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Best video effects software: Free and paid options to become a VFX pro

Video Editor
(Image credit: Shutterstock)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Best video effects software

1. Adobe After Effects

2. Hitfilm Pro

3. Hitfilm Express

4. Blackmagic Fusion

5. Apple Motion

Read on for our detailed analysis of each app.

If you want to create good-looking video content—whether that’s your own movies, YouTube shows, marketing videos for your company, or anything else—you’ll undoubtedly be thinking about how you can add exciting visual effects. 

There are many types of effects and graphics that you can add: color changes, dramatic lighting, chroma-keying, adding animated title text, and composting different shots together. These are just a few of the many things that you may want to do to spice up your videos.

There are also many choices for what software to use. As the various programs available are aimed at different levels and can come at a wide range of prices, it can be difficult to know which is the best video effects software for you. In this feature, we look at the pros and cons of five popular choices.

Adobe After Effects

After Effects’ color tools in use (Image credit: Adobe)

1. Adobe After Effects

The most versatile VFX solution

Reasons to buy
+Broad array of tools+Works well with Premiere Pro+Industry-standard quality of effects
Reasons to avoid
-Subscription cost adds up-Steep learning curve

Perhaps the most popular VFX app on the market, After Effects is part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of software. It’s a particularly good choice for those who edit videos in Premiere Pro, as it’s easy to send all or part of a Premiere Pro sequence to After Effects.

Not many other programs match After Effects when it comes to the breath or quality of tools, and Adobe regularly updates it with new features. Recent additions include a powerful 3D transform tool, AI-powered rotoscoping, and easy removal of objects from video clips.

The main downside is the subscription pricing model. After Effects costs $20.99/month with an annual commitment, $31.49/month with no annual commitment, or $239.88/year. While updates are included, these subscriptions can become costly over time. Alternatively, you can subscribe to it as part of the whole Creative Cloud package, which will save you money if you use several Adobe apps. 

Hitfilm Pro

Hitfilm Pro can be used for blockbuster-style effects (Image credit: FXhome)

2. Hitfilm Pro

A comprehensive and powerful VFX package

Reasons to buy
+Editing and VFX in one app+Impressive range of features+Over 875 VFX presets+Software bundle
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

Hitfilm Pro allows you to edit both video and VFX within one app. This means that the effects are applied onto the non-linear editing timeline, rather than an After Effects-style layer-based system, making for a gentler learning curve if you’re not used to editing software.

From the impressive VFX toolset, you can see why Hitfilm Pro is used in big Hollywood movies. Besides all the essential tools that you’d expect, particularly remarkable features include an excellent chroma key, world-leading particle effects, advanced 2D- and 3D-motion tracking, and over 875 VFX presets.

Hitfilm Pro’s one-off fee of $349 is high, but if you’re going to use the program regularly, it can work out cheaper than subscription-based software. Also, HitFilm Pro’s price also includes 12 months of development updates (including all the new features and effects we release in that year) and support. After that time, the user keeps the software forever or can purchase another 12 months of updates at a discounted price.

Additionally, alongside the HitFilm Pro license, you automatically get Boris FX Continuum 3D Objects included (worth $299) and Foundry’s 3D camera tracker, which could make it especially worthwhile.

A free demo version is available, which has all the features and no time limit, but exports are given a watermark.

Hitfilm Express

Hitfilm Express has a similar interface to Pro (Image credit: Hitfilm Express)

3. Hitfilm Express

Free and beginner-friendly editing and VFX

Reasons to buy
+Editing and effects in one app+Accessible to beginners+Free
Reasons to avoid
-Additional add-ons cost

If Hitfilm Pro is too expensive or complicated for you, then a more accessible editing and effects suite is offered by the same developers. Hitfilm Express is free to download, has a similar layout to Pro, and works well as a free video editing program. 

HitFilm Express houses a huge portion of the features and effects, certainly all the more basic ones that the majority of users will need. However, if you want to use more powerful tools, you can purchase add-ons for Express individually, with costs ranging from $9.99 for basic color adjustment tools to $49.99 for 3D particle effects.

This means that Hitfilm Express is a flexible option for beginner filmmakers who want to edit videos with basic VFX. When you’re a bit more confident and want to step up, you have the choice of buying add-ons or switching to a different program.

Blackmagic Fusion

Fusion’s node-based effects interface (Image credit: Blackmagicdesign)

4. Blackmagic Fusion

The most powerful free VFX software

Reasons to buy
+Extensive range of advanced features+Efficient node-based interface+Available for free
Reasons to avoid
-Too complex for beginners

Blackmagic Design describes Fusion as “the world’s most advanced compositing software for VFX artists,” and the breadth and depth of its features back up that claim. These include compositing live-action footage with 3D models, working with 360º VR, and stereoscopic 3D effects. 

It’s a complex program, so it’s definitely for professionals and not beginners, though the node-based workspace—in which you connect various effects and filters through a visual web of nodes—is quite efficient once you get used to it.

Fusion is built into DaVinci Resolve, Blackmagic’s all-in-one post-production program, so you can edit your video, then switch to the Fusion tab to add effects. The real-time collaboration tools enable an editor and a VFX artist to work on the same project simultaneously.

The best thing about this option is that the standard version is completely free. The premium version has a few advanced features, including faster network-based rendering, and costs a one-off $295.

Apple Motion

Motion enables creative text animation (Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple Motion

An elegant option for Mac users

Reasons to buy
+Works well with Final Cut Pro+Great title design features+Slick, intuitive interface+Low cost
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most in-depth-Mac only

Like most Apple software, Motion is a sleek and attractively designed app. Its efficient interface means it’s easy to get to grips with and is accessible to less-experienced VFX artists, yet it’s still pretty powerful. Among its features are advanced color correction and a useful set of tools for designing and animating text.

That said, it doesn’t have the same depth as other options like Hitfilm Pro and Fusion, falling short on advanced compositing and 3D model tools, for example. But for most projects that aren’t blockbuster movies, you should find everything that you need.

Motion is particularly useful for those who edit in Final Cut Pro, as it’s easy to send projects between the two apps. It’s available for a one-off fee of $49.99, and this includes access to any future updates.