The Complete Guide To Making a GIF

A GIF animation is just like a regular flat image. The only difference is it has a stack of frames which show one at a time, like a little flip-picture book, and a little bit of code to make it play. They’re pretty much a staple of Internet culture, being a way to capture a tiny little movie clip without taking up too much space.

There’s several ways to make a GIF.

Using Photoshop or Gimp

The hard way, if you’re already an artist, is to pop open an editor like Photoshop and simply make drawings as you normally would, but save them in layers and export the whole show to .GIF format when you’re done. But chances are if you are an artist, you already know this stuff so you wouldn’t be reading this.

However, just to say we covered that one detail you missed in graphics class, you will either draw or copy-and-paste steps of your drawing into individual layers in the image, then tell Photoshop to convert the layers into frames, set a timeline for the frames, and export to GIF. Photoshop also has an import-from-video feature which will create those frames for you.

In creating GIFs manually, you will need to pay attention to things like frame count and memory usage. Selecting “dithering” lets the GIF file save data by not copying redundant pixels that stay the same from one frame to another. Consult longer course material here for details.

Using a GIF-Maker

The easy way involves visiting an online .GIF conversion service like GIPHY, MakeAGif, or GIF.com. You’re going to take any video that already exists and swap it into a GIF-maker, which does the rest by magic.

#1> Find your video on YouTube, or upload it there. Save the URL to put in the GIF-maker.

#2> On the GIF-maker, define your time bracket with timestamp bookends. If we’re extracting a clip from a movie, we don’t want the whole 90-minute run-time. GIF format allows a maximum of three minutes. Realistically, a few seconds is all you should take, so you don’t brick mobile users. This part’s pretty easy, you usually just drag some sliders.

#3> Optionally, add some text. You might be going for an Internet meme here, or you’re isolating a few frames to illustrate a point in your instructional video, what have you. The text will display right over the image. Be sure not to block important parts of the image.

#4> Convert and download.

Extra tricks:

If you ever get confident enough to use command-line tools, the almighty Image Magick suite is the same power tool used by modern website servers, and can perform many kinds of efects and edits on any kind of image file, including GIFs, with some commands. Image Magick has a great documentation book available online.

Have fun and we’ll see you on the social web!