adobe program. Cinema 4D (C4D) is a 3D application by Maxon.

Though there is a variety of 3D applications that can do the same thing (there or thereabouts), Cinema 4D is typically the go-to option for motion designers. Whereas something like Autodesks Maya is typically used for film and VFX. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is essential, it’s more of an intermediate tool and will definitely be something you will want to learn as your career and skills develop.

Unlike a lot of its competitors, C4D has a very friendly UI, meaning it’s a lot less daunting when you first open it up for the first time. It also has a very intuitive non-destructive work-flow meaning you can edit and iterate different options very quickly.

The main drawback to C4D, is its price point.

For the studio version (the one you will want) its starting price is £2,750 ex. VAT. Luckily, with the Adobe Creative Suite, you do get a Lite Version of C4D that you access through After Effects, though it’s a very limited version of the software it will give you a feel for the program, before you commit to buying.

BONUS: A Camera

Since the list so far has been all software, I thought I should add something psychical. The best thing about this tool, is that everyone has one, the camera doesn’t have to be anything fancy and expensive, you can use your smartphone.

The purpose of having a camera and taking pictures, is to build up a library of different things you can reference. This can be people, when you’re looking for inspiration for a character.

You can take pictures of different objects to create a library of textures, wood grain, noise, brick. All of these can be used in combination with graphic elements to add depth and life to environments and characters.


It may seem somewhat overwhelming and off-putting having a list of tools you “must learn” to be a motion designer, but please don’t be put off.

Learning the software is a process and isn’t something that happens overnight. You don’t need to know every effect in every bit of software. Play and explore with them as you need them.

As I mentioned at the start, it can take years to learn software, so enjoy the journey.


After studying Animation at the University of Central Lancashire I got the bug for motion design and went on to study a masters where I specialised in the subject. I have experience working freelance, in-house and now an agency. Out of work I like to spend time rebuilding classic motorcycles with my dad and brother.

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