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In Depth: 8 Must-Have Plug-ins for Adobe After Effects

8 Must-Have Plug-ins for Adobe After Effects

This is a question that I get quite a bit. It’s usually someone who is just out of college and getting started in the biz. They often use the phrase “the best bang for the buck”. Nobody wants to spend money on tools they will never use either. Here are my personal picks for my favorite tools for Adobe After Effects.

My Criteria for My Picks

My criteria for choosing plug-ins for these lists:

  1. The plug-in must not be a one-trick pony. In other words, if it only does one thing and I’ll only use it once, it’s not worth it. Some bundles will have a handful of throwaway plug-ins, but they’ll also have tons of other amazing plug-ins to balance out the less useful plug-ins, so it’s all good.
  2. It has to be user-friendly. If a plug-in is too complex and I can’t get it to do what I want, then I won’t likely use it.
  3. Must not be buggy. I can’t say this has been a problem with too many plug-ins lately but I do have a few that are not up to my stability standards. If they’re buggy or crash on me, I don’t use them because I can’t deal with the frustration.
  4. It’s nice if plug-ins can be used in more than one host. This is not absolutely necessary but it sure is a bonus, especially if you have Creative Cloud.
  5. Fun. Yes, we’re adults, but it’s important to have an enjoyable experience while you’re working.

Bundles are a great way to go if you’re new to After Effects. You’ll get a nice variety of options at once and it always costs less to buy in bulk, right? There are a lot of bundles out there and these are my favorites.

1. Boris Continuum

Whether you’re solely a motion graphic artist or plan to spend some of your days keying, compositing and color grading, Continuum is a bundle that has a bit of everything for everyone. I use the Adobe version which works in both After Effects and Premiere Pro. Continnum also supports Avid, OFX, FCPX, and motion. There’s a multi-host version too if you want the software on multiple machines.

Here’s my short list of reasons you need Continuum.

  1. Particle Illusion was reintroduced recently. It makes absolutely gorgeous real-time particle effects that can be anything from nebulae to interesting backgrounds, and organic effects like smoke, rain, and more. It’s fast, fun, and looks amazing.
  2. Integrated mocha planar tracking and masking tools, which is great if you’re rotoscoping or need to track an effect.
  3. Title Studio is great for adding text in your mograph projects. You can create titles, obviously, but also scrolling text rolls. There are new features in the 2019 version, such as the ability to add blurs, glows, and rays right in Title Studio. A large number of presets really speed up workflow too, all of which can be modified as you like.
  4. 3D Elements is a set of fun tools to make simple 3D, like text or shapes. I’ve used these for titles mainly.
  5. Light leaks, video glitch, and grunge effects for adding eye candy to your motion graphics projects
  6. Primatte Studio is a powerful set of tools for chroma keying,
  7. Image restoration tools will help you fix problems with your video like flicker and lens distortion. Beauty Studio adds digital makeup to your actors.
  8. The FxBrowser is easy to browse through presets and see what they’ll look like on your video. Then, modify as needed. There are loads of plug-ins and presets in this bundle so the FxBrowser is essential for a smooth workflow.

There are many other reasons that Continuum is my favorite bundle, but that’s the short list.

Boris ContinuumBoris Continuum

The most comprehensive visual effects and motion graphics plug-ins collection available!
Continuum 2019 is the latest major upgrade for the most comprehensive plug-in collection on the market. Key features include the rebirth of Particle Illusion, the famed motion graphics generator, new Title Studio image-processing shaders such as glows, rays, and blurs for visually-stunning titles and lower thirds, new Mocha Essentials workspace with 4 new spline tools like magnetic edge snapping and geometric shapes for faster tracking and masking, new point-driven parameter tracking powered by Mocha, and overall GPU-acceleration.

Perpetual License Subscription

To download a trial version, click on the product page.

2. Boris Sapphire

I realize we’re starting the list with two from Boris, but I can’t lie. The products are incredible and I can keep going back to them over and over, project after project.

Sapphire, like Boris Continuum, is a massive bundle of plug-ins that cover all sorts of purposes. It has tools for motion graphics, especially great for creating interesting textures, background elements, and video overlays. The effects in Sapphire are simply gorgeous, with very high-quality results, lightning fast, extremely stable and dependable. Create art with Sapphire!

