How to make GIFs with Photoshop (or these free alternatives)

These are the best ways to make your own animated GIF to share

If a picture says a thousand words, then an animated GIF probably says 10,000. Or maybe 50,000? A million? OK, don’t overanalyze the metaphor! The point is, GIFs are amazing. They’re like the flipbooks 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 giving you a good chuckle.

This simple tutorial should guide you through the process of making top-notch GIFs

GIFs are also modest, generally rendered in low resolution and limited framerate, yet the format has become a darling of the internet. It served as an early example of something you could do online that you couldn’t do in print, and has survived mostly unchanged since its inception in the late 1980s, remaining popular today despite the dramatic rise of high-quality web video formats. This, of course, only makes the humble GIF even more impressive.

We’re probably preaching to the choir. After all, if you’re reading this, you already know how awesome animated GIFs are. Maybe you’ve used a GIF keyboard on your phone to send a funny animation to a friend, or have seen them pop up in comments on Facebook. But have you ever made your own? We all have ideas for the grandest of GIFs, miniature masterpieces waiting for a chance at life — but maybe you don’t know how to make that dream a reality. No need to worry: This simple tutorial should guide you through the process of making top-notch GIFs, even if we can’t definitively tell you how to pronounce it.

How to make an animated GIF from a video (Photoshop)

Before we jump right into the tutorial, we should address the elephant in the room. Adobe 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 on the web that you want to turn into a GIF. This can be practically anything, but try to opt for a clip that is not too long, as brevity is the soul of the GIF.

Step 2 — Save the video to your computer. 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 large and hard to work with. The general rule of thumb is to convey your idea in as few frames as possible.

Step 3 — Open the video with Photoshop. To do this, 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. You can limit the import to every other (or every third, fourth, etc.) frame to make the file smaller, but this will also make the video choppier.

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 (GIFs are limited to a maximum of 256 colors). 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. 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.

How to make an animated GIF using still images (Photoshop)

You can also create animated GIFs in Photoshop by stringing together still images. This process consists of layering each frame from the bottom up and then sequencing the layers using Photoshop’s animation/timeline tool.

Step 1 — Collect the still images that you want to sequence for your GIF and put them in a single folder. Then, in Photoshop, click File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack. From there, click Browse and select the images on your desktop that you want to string together into a GIF.

Select “OK” and a new composition should open with these stills now rendered as individual layers in a single image. Arrange them accordingly; your first frame should occupy the very bottom layer and so forth.

You can also create each layer individually in Photoshop itself, rather than simply batch uploading your stills as layers. Run Photoshop and create a new image by clicking File > New and then selecting “OK.” Then, unlock the background layer by double-clicking the lock icon, create a new layer by opening Layer > New… > Layer and design each frame accordingly. Again, string your animation from the bottom up. (This process works if you are using an older version of Photoshop that does not feature a “Load Files into Stack” option.) Simply load your stills into Photoshop, drag them into your new project, and resize the newly created layers accordingly using Photoshop’s transform tool (Edit > Free transform or Ctrl + T, then drag the corners to resize the object).

You want your end result to look like this, with each frame of the animation separated as a layer and arranged chronologically from the bottom up:

Image of 1st slide in gif

Step 2 — Now that you’ve arranged your layers accordingly, you can began sequencing your layers. Again, this process will vary depending on what version of Photoshop you are using. If you’re still running CS5 or lower (hey, we won’t judge), access the animation window by opening Window + Animation. Likewise, click Window + Timeline in Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC to access the Timeline window. For Photoshop CC, click the drop-down menu in the middle of the Timeline window and select “Create Frame Animation.”

Once you’ve opened Photoshop’s sequencing tool, click on small, right-facing arrow in the upper-right hand corner, and then select Make Frames From Layers.

You can also click on the right-facing arrow to create a new frame manually (or you can simply use the hot-key command Ctrl>Shift>Alt>F). From there, use the eye icon next to each layer to hide the layers you don’t want to appear in the frame you’ve created.

Image of last slide in gif

From here, use the menu underneath each frame to toggle its duration. The menu in the bottom left-hand corner dictates how many times your GIF will replay — set it to Forever if you want it to loop endlessly.

Step 3 — Congratulations! You’ve created an animated GIF using still images and now all you have to do is export it out of Photoshop using the process outlined above. For a quick recap:

Head for File > Save for Web. Remember to keep your GIF no larger than 1MB. If necessary, tweak the color, dither, loss, and size settings until your GIF has been resized accordingly. Once you’re happy, save your newly minted GIF.

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