What cheap/free tools do you use for 2D art and/or animation?

I don't really like Gimp's interface, Paint.NET is limited and GraphicsGale is sort of archaic. Cosmigo ProMotion looks like it could be good, anyone use it? Seems a bit pricey at $78/92 but of course cheaper than Photoshop.

I used to like Jasc Paint Shop Pro 7, but the newer versions Corel makes are more for photos.

2D Bones support would be handy also.

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15 Answers 15

up vote 33 down vote accepted

I recently discovered Allegro Sprite Editor: http://www.aseprite.org/

It's a fairly basic pixel graphics editor with animation support, but I do prefer it over Graphics Gale as ASE has proper alpha channel support and the UI is cleaner, a bit reminiscent of Deluxe Paint. It has layer support and basic onion skinning.

It is an open source product, but downloading the source requires compilation. You can purchase the pre-compiled application. See the FAQ: if Aseprite is open source, how is it that you are selling it?

For proper 2D pixelling, I've never seen anything on PC that's a match for the Amiga DPaint series :(

The number one feature missing from most modern art software is the ability to see two different zoom levels at once (zoomed in close, and maybe a 2x-3x zoom, so see something close to 'actual pixels' at the game's target resolution)

The number two feature - it may seem a bit too picky - but I've never seen a PC mouse pointer move as smoothly as the Amiga mouse pointer. Even with a high-end 'gaming mouse' claiming silly numbers of DPI and Hz...

Just rose tinted glasses? That and that pixel art always looked sweeter on CRT screens, which we were all using back in those days?...

  • 3
    Cosmigo pro-motion is a pretty good DPaint clone, with some added features (love their tile editing). cosmigo.com/promotion/index.php Can't vouch for the mouse pointer smoothness though. Maybe if you turn down your screen resolution to the one the Amiga worked at you'll get better results. Also, maybe switch to a ball mouse as you did back then, the tactile feedback is simply not there. – Kaj Jul 25 '10 at 2:38
  • 3
    Gimp also supports multiple views with different zoom levels (View->New View). – Steve S Nov 16 '10 at 16:58

For pure 2D pixel art, i'd say Aseprite for the win. With v.9.1 out, so much has been added and improved.

Its open source, no catch. Constantly being updated and improved. It has: Layers support Proper alpha channel unlike GraphicsGale.. meh!, Has onion skinning. Color palette ramp. Simple and much cleaner UI. Unlimited undo options. Mini editor. Import/export sprite sheets option. Split view for more freedom and so on, and none of the "overrated" and "out of this world" stuffs you would get from this blah and this bleh.

Simple and yet reliable in every way.

  • Old version worked in linux. Im a big fan of aseprite – j0h Oct 5 '15 at 1:23

GraphicsGale. It has:

  • pixel zooming
  • layers
  • animation support
  • real-time animation previews
  • onion skinning
  • a relatively simple interface

It's shareware, but the only restrictions are lack of support for *.ico, *.cur, *.ani and animated GIFs.

  • 1
    I like and use GG. And even though it's shareware it's very cheap. Little quirks that I've noticed are no support for multiple animations per file and some esoteric UI eg palette manipulation. Other great features are seeing your pixel 'cursor' realtime on the preview, very customizable key bindings and simply and easy exporting animations to sprite sheets. – beetlefeet Jul 23 '10 at 4:17

Adobe Fireworks has all you need. Believe me, I invested almost a month looking for the best tool for this work.

  • 1
    Obviously Adobe Fireworks CS6 is clear winner here. It support saving sprites (idle, walk, jump) animation in only one .FW.PNG file (through Pages & States) and then you can export animation "States to Files". Also it support onion skinning too. – dns Sep 12 '17 at 13:04

Pro-motion by cosmigo, a Deluxe Paint clone does it for me. DPaint is more or less the oldskool pixeling standard. Nowadays, with people don't knowing about palettes and stuff it seems PhotoShop is more in vogue.

