For animators, motion graphics artists, or 3D designers, After Effects is an essential tool. And while it is powerful all by itself, it becomes much more powerful once you utilize third party plugins.
If you’re looking for a certain effect in your video, there’s more than likely a plugin out there that can help accomplish it. This can include flares, color, particles, character, glitches, etc.
We’ve put together a list of what we think are the best After Effects plugins for any video professional or hobbyist.
How to install After Effects Plugins
Before following these instructions, first check to see if the plugin you’re installing includes it’s own installation instructions, and if so, use those. If not, these instructions should work for most After Effects plugins.
Red Giant Trapcode Particular
Red Giant is known for creating plugins for a wide range of uses, so it’s no surprise that one of their plugins would be on our list for best After Effects plugins. Trapcode Particular is at its core a particle emitter which can be customized to your heart’s content.
Trapcode Suite brings the power of 3D particle systems right into After Effects. Use particle emitters to create fire, water, smoke, snow and other organic visual effects, or create technological marvels and user interfaces with immortal particle grids, text and 3D forms.
After Effects’ built in Particle World plugin attempts to do what Trapcode does, but falls short. Trapcode allows you to create custom particles, particle-based shapes, patterns and lines in 3D space, and all effects can be combined.
Shadow Studio is a native plugin that simulates a variety of shadow styles, including soft shadows, radial shadows, inner shadows, and long shadows. Soft shadows are traditionally expensive to compute using methods such as raytracing. Shadow Studio simulates these expensive effects in a fraction of the time so you can spend more time designing and less time waiting for the buffer to update!
With a radial shadow mode you can simulate hard or soft shadows coming from a point light source. Parenting this to a light or lens flare is a great way to create a dynamic light and shadow rig that updates whenever you animate the light’s position. The inner shadow mode bypasses a lot of matting/precomp nonsense to allow you to create intricate inner shadows in a single click.
Trapcode Suite brings the power of 3D particle systems right into After Effects. Use particle emitters to create fire, water, smoke, snow and other organic visual effects, or create technological marvels and user interfaces with immortal particle grids, text and 3D forms. After Effects’ built in Particle World plugin attempts to do what Trapcode does, but falls short. Trapcode allows you to create custom particles, particle-based shapes, patterns and lines in 3D space, and all effects can be combined.
Orb uses a similar 3D engine to Video Copilot’s excellent Element 3D plugin, and is focused on creating realistic planets and offers a range of unique tools to make planetary creation easily.
You might think that creating planets is an easy task in 3D – create a sphere, apply textures, done! However, getting a world to ‘look’ right can be a trickier task than imagined. For example, if making a model of a populated planet, how can the line between nighttime and daytime be adjusted to ensure cities can be seen at night and not in the day?
While it won’t work for every planetary shot, Orb will work for 90 per cent of them and is an invaluable tool for previs. This is especially so when combined with other After Effects plugins, or mixed with a 3D camera from a 3D application, which can be imported into After Effects along with foreground plates for objects such as spaceships.
If you haven’t at some point tried to create a light saber in After Effects, are you even a motion designer? If you haven’t, though, then this plugin was made for just that purpose (and so much more). Saber is a FREE After Effects plug-in from Video Copilot. This free filter improves greatly on AE’s built-in Beam effect, and can be used to create energy beams, lightsabers, lasers, portals,neon lights, electric, haze, etc.
DOF PRO (Depth Of Field Generator PRO) is the undisputed leader in photorealistic depth of field effects for Adobe After Effects. Backed by over a decade of research and development since its first release in 2005, DOF PRO has become the industry’s professional choice for unparalleled and sophisticated depth of field effects quickly and efficiently as a post process. DOF PRO’s state-of-the-art feature-set provides innovative and cutting-edge technology not available elsewhere, resulting in one of the most powerful and advanced depth of field processors in the industry.
Boris FX Sapphire
Sapphire is one of those plugins you can get lost in, because there are so many options. We’ve loved experimenting with it here at Push Focus, and we think you’ll love it too!
Sapphire plugins let you create stunning organic looks unmatched by any host native effect tools. Key features include over 270 effects and 3000+ presets, a powerful Effect and Transition Builder, and integrated tracking and masking with the Academy Award-winning Mocha. Sapphire’s superior image quality, control, and render speed offers massive time-savings — allowing creatives to focus on what matters most, delivering an impact that keeps audiences coming back.
Plexus is a plug-in designed to bring generative art closer to a non-linear program like After Effects. It lets you create, manipulate and visualize data in a procedural manner. Not only you can render the particles, but also create all sorts of interesting relationships between them based on various parameters using lines and triangles. The workflow for Plexus is very modular allowing you to create truly infinite set of configurations and parameters.
Video Copilot Optical Flares
There are many options for artificially creating lens flares, but Video Copilot’s Optical Flares is one of the best. In fact, as a Nashville video production company, we’ve been using Optical Flares for years.
The Optical Flares Bundle from Video Copilot provides you with an optical flare plug-in for After Effects that lets you design and animate realistic lens flares and a pack of additional flare effects.
Optical Flares works natively inside of After Effects and lets you design and animate realistic lens flares. It features 60 built-in, real lens inspired presets, as well as 12 unique lens elements and 50 custom lens objects that can be rearranged to meet your needs. The Optical Flares Plug-in also incorporates 3D lens flares with AE lights, live visual preset library, and dynamic triggering of animations. Over 90 minutes of video tutorials are included. The Pro Presets 1 packs adds 50 additional high-end flare presets set up with shimmer animation, edge flare-ups, and more.
The latest and greatest of glitch art tools! Datamosh 2 brings 60+ moshing algorithms, 16x more precision, 6 new parameters and a new marker workflow. Remove frames, hijack motion and swap motion from other clips. Use it and brag to your friends.