You’ve mastered the tools and learned all the essential shortcuts in Adobe After Effects. But are you using plugins for After Effects to improve your experience, too?
There are hundreds of Adobe After Effects plugins to choose from. They can streamline and customize your workflow or add helpful new features.
But knowing which plugins you should use isn’t easy. With so many options out there, it’s time-consuming to research all your choices.
But not to worry! As a graphic designer and 3D modeler, I’ve got plenty of experience using AE plugins. So here’s my roundup of the best plugins for Adobe After Effects.
You’ll find both free, low-cost, and premium plugins on the list. Have a browse to discover which plugins will work best for you!
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Best Adobe After Effects Plugins in 2021
Let’s take a closer look at the best After Effects plugins out there. I’ll start with the cheapest plugins and work up to the premium options.
Don’t just consider the price, though. There are some excellent free or low-cost plugins available. And the more expensive plugins may not suit your needs. So, think carefully about which ones are most useful for your workflow!
(Image credit: Videocopilot)
You can use it to create realistic, vivid planets with insane levels of detail. This smart plugin uses a 3D engine and provides you with all the tools to make any planet.
Getting the tiny and intricate details of a planet right isn’t an easy task. There’s a lot to think about, but Orb makes the job simple for you.
You can also use it in conjunction with other plugins for more advanced effects. And at no cost, why not download this plugin to experiment and play around with the effects? It’s fun, and you can create some planets that are out of this world!
- Price: Free
If you need to do any rigging, you should download Duik. It’s one of the best plugins for rigging and beats the basic AE functions.
Rigging refers to using a bone structure to represent a 3D model. You can rig anything from a person or animal to an inanimate moving object. Once rigged, it makes animating your designs much easier, with realistic results.
It’s also available for free download, so there’s no reason not to grab this plugin! Rainbow, Duik’s creator, also offers a range of other plugins. So, if you like what you see with Duik, why not try out their other VFX plugins?
- Price: Free
(Image credit: Shadow Studio)
If you’ve ever struggled to add shadows to your designs, you’ll know how complex it can be. Not to mention that it’s a real-time suck.
Shadow Studio will speed up your workflow by making shadows quick and straightforward. You can add inner, radial, and soft shadows so you can produce the exact desired effect.
It comes with three versatile presets you can use for almost every situation.
Shadow Studio is a low-cost plugin, so it’s accessible to students and beginners. If you use lots of shadows, you’ll love how much time these shortcuts will save you!
- Price: $18
(Image credit: Datamosh)
Normally, we want to avoid glitchy, pixellated videos. But sometimes, that’s precisely the effect you want to achieve. Datamosh can do it for you!
You can use Datamosh within After Effects to create messy videos (on purpose). It identifies the pixels to warp for the desired effect and does the work for you in seconds.
If you want to get into the details, Datamost works by removing l-Frames. You can control the result with the handy intensity sliders.
Another cool effect involves duplicating Deltaframes. But don’t worry, you don’t need to understand the technical terms to mix up your videos.
Although Datamosh is a little niche, it’s reasonably priced, and you can have a lot of fun with it.
- Price: $39.99
(Image credit: Autokroma)
If you’ve ever struggled to encode footage or get the correct format, check out AfterCodecs. This plugin specializes in making encoding super easy in almost any various format.
As more people switch from Mac to Windows, encoding has become an issue for many animators. With AfterCoders, you can access all the codecs you need, including ProRes on Windows. It also speeds up encoding and makes rendering in 8K easy.
This plugin will save you time with its intuitive features and pre-programmed settings. For example, you can prepare a YouTube video with just one click. It will streamline your workflow and make your job simpler.
AfterCodecs is reasonably priced at under $100. But while you can use this plugin in Premiere Pro and Media Encoder, you’ll have to pay for each app separately. Make sure to factor that extra cost into your budget, too!
- Price: $89
(Image credit: Superluminal)
Stardust is an incredible plugin for every professional or enthusiastic motion designer.
It’s insanely powerful yet easy to learn, with just a slight learning curve. It’s also one of Trapcode Particular’s biggest competitors, as it offers some of the same features (and more).
To summarize quickly, it’s a 3D particle system with a node-based workflow. What’s notable is that you can easily create several layers and effects within a unified space.
That makes the workflow very flexible and user-friendly. You don’t have to be an expert to get stunning results.
There are tons of tools within Stardust that allow you to use masks, edit text, and more. You can even replicate your entire system with one click.
As with Trapcode, you also get access to a library of presets to inspire or save time.
The latest 1.6 version has a new Volume Rendering feature. This tool creates smoke effects by importing VDF files or manipulating particles. Just to give you an idea of what you could do within Stardust!
If you want to try Stardust out for yourself, you can download the free trial for Mac and Windows. It’s also much cheaper than Trapcode, so it’s very affordably priced as an alternative!
As with any plugin, make sure you check it has the features you need before you buy. But Stardust is an excellent addition to After Effects!
- Price: $249
(Image credit: Rowbyte)
Plexus is one of the most powerful plugins around for After Effects. It has a particle engine that manipulates your designs with incredible results.
