I’m not going to waste time explaining the appeal of animated GIFs when that image and this link will do, but therein lies their wonder: showing where telling might do. Because they’re so great, I’m going to show you how to make your own animated GIFs from video with the help of the only app that matters, Photoshop.
This is a beginner’s guide for those with little or no experience making animated GIFs.
– Photoshop CS5 or better
– A source video
Size matters, whether you accept it or not. Fortunately, animated GIF sizes vary as unpredictably as wieners so folks generally accept what they get. After eyeballing Senor Gif, BuzzFeed, Giphy, 4chan and Reddit, it seems to me file sizes generally break down as such:
- Smallest: 500KB. Often extremely small (150px), short or ugly.
- Small: 2MB or less. Short with inconspicuous color loss.
- Standard: 3MB. Best mix of size (250px) and length; virtually perfect colors possible.
- Large: 5MB. Large, good quality, of moderate length.
- Very Large: 7MB. Long, large, high-definition.
- Maximum: 10MB. Very large (400px), high-definition and relatively long.
On broadband, almost every GIF loads nearly instantly, even on pages filled with animations of differing sizes. Within reason, download speeds shouldn’t be much of a concern.
Aim for 3MB, be content with 4MB and remember: “Less is more.”
Acquiring Source Video
Capturing video is a topic that deserves its own guide, and downloading directly from sites like YouTube deserves another, but here are two simple options to help you get some interesting source video:
Microsoft Windows: FRAPS is an extremely popular screen capture program. It should grab nearly any DirectX or OpenGL video including games and YouTube, however recent versions of Windows lack support for general desktop capture. Frankly though, it’s a bargain at $37 and one of my favorite applications for years running.
Apple OSX: QuickTime Player includes screen capture functionality, which is what I use.
You can also download videos from the web, even YouTube and Hulu videos if you jump through the appropriate hoops. DownloadHelper for OSX works to that end and there are options for Windows users as well.
Keep in mind that Photoshop limits imported video to 500 frames, so about 16 seconds at a standard 30FPS. Also, your source video’s frame rate should match the GIF’s frame rate otherwise playback may be mistimed.
Making the GIF
Let’s do this. Open Photoshop.
Import the Video
- File > Import > Video Frames to Layers, choose your video and Open.
- Now choose the portion of video you want to use by moving the black markers. You won’t know if you’re over the 500 frame limit until you press OK so leave it to trial and error. You can trim the video after this point, but it’s quicker to cut the ends here.
- Frame Limiting (“Limit to every * frame”) removes excess frames but also introduces choppiness. Try not to use this, but it can help you get under the limit.
- Check the Make Frame Animation box, otherwise the images won’t be animated.
- Press OK.
Resize the Image
- Image > Image Size
- Change the image dimensions to suit your needs. If you’re decreasing them, doing it now speeds up rendering and workflow substantially.
Crop the Image
Crop the image to highlight the focal point and remove excess image data. Cropping the first frame effects them all.
Now you can edit the animation, or just be done with it and Save For Web as a GIF. However, proper form demands zany text using the font of kings, Impact, which we’ll animate to look like active speaking.
Editing the GIF
- Window > Click Timeline if it’s not visible.
- In the bottom-left corner of the Timeline pane, click Convert to Video Timeline.
- Now you’ll see the frames stacked in layers and a timeline above them. Slide the blue timeline arrow to the point when you’d like to add text or edit.
- Add a new Text Layer and position it so that it’s legible.
- In the timeline, drag-stretch the end of the tile for the new Text Layer to when you’d like the text to disappear. The text layer should become visible at the time set in step 3 and disappear at the time marked by the end of the text layer tile. Adding new layers may extend your animation so be sure to remove excess length using the gray arrow in the timeline.
Repeat steps 4 and 5 to make layers visible and invisible as needed, effectively simulating motion.
Saving the GIF
- File > Save for Web
- Set the file format to GIF, or use one of the GIF presets. I often use “GIF 128 No Dither”.
- Optimize the GIF before saving:
- For Color Reduction Algorithm, choose Adaptive. Perceptual or Selective may work better for you, but generally look worse.
- Specify the dither algorithm as No Dither. Dither tricks the eye into seeing deeper colors by blending available ones, but generates a clearly visible dotted pattern if the color range is too simple. It may help live-action GIFs, but hurts cartoon ones.
- Check the Transparency box and view the projected file size. This may make the file smaller or larger either way, so toggle for ideal size and quality. Leave Transparency Dither at No Transparency Dither unless it looks bad.
- Set Colors to 256, 128 or 64, the highest possible without making the file size immense. Try not to go below 64 unless you need to reduce file size.
- Increasing Lossy decreases the file size at the expense of color depth, so less color but less data too. This is less forgiving than the JPG slider and values above 25 severely reduce visual quality.
- Make sure you set the Looping Option to Once, Forever or a set number of intervals using Other.
Now Save the file and we’re done!
Find your new GIF, right-click the file and Open With your web browser to see it in action!
To share on Facebook, use Giphy. It just tricks Facebook into playing them as a video so I’m not particularly fond of it, but it’s the only way I know of to effectively share animated GIFs on Facebook.
Now get out there and make friends with your new GIF making skills!
Please share questions and suggestions in the comments. Stay tuned for another guide regarding optimizing animated GIFs, which I may never start because frankly no one seems to care about optimizing their GIFs anyway.