Why you need Sapphire

  1. Pixel Sort is new in Sapphire 2019 and creates some super cool streaky effects. It’s fun to use and gives unique and beautiful effects.
  2. Advanced Mocha Tracking and Masking is integrated into Sapphire, just as it is in Continuum.
  3. Sapphire Effect and Transition Builders allow users to use presets and design your own plug-ins by combining effects in a node-based environment. There’s a new animating shape effect in the 2019 release too. It’s very powerful!
  4. Over 3000 presets in Sapphire to get you started. Yes, that’s a ton!
  5. Beautiful organic looking effects like glow effects, light effects, lens flares, aurora, and much more are included.
  6. Grunge, textures, Stylize effects, digital distortion effects and more can create edgy looking results.
  7. Transitions – There are transition effects in many filters but nothing that matches Sapphire in terms of variety and originality.

Boris SapphireBoris Sapphire

Sapphire is the most in demand, unequaled, work-horse plug-in suite for visual effects.
Sapphire 2019 is the latest major upgrade for the legendary suite of VFX plug-ins.

Perpetual License   Subscription

To download a trial version, click on the product page.

3. Red Giant Trapcode Suite

Trapcode Suite has been a long time favorite of mine, and of motion graphics artists everywhere.  If you’re not familiar with Trapcode Suite, it includes a bunch of plug-ins that help to create 2D and 3D elements. Now, if you are on a limited budget, I’d recommend getting Trapcode Particular or Trapcode Form but if you have some budget, I’d highly recommend splurging on the whole package. Here’s what comes with Trapcode Suite.

  • Particular is a tool for creating 3D particles in After Effects. Particular is used everywhere!
  • Form is an amazing particle tool where the particles are attached together. The things you can do with Form are infinite! Make words dissolve into sand, a logo catches on fire, and now 3D sequences explode into particles. Form 2 keeps the beautiful organic shapes that you love while adding amazing 3D object support and powerful Particular 2 controls.
  • Tao generates 3D geometries along a path. Quickly generate procedural 3D geometries using built­ in auto paths, mask shapes, and the motion from After Effects 3D lights. This is the newest Trapcode offering.
  • Lux simulates the ‘visible light’ phenomenon in a dark or foggy environment using After Effects built-in lights.
  • Mir allows users to create quick-rendering 3D shapes that are built on the power of OpenGL, previewing your effect instantly so you can keep on designing.
  • Shine creates light rays, like sunshine through clouds, headlights in fog, or light rays sweeping a logo.
  • Starglow is a fast-rendering glow effect that creates colorful star-shaped glints like those created by a camera star filter.
  • 3D Stroke allows you to create glowing shapes and lines, then fly the camera through them.
  • Horizon is a camera-aware image mapping tool that ties your After Effects camera to a 3D world.
  • Sound Keys will sync your video to any audio.
  • Echospace is a multiplier. Begin with an image, text, footage or composition in After Effects, and Echospace will create multiple versions of that layer.

So why do you need Trapcode Suite?

  1. Allows users to create with a lot of variety so the plug-ins can be used over and over with completely different looks each time. You can make so much with Particular, for example – fire, swooshing elements, snowflakes, stars, attacking swarms of bees… your imagination is your limitation.
  2. Presets are included for some, so start with a preset and modify until you have what you need.
  3. Many of the plug-ins work with After Effects native camera and lights so they’re easy to integrate with 3D layers.
  4. Industry standard. These are plug-ins I come back to time and time again, particularly Particular (that play on words never gets old). Particular, Form, and 3D Stroke have become industry standards.
  5. There are loads of tutorials out there for Trapcode plug-ins, for Form and Particular in particular (sorry).
  6. By buying the Trapcode Suite, as opposed to buying individual Trapcode plug-ins, you’ll save a bundle!

Some of the plug-ins will work in other hosts, but many are After Effects only.

Red Giant Trapcode SuiteRed Giant Trapcode Suite

The industry-standard package for motion graphics in After Effects.
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 and 3D forms.

Learn More

To download a trial version, click on the product page.

4.AB Soft Neat Video Pro

This is personally my favorite noise removal plug-in and now it does a whole lot more!

Reasons to buy Neat Video Pro

  1. Version 5 came out in May 2019. They’ve overhauled the software for better performance and added new features like flicker reduction, scratch removal, and sharpening.
  2. It works amazingly well. The quality of noise removal is top notch.
  3. It’s very fast! If you’ve ever used the noise removal tool that comes with After Effects, you’ll know what “excruciatingly slow” means! Version 5 is even faster than before and you can use CPU or GPU-based processing.
  4.  It’s solid, powerful and a total bargain at just $129. Everyone should have this tool in their toolbox!