You can render particles and use your data to create cool lines, triangles, and effects. But it’s difficult to explain, so take a look at what you can do with Plexus:
The latest version, Plexus 3, contains even more updates, tools, and features.
- Price: $249.99
(Image credit: Borisfx)
If you need advanced tracking tools, then Mocha Pro is the plugin you need! While After Effects includes some tracking abilities, it may not meet your requirements.
In that case, don’t hesitate to get Mocha Pro. It includes powerful tracking tools and is fantastic for masking and stabilization, too.
And while this plugin doesn’t come cheap, the best part is that you can also use Mocha Pro in Adobe Premiere. So you get double the value from one plugin.
This plugin is best for professionals who will use these tools frequently. Otherwise, you may not find enough value to justify the steep cost of the Mocha Pro plugin.
- Price: The new license is $695; the subscription costs $295/annually or $37/monthly
(Image credit: Fxfactory)
Nodes 3 is a robust plugin for Mac users, although unfortunately, it’s still not available on Windows. You can use this plugin to generate all sorts of visual and 3D effects.
This plugin is powerful and provides a great user experience. It’s a favorite choice of professional motion graphics artists and designers.
To give you an idea of the potential of Nodes 3, you can see its effects in movies like Ender’s Game and The Avengers.
Nodes is also a versatile program. As well as being an After Effects extension, you can use it in Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and Motion.
- Price: $358.80
(Image credit: Maxon.net)
Trapcode Particular was first released over ten years ago. At that time, AE’s particle system was lacking, and it’s still not perfect today. So, it’s essential to have a good plugin you can rely on instead.
That’s where Trapcode comes in! It’s one of the best After Effects plugins for creating organic custom particles.
You can use Trapcode Particular to build up some cool visual effects. It’s ideal for creating organic particles like smoke, snow, and rain.
A robust physics engine powers this After Effects extension plugin. As a result, you can combine several effects. If you want your motion graphics to look realistic but out of this world, you need this plugin!
A new addition is the parent/child particle systems. Now, you can create complex cascading systems of effects. A parent emitter can create child emitters with fantastic results and save you time.
This plugin is intuitive and user-friendly, coming with 300+ presets to get you started. You can customize each preset however you like, too.
Although it’s not as cutting edge as when it was first released, it’s still a solid and reliable plugin.
If you use After Effects for work, you won’t regret investing in Trapcode Particular. It’s worth every cent, even if the price is steep.
- Price: You can choose between paying a one-time fee of $999 for the Trapcode Suite. Or, you can subscribe to all the Red Giant tools for $599 per year.
What is Adobe After Effects?
Adobe After Effects is one of the popular motion graphic programs around.
It’s used by professional animators, motion designers, graphic designers, and 3D modelers. This powerful and versatile application has many uses and tons of features.
You can use it for animation, video compositing, and motion graphics. It’s also ideal for creating amazing visual effects for video games and films.
How much does After Effects cost?
If you’re wondering about After Effects’ price, it costs $20.99/per month. Or you can sign up for all the Adobe apps for $52.99/month. It’s not cheap, but this software is well worth the investment.
New to After Effects? You can try it out for yourself for free. Adobe offers a 7-day free trial for PC or Mac so you can test it out and see if you like what you find! I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed).
Why Use After Effects Plugins?
Adobe After Effects is a powerful program. But you can take it to the next level with the addition of the right plugins.
There are limits to what you can create with the tools included within After Effects. If you want to create a specific effect, then plugins can breach the gap!
After Effects has been around for a few decades now. So, third-party companies have had plenty of time to develop and perfect their plugins. There’s something for almost every use or feature you can imagine.
How to Add Plugins to After Effects
It’s very easy to install most Adobe After Effects plugins by following a few simple steps.
You can use this process unless the plugin has specific instructions for installation.
- Download the desired plugin from a website like AEScripts or Videocopilot.
- Most plugins will download as zip files, so open up the zip folder.
- Find the file that corresponds to your computer system, e.g., ‘Windows plugin 64-bit’.
- Copy and paste this file onto your desktop.
- Find where Adobe After Effects is located on your computer. (You can search in Windows Explorer or using the Mac Finder window if you’re not sure where it is.)
- You should see a specific Plugin folder within the main After Effects folder. Open the Plugin folder and then create a sub-folder for your new plugin.
- Drop the plugin file into the new folder.
And it’s as simple as that! Next time you fire up After Effects, the plugin should be up and running. You can access it from the Effect menu, just like any pre-installed plugins.
If you’re using After Effects when you do this, you may need to restart the program to see the new plugin. Make sure you save your work before you do this!
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The Wrap Up of the Top After Effects Plugins
So there you have a rundown of the best After Effects plugins. With these plugins, you can up your After Effects game. You’ll gain access to new features that make your motion graphics look even more stunning.
Whether you’re a pro or a beginner After Effects user, you’ll find a useful plugin on this list!
Let me know which plugins you downloaded in the comments. Or share any of your favorite plugins that I missed from this list.
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