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How to make animated GIFs with Photoshop (and other alternatives)

If a picture says a thousand words, then an animated GIF probably says 10,000. Fifty thousand? A million? It depends on the number of frames you’re using; don’t overanalyze the metaphor! The point is GIFs are amazing. They’re like the flip books of the internet — great for conveying thoughts and emotions that words can’t describe, showcasing the antics of your adorable household pets, making abstract art, or just giving you a good chuckle.

But this might be preaching to the choir. After all, if you’re reading this, you already know how awesome animated GIFs are. Chances are you have an idea for one stewing in your brain, but you just don’t know how to make that idea a reality. No need to worry. This simple tutorial should guide you through the process of making GIFs.

How to make an animated GIFs using video (Photoshop)

Before we jump right into the tutorial, we should address the elephant in the room. Photoshop is probably the best software available for making GIFs (or editing images in general). If you don’t have Photoshop, there are programs that can give you some of the same functionality, such as GIMP, but if you want to get serious about making GIFs, Photoshop is the way to go.

Horse animated gif

Step 1 — Find a good video sequence with which you want to make a GIF. This can be practically anything, but try to opt for a clip that is not too long, as longer video generally leads to a larger file size.

Step 2 — Download/upload the video clip you’ve chosen to your desktop. Check out our guide on how to download YouTube videos if you need guidance on ripping footage from the Web. Trim the footage down to only the length you want the GIF to play. Two or three seconds is great, five is pushing it, and 10 or more is possible with the right chopping, but the file will be massive and hard to work with.

Step 3 — Open the video with Photoshop. To do this, just navigate to File > Import > Video Frames to Layers. Select the video file you want and Photoshop will open it as a series of still frames. You can choose to import the entire video from beginning to end, or use sliders to select a smaller portion of the clip. Limiting the frames will make the file smaller, but will also make the video more choppy.

Photoshop Gif Import

Step 4 — Mess with the settings. You can adjust color balance and whatnot with Photoshop at this point if you’d like. When you have everything looking perfect, head to File > Save for Web. You’ll then be met with a window that looks something like this:

Gif Settings in Photoshop

All of these settings can be tweaked to make your GIF smaller. Ideally, you’ll want to make it no larger than 1MB so that it won’t take ages to load on webpages. Play with all of these until you find a sweet spot.

  • Colors: This limits the number of colors used to create the image, so the higher the better. Only drop down to 128 or lower if you must, or if your GIF doesn’t have much color to begin with
  • Dither: Dithering scatters different colored pixels in an image to make it appear as though there are intermediate colors in images with a limited color palette. Higher settings will yield better looking images, but will also make the file larger
  • Lossy: Use this setting to apply an intentional drop in quality. A lower setting is better, but some loss of quality might be necessary to make your file small enough
  • Size: Changing the dimensions of your GIF can have a huge impact on the size of the file

Step 5 — Save and share! Hit the save button to finalize your creation and save it to your folder of choice. Once that is done, you can upload it to a free image hosting site like Imgur to share it with your friends and embed it into blogs and websites.

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