After Effects has tons of third party plugins to make the tool even more powerful and speed up your workflow.
Often people use the term “plugin” to talk about all third party After Effects tools. This is somewhat of a misnomer, since a “plug-in” is a specific type of third party tool, separate from scripts and extensions.
In this post, I’ll cover the unique attributes between After Effects plug-ins, scripts, and extensions.
An After Effects plug-in is typically written in C++, uses the After Effects SDK, and has the power to do more things than are natively possible within After Effects. This usually involves manipulating the actual pixels of a given layer.
Plug-in files are either .aex (Windows) or .plugin (Mac).
Once a plug-in is installed, it can be applied via the Effect menu.
While plug-ins are extremely powerful, the effects generated by plugins typically cannot be shared between users unless they both have the plug-in installed. This is why many After Effects templates will list “no plug-ins” as a feature.
A script can either be a single standalone function or have its own panel (usually with multiple functions), these are called ScriptUI Panels.
Script files are either .jsx or .jsxbin.
You can run a standalone script from the File > Scripts menu.
You can open a ScriptUI panel from the Window menu. Most After Effects ScriptUI Panels can be docked to fit within your workspace.
Since scripts typically perform native After Effects functions, you can usually use a script on an After Effects project then share it with another user even if they don’t have the script themselves.
Just like After Effects scripts, work done with extensions can typically be share between users even if they don’t have the extension themselves.
Extension files are .zxp.
Once an extension is installed it can be opened from the Window > Extensions menu. Just like ScriptUI Panels, extensions can be docked to fit within your workspace.