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Animation Apps for iPad in 2021

By Ryan Plummer

Want to create traditional style animation? Here's a guide to the best cel animation apps for the iPad pro.

Since Apple released the iPad Pro, the App Store has filled up with new tools you can utilize in your animation workflow. So we thought it'd be fun to put together a simple guide to get you acquainted with the best cel animation tools for your frame-by-frame animations.
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In this article, we're going to run through some of our favorite applications for the iPad. However, these are just our favorites and in no way a complete list. If you've got an app that works well for you, share it on social and tag us!
Let's get to it!
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Essential Cel Animation Features

We had a handful of things we believed were necessary for the cel animation apps to include to make it a feasible option for animating. These features include:
  1. Tools that utilized a stylus/pencil
  2. A Timeline with Playback
  3. Onion Skinning
If you've never heard of the term onion skinning, it's simply a feature that allows you to see transparent versions of the frames before and after your current frame while you animate. It's an essential feature for animation.
Because a lot of 'animation' apps in the App Store don't include one of the three features above, we omitted them from our list of cel animation apps.

Our Favorite Cel Animation Apps for iPad Pro

The moment you've been waiting for... Here's a short list of our favorite cel animation apps for the iPad Pro.

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Just a snippet of the tools you can use in Animation Desk.
Pros:
Cons:
  • Limited brushes available
Animation Desk is a powerful app, and it's got plenty of features to help you create your frame by frame masterpiece. Not only does it have a mobile version of the software, but you can also download it from the Windows Store for your desktop. You can download a free version of Animation desk, buy it straight from the App Store for $19.99, or enroll in Kdans Creativity 365 subscription.

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Pros:
  • Multiple Timeline Layers
  • Custom Brushes
  • Clean and functional User Interface
  • Flexible payment options
  • Timeline scrubbing
  • Pressure sensitivity
  • Snappy Performance
  • Easy color-fill option
  • Easy traditional preview function with gestures (two-fingers up or down)
Cons:
  • Some of the gestures and controls are kind of hidden
  • Inconsistent drawing experience at times
If you’re looking for an aesthetically pleasing and functional app to start creating your animations, Callipeg delivers. Being a dream child launched through Kickstarter, this app has had a significant amount of feedback and backing. As you can see, there are multiple iPad apps allowing you to create frame-by frame animations but the community wanted more “pro” apps for their iPad. 
Dig into a full review from kdsketch and get a feel for the app and it’s features!

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RoughAnimator on the App Store
Pros:
  • A healthy amount of videos resources
  • Timeline Scrubbing
  • Layers
  • Importing Audio and Video
  • Custom Brushes
  • Support for styluses other than the Apple Pencil
  • Pressure Sensitivity
  • The ability to "Roll" animations
  • Can make a repeatable cycle
Cons:
  • Some users have complained about the audio workflow
There seems to be an unsung hero among artists using the iPad for traditional style animation. RoughAnimator was developed by an animator, Jacob Kafka, and is available on many different operating systems. It’s probably the most feature-rich cel animation app for the iPad. The app costs $4.99 on the App Store, so there isn't a free version to try out, but it seems to be scratching an itch for most animators.
If you wanna get a quick run down check out this video by Ben Marriot!

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Pros:
  • Feature-Rich
  • Multiple Layers
  • Multiple Brushes
  • User Interface feels familiar to desktop
  • Flexible workspace arrangement
  • Draw in vector
  • Multiple platforms supported
  • Can save to Photoshop file format
Cons:
  • Non-Pro is limited to 24 fps
  • Not many iPad tutorials (Mostly Desktop version)
Looking for something that feels familiar to your desktop experience? Something similar to animating in Adobe Animate or Photoshop? Clip Studio Paint is a robust solution for your iPad offering a ton of tools and options. One of the downsides is a part of its strengths, there is a lot on the screen and it can be daunting. But, we suggest checking it out since there is a free trial option!
Here are some basics for navigating Clip Studio Paint

Looom iPad animation app review.gif
Pros: 
  • Very simple user interface
  • Super fun to use
  • Has support for multiple layers
  • Easy to make quick animations
  • Innovative design and workflow
  • Can record your animations while creating
Cons:
  • Only allows for 24 frames of animation
Reimagining what it means to animate frame by frame, Looom has taken on traditional animation workflows and made it… fun? We almost didn’t add this app in because it doesn’t feel “professional”, but it actually meets all of the criteria needed for this list. Looom brings a whacky and fast-paced experience to animation that feels more like play than it does work. For $9.99 this app feels like a bargain since you’re getting an experience and a tool all in one.
Take a look at how it works!

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Onion Skinning inside of Anamatic
Pros:
  • Can download and use for free
  • Clean User Interface
  • Can export as a Photoshop file
Cons:
  • Can't pick colors outside of preset choices
  • No option for layers
  • Doesn't support Apple Pencil pressure sensitivity
Animatic is a simple and somewhat limited option, but has a very clean UI and runs solid. You won't be running to this app to make long animations, but its simplicity helps you create quick animations on the spot with out a fuss. There is an option to upgrade to Animatic Pro for a monthly fee that unlocks better onion skinning options and repeatable frames.

A Great Cel Animation Resource?

One of our favorite books, The Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams, takes a deep dive into traditional animation techniques. Williams gives a great look at the pre-production process, how you can properly set-up your scenes, and breaks down the principles of animation.
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Just a small look at the glory within...
Hopefully you’ve found this article to be helpful. If you want to learn more about the principles of animation check out Animation Bootcamp here on School of Motion. The course is a deep-dive into the principles of what it takes to create life-like movements.
However, Illustration skills are a crucial skill for effectively creating cel animation. Illustration for Motion is a dynamic course built to build your drawing skills rapidly!
In Illustration for Motion, you'll be empowered to create your own illustrated works, gaining valuable knowledge and insights from one of the top talents in the industry, Sarah Beth Morgan.
We can't wait to see the animations you create with these apps!