  • I vote on Pro-Motion. I'm not an artist but those I worked with 10 years ago swear by it. It has a steep learning curve but it's the closest you get (and actually surpasses) the good old DPaint. – LearnCocos2D Jul 25 '10 at 21:59

Well, personally for sprite creation I use Adobe Illustrator. It costs a lot of money, but before I got Illustrator I used Inkscape (which is completely free). You should give that a try.

  • @thygle I love inkscape(for vector images)! I was wondering if the benefits of illustrator is worth it? and what one do you use the most that you can't find in inkscape – bitbitbot May 8 '12 at 20:31
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    I...what? You use a vector-based program for making pixel-based graphics? How does that even work? – mouseas Jun 3 '14 at 8:07

The best tool I use for 2D sprites is honestly MS Paint, It does take a lot of time and patience but in the end I think its worth it.

I use Graphics Gale and Macromedia (not Adobe) Fireworks.

I have Pro Motion here, but I don't understood it properly, it is WAAAAY too complex to my taste.

The reason I use fireworks is that I can mix vector and bitmap freely, and also use photoshop plug-ins without using photoshop itself (and I dislike photoshop itself)

  • Adobe Fireworks CS6 supports PNG32/GIF/JPG, while the old Macromedia Fireworks 8 only support GIF/JPG. The only drawbacks about Fireworks it doesn't support BMP32 & TGA for file export. – dns Sep 12 '17 at 13:01

Even though it isn't maintained anymore, I still love Pixen for simple pixel sprite editing.

  • I do like Pixen, but I don't have a Mac (I've used it on other peoples macs though). – daemious Jul 22 '10 at 2:52

GIMPshop is GIMP with PhotoShop like interface.

GIMPshop is a modification of the free/open source GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), intended to replicate the feel of Adobe Photoshop. Its primary purpose is to make users of Photoshop feel comfortable using GIMP.

I know this thread is old, but I'll put my suggestion anyway.

If you want to do just 2d art(no animation) I would recommend using inkscape. Vector graphics are great for games, and the keep the art from being to complex for a small space.

If you want to do animation, and don't mind drawing each frame by hand, use Pencil. Its a great piece of software.

Finally, if you don't mind spending some money, and want to do cutout animation, buy an older version of Anime Studio Pro(at the time of writing, version 7)

  • 2
    -1 Your answer lacks any kind of proof to your statements, that additionally I find wrong. "Vector graphics are great for games" - I've seen many flash games optimized by rasterizing it's assets on initialization in runtime, because graphics-cards are designed for bitmaps, not vectors. – Markus von Broady Oct 11 '12 at 8:48
  • @Ma Such an old – bigtunacan Jun 21 at 2:34

The question is what you want from the software in the first place.

If you want really good graphics with shadows and other automatic effects then you should probably consider software for creating cartoons. For this purpose you can use Pencil, Synfig Animation Studio, Tapptoons Linetester, eDrawings.

If you want to create a 2d sprite animation for 2D game and you really want to save your time then you can consider Flash software or the Anatomy animator. The later is cross-platform and can work with hinged bones (skeletal animation).

I have used Photoshop for years through my work, but couldn't quite justify the cost of personal development, so I have taken up Gimp and Inkscape. I use Gimp for handrawn stuff and Inkscape for UI elements where vector graphics is a bit more predictable.

Both have quirks (especially on the Mac) which take some getting used to, but overall I am pretty happy with them.

Photoshop Elements (the cut-rate version of Photoshop) is better than most people think. You can find a lot of negative reviews about it, and for a professional photographer, it may not be good enough. It definitely has less capability, like 8-bit color instead of 16-bit color. But for a game developer, 8-bit color is plenty :) (That's 8 bits per RGB channel, it's also called 24-bit). And the few features that a gamedev would need which are missing (like alpha channel masks), can actually be added using simple workarounds.

(Note the link is for Elements 7 - it's cheaper than version 8, and 8 didn't get great reviews).

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