Product nameABSoft Neat Video Pro

Best Noise Reduction for Digital Video

Neat Video is a digital filter designed to reduce visible noise and grain found in footage from digital video cameras, DSLRs, TV-tuners and even digitized film or VHS. Neat Video is available as a plug-in for many popular video editing applications such as Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro.

Get Neatvideo Pro

To download a trial version, click on the product page.

5.Red Giant Universe

Universe is a package with a little bit of everything. Stylize footage, add glows, blurs, and distortions, make fun motion graphics, use text generators, and much more.

Reasons you need  Universe

  1. Presets! Universe comes with so many great presets to get you started.
  2. It’s Fast! Effects render fast and look great!
  3. Unique effects like HUD Components, Holomatrix, and ShrinkRay
  4. Multiple hosts supported with one license, including After Effects, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Avid Media Composer, Magix Vegas, and HitFilm Pro.
  5. A great price! Just $199/yr.

Red Giant UniverseRed Giant Universe

Video transition and effects plugins for editors and motion graphics artists

Universe is a collection of 79 GPU-accelerated plugins for editors and motion graphics artists.

Get Universe

To download a trial version, click on the product page.



6. Red Magic Bullet Suite

Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks has been my go-to tool for a fast cinematic or unique color grade. It’s a fantastic cheat to use when you’re compositing footage too. You can usually match colors quickly! That’s just Magic Bullet Looks. The suite comes with several other tools

Reasons to get Magic Bullet Suite.

  1. Magic Bullet Looks presets. The UI is fantastic and easy to use. There are hundreds of presets too that are all completely modifiable.
  2. Colorista allows you to color correct directly in the timeline and it’s very powerful. It easy to use and I get great results!
  3. Magic Bullet Film is a tool for adding film grain and emulating real film stocks
  4. Denoiser and Renoiser for removing and adding noise and grain in the footage.
  5. Works in several hosts but it will depend on the software whether it’ll work in a specific host. Make sure you look at the system requirements.

Red Giant Magic Bullet SuiteRed Giant Magic Bullet Suite

Powerful Color Correction, Grading, and Film Looks for Editors and Filmmakers
Magic Bullet Suite brings together seven of Red Giant’s powerful, intuitive tools for real-time color correction and cinematic looks right to the timeline of your favorite non-linear editor. Plus, professionally remove noise, add grain, and fix skin tones with natural-looking results.

Learn More

To download a trial version, click on the product page.

7. Rowbyte Plexus

With Plexus you can make really slick looking eye candy visuals with ease. Plexus hasn’t had a major update in a few years so I’m expecting a new release in the next year that will blow all of our minds! Even still, version 3 is a must-have tool.

Top reasons to get Plexus?

  1. You can make really beautiful, endlessly diverse visuals with lines, geometrics, and text, with a plethora of options and effectors.
  2. Powerful, yet fun!
  3. Integrated with After Effects camera and lights
  4. Import OBJs for cool 3D effects

Rowbyte Plexus for Adobe After EffectsRowbyte Plexus for Adobe After Effects

Create engaging motion graphics with this 2D/3D generative art plug-in for After Effects.
Plexus is a next-gen particle engine for After Effects that 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.

Learn More

To download a trial version, click on the product page.



8. RenderGarden

RenderGarden is not a tool to give your footage cool effects. However, with RenderGarden, your cool effects will render SOOOOOO much faster!

Here are my top reasons that you must have RenderGarden.

  1. Increase your render speeds. Render 2-3x faster with Hyper-threaded Rendering.
  2. Better workflow. You can keep working in After Effects while you render in the background.
  3. Network Rendering is easy to set up. Have an old computer or two that you want to make into a render farm? No problem!
  4. Inexpensive. Just $99!


Your renders will FLY with RenderGarden!
Increase your render speeds by 3 times on your computer and maximize your CPU cores when rendering across your network. RenderGarden is an absolute must-have script for After Effects users.

Learn More

To download a trial version, click on the product page.




These are my picks for must-have plug-ins for Adobe After Effects. There are a lot of other great tools out there, so my suggestion is to try a demo version of any tool that you think you might be interested in buying. Try everything before buying, if there is a demo version, that is.

If you have input or an idea for a future article, you can always email me, or ask us on Facebook or Twitter.

*Image credit: The ‘Captain America Survivor’ green screen photo above is by Jeremy Hanke. The model is Yanick Ivenso.

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