After Effects plugins are a great way of saving time and energy building animated elements from scratch, unlike templates, which offer you customization over a premade After Effects project. Plugins add tools and functions to the backend of After Effects, making them as simple to use as the built-in effects. So you can get straight on with animating, we’ve put together a helpful list of the best free and paid for After Effects plugins. Let’s dive in.
Part 1: Our 17 Top Picks for 2020
1. Motion Array Adobe Integrations
The Motion Array Adobe Integrations plugin allows you to access Motion Array’s complete stock library straight within After Effects. You’ll no longer have to download your video, music, or template assets from the website. Instead, the Motion Array plugin gives you a control panel to drag and drop directly to your timeline.
2. Superluminal Stardust 1.5.0 with Free Trial
Stardust is a 3D Particle creator for After Effects, which lets you create stunningly rendered 3D particle elements. This innovative plugin gives you the ability to combine 3D models, particles, and effects, all existing and interacting in the same shared space. With Stardust, you can create beautiful fluid 3D animations and motion graphics.
3. Free Particle Builder
As they state proudly on their website, Free Particle Builder allows you to “Make Fire, Dust, Smoke, Magic, Energy, Awards, and More! Cool Visual Effect Particles With Just 1 Click!” and that is what the plugin allows you to do. Particle Builder is incredibly intuitive and easy to use but offers such a wide variety of effects it’s a must-have for any animator.
4. Free Hi-Tech HUD Builder
Hi-Tech HUD Builder is a smart little plugin that allows you to more easily create HUD (Heads-up Display) graphics, transitions, overlays, intros, and games effects. If you want to create a Sci-fi film, this plugin is a must-have. Beyond that, you can create some cool effects that would work well in promotional videos, events films, or anything that you want to add that ‘High-Tech’ feel.
5. Free Action FX Builder
Free Action FX Builder is a 2D animation plugin that helps you create impressive explosions, energy, fire, water, smoke, electricity, and Motion Shape effects. The 2D cartoony style makes this plugin great for creating unique text and transitional effects, as well as creating 2D animated sequences of your own.
6. Free Reflection
Reflection is a free plugin from Video Copilot that gives you control over 2D shape reflections in a 3D space. This plugin is perfect for using in-product videos, presentations, and slideshows. You have a tremendous amount of control over the reflection, including the blur, skew, tint, and blend style.
7. Free Animation Composer
If you are animating icons, text, or graphics, Mister Horse is the plugin for you. You can save hundreds of hours keyframing your compositions, by installing the simple Animation Composer, giving you access to a range of prebuilt in and out effects. Mister Horse also sells additional animation presets in packages for everything from iconography to typography.
8. Free Saber Plugin
Saber is a must-have for any animator! This simple plugin allows you to create stunning light effects based on Strokes, giving you the ability to create neon text effects, lightning, laser gunfire, and yes, even lightsaber effects. The Saber plugin also offers a range of styles such as lava, electric and energy, with complete control over color and intensity. This plugin is super cool and surprisingly simple to use.
9. Free Normality Plugin
Normality is a plugin created for Motion Graphics Artists, to give them a simple and intuitive way to light objects and scenes in a 3D space. The plugin works directly in After Effects, making this a great way of learning how to work in AE 3D.
10. Ease and Wizz
Ease and Wizz is a handy little plugin for those animators who work with iconography, typography, or infographics. The plugin gives you a whole new After Effects panel from which to control the Ease of various In/Out animation presets, including Quart, Sine, Bounce, and Elastic.
11. Free DIVE
Duik Bassel.2 is an impressive Rigging plugin for 2D animation in After Effects. If you want to create 2D character animation, this is the plugin for you. DUIK is a complex piece of kit and has a bit of a learning curve, but once you’re up and running, 2D animation and camera work become a breeze.
12. Glitch Builder
With a name like Glitch Builder, this does what you think it does; it gives you a full glitch panel with 100 stunning glitch effects ready to drop straight to your video, stock photos, shapes, and text layers. You can further control the Noise, Flicker, Color, and Wave of each effect, and build them up into millions of combinations.
The Plexus plugin offers some truly advanced looking animated styles. The composer allows you to create stunning 3D Plexus shapes, generate particles, and create relationships between them, so they move as a flexible shape. With this one, it’s only limited by your own creativity.
Flow is the plugin you didn’t know you needed, until now. If you spend your time keyframing animations, you’ll probably be familiar with the frustrations of the After Effects Graph Editor. Flow replaces the Graph with an intuitive and easy to use panel, preset animation settings, and handles to finely tune your animation.
15. Parrot Plugin
Copying and pasting keyframes is a thing of the past with this awesome plugin. The Parrot plugin allows you to create a master animated element and assign other elements to parrot it. Unlike using null layers, which tie all elements to a singular animation, Parrot gives you the ability to stagger the animation points of each element independently, saving vast amounts of time on those complex and repetitive tasks.
16. Free Random Text Generator
The Random Text Generator does exactly what you think; generates random text patterns. Perfect for use in Sci-fi or Tech-based videos, the Generator allows you to create grids, lines, and shapes of randomly chosen letters and numbers.
17. Deep Glow
Deep Glow is an awesome little plugin that gives you a heap of new styles to work with. Replacing the lackluster build in Glow effects, Deep Glow gives you a huge amount of control over the glow elements, and how it affects the space. With this plugin, you can not only create shape and text-based glow effects, but you can also use it to help with compositing digital effects.
Part 2: Ins and Outs of Plugins
Plugins are a great time saver and can help you push your work further, but they do need to be installed in the correct way to work. It isn’t challenging to install these plugins, and most will come with instructions, but if you want to learn more about how to use After Effects plugins, check out our handy video.
Here are our top 3 tips for working with Plugins.
Keep your Projects Organised
Some Plugins can take up quite a bit of rendering power in your machine, so you must keep your projects organized, both within AE and on your hard drive. Regularly back up your work, and try creating effects-heavy sequences in their own project, and importing them into the main once it is complete.
Check for Updates
You should get notifications if there is an update to your plugins, and you must keep them all updated. Some outdated plugins won’t work at all, and some can even cause corruption to your projects if you try. Similarly, an update to After Effects can cause some plugins to stop working. If this does happen, check with the developer for news of fixes or bug issues.
Build your own in After Effects
Plugins give you the ability to build your own version of After Effects that will have different capabilities to other animators. Using Plugins, you can improve your skills and find new creative ways to produce your compositions. Create a collection of plugins specific to your needs.
Plugins are a great way of saving you time and energy, creating keyframe animations or effects from scratch. But more than that, they can help you create new effects you’d never even considered, and introduce you to new ways of working. Now that you know where you can find excellent Adobe After Effects plugins, go get downloading.