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10 After Effects Plugins Every Motion Designer Should Have

Lewis McGregor

Whether you’re an After Effects veteran or an AE newbie, these ten plugins are a fantastic addition to your motion design toolkit.

Every motion designer has a few plugins they rely on to customize and enhance their day-to-day After Effects workflow. After all, plugins are a no-brainer way to save time and energy by simplifying complex functions.

If you’re ready to get more from Adobe’s powerful post-production software, add these ten essential After Effects plugins to your toolkit today. (New to AE? Here’s your fast track to a solid foundation.)

1. Trapcode Particular 4 (and Trapcode Suite 15)

Trapcode Particular (and the Trapcode Suite) has undoubtedly stood the test of time. Version 1 was released during the 2000s, and a little over a decade later, the plugin is still being updated and revitalized. The Trapcode Suite itself is in its fifteenth iteration.

Trapcode Particular is a particle system plugin that lets users create customized particles in After Effects — like smoke, rain, clouds, and dust. The plugin uses realistic physics, and it offers more functionality than the Particle World plugin that’s built into AE.

Using Particular, you can create particle-based lines, shapes, and patterns in 3D space. The entire suite contains:

  • Trapcode 3D Stroke
  • Trapcode Echospace
  • Trapcode Form
  • Trapcode Horizon
  • Trapcode Lux
  • Trapcode Mir
  • Trapcode Particular
  • Trapcode Shine
  • Trapcode Sound Keys
  • Trapcode Starglow
  • Trapcode Tao

Price: Trapcode Particular is $399, or you can purchase the entire suite for $999 via Red Giant.

2. Lockdown

Lockdown is the newest plugin on this list. Released just last year, the plugin has already made considerable waves within the After Effects community. Here’s why.

While motion-tracking capabilities have grown tremendously with each iteration of After Effects, the ability to apply a graphic to a warping surface and have it move appropriately remains incredibly challenging.

Lockdown seeks to eliminate this problem. With this After Effects plugin, you can track any moving and warping surface — a T-shirt, fur, a face — and apply a graphic element that distorts with that surface.

When the plugin was first announced, many called it a game-changer, and they weren’t wrong. If you’d like to read my full review on the plugin, you can do so here.

Price: $249 via aescripts.com.

3. Element 3D

Moving from a compositing software to a 3D modeling software is a big jump. Truthfully, they’re two different worlds.

Element 3D looks to bridge that gap by allowing users to upload and use 3D models within Adobe After Effects. If you don’t know how to use modeling software like Maya or Cinema 4D, Element 3D can help you import and edit 3D models quickly. The plugin works incredibly fast, considering all the functionality it brings to After Effects.

There hasn’t been a new update to Element 3D for some time. Version 2, released in 2015, included new features like ambient occlusion and lighting presets.  However, even though the promo above is nearly eight years old, the material still looks good by today’s standard.

Price: $199.95 via Video Copilot.

4. Plexus 3

Plexus is a plugin that takes layers and breaks them up into smaller objects. It comes with .obj support, meaning you can import models from most 3D graphics software and have the objects broken up in 3D space. These 3D objects can serve as containers or forms for Plexus to use.

Rowbyte Plexus is a next-gen particle engine for After Effects that lets you create, manipulate, and visualize data in a procedural manner. Not only can you render the particles, you can create all sorts of interesting relationships between them based on various parameters.

But, more notably, Plexus can create the incredibly popular 3D-connected dots design (we see this used everywhere). Plexus allows for the use of 3D Bézier splines, meaning you can adjust lines in 3D space. All the 3D objects in Plexus also work with 3D cameras and depth of field.

Plexus 3 is a potent — albeit complicated — tool. If you’re looking to give your motion graphics an extra edge, Plexus is the plugin to do that.

Price: $249 via aescripts.com.

5. Newton 3

Admittedly, Newton is the only After Effects plugin on this list that I don’t own. However, for the last several years, it’s been sitting on my bookmark tab, patiently waiting to be purchased, as it’s a must-have for motion graphics artists.

Newton is a 2D physics engine for After Effects that allows users to apply real-world physics to 2D objects. More specifically, Newton can use gravity in several unique ways, including gravity scale, magnetism, and fixed rotation properties. Newton also allows users to create realistic physics-based rigs to simulate pivots, pistons, springs, and distance joints.

Price: $249.99 via Newton.

6. Optical Flares — Video Copilot

Optical FlaresCreate custom lens flares with Video Copilot’s Optical Flares package. Image via M Studio.

I was somewhat hesitant to include Optical Flares as a “must-have” plugin. I think adding digital lens flares was very much a product of the DSLR era for low-budget filmmakers who needed to make footage appear more cinematic.

However, it’s important to remember that optical flares aren’t just limited to producing J.J. Abrams-inspired material. You can use flares for all kinds of motion graphic elements. And, after all these years, not many plugins produce flares better than this package from Video Copilot.

With Optical Flares, users can create custom lens flares that work in 3D space. Optical Flares also comes with a preset library packed with realistic-looking flares that require no tweaks, and they’ve also introduced a pre-preset pack that starts at $45.

Price: $124.99 via Video Copilot.

7. Boris Continuum 2020.5

Boris Continuum is the Swiss Army knife of After Effects plugins. Inside Continuum Complete, users will find hundreds of plugin effects — glitches, generators, chroma key tools, lens flares, dissolves, and more — that serve a wide range of purposes for projects of all kinds.

Basically, if you’re on a budget, but you need a tool that can do everything, Boris Continuum Complete is your answer.

Price: $995, or $295 for an annual subscription via BorisFX.

(Hot tip: If you’re on an even tighter budget, you can find 100+ free motion graphic elements here.)

8. Deep Glow

With the number of After Effects plugins and scripts on the market, it can sometimes appear as if After Effects is but an empty vessel that needs additional purchases to make it functional. This is not the case.

If anything, with enough time and skill at your disposal, you can use After Effects to accomplish anything that a plugin brings to the table. That said, AE’s default glow effect is pretty underwhelming. It does an okay job, but nothing great outside of giving a text object a slight glow. This is where Deep Glow comes in.

Deep Glow gives you a realistic-looking glow right out of the box, as the illumination is accurately based on the inverse square falloff. Therefore, not only is this plugin great for motion graphics, it’s also terrific for those situations during compositing when it’s a struggle to match digital assets to recorded footage.

Price: $49.95 via aescripts.com.

9. Data Mosh

Glitch plugins have always been popular. In the late ’00s, YouTube was overwhelmingly populated with videos that utilized Video Copilot’s Twitch plugin (which does precisely what the name implies — twitchy glitch effects).

However, with Data Mosh, footage doesn’t simply glitch on an external level, it glitches internally on a pixel-and-color-info level, as if there’s been a processing error when recording the data. It’s a great tool for creating unique effects during transitions.

Price $39.99 via aescripts.com.

10. Render Garden

Render Garden is a different kind of After Effects plugin. It doesn’t produce anything you can use within your project. It doesn’t glitch footage, add particles, or create 3D renders. Instead, it speeds up render time for plugins that do.

With Render Garden, you’re going to get two to three-times faster renders. It splits your composition into several segments, then renders them to multiple background command lines, consequently, accelerating render time. And, unlike the regular render operation, when using Render Garden, you can continue to work in After Effects.

Price: $99 via Mekajiki (currently free during the COVID-19 pandemic).

If you’re looking for free After Effects plugins, well, here’s a page with thirty of them. Check out the resources below for even more time-saving, game-changing motion graphics action.

Cover image via Kit8.net.