Animation

The Ultimate GIF Guide: How to Make Animated GIFs and Why You Need Them

Shawn Forno 04.26.2017

Animated GIFs are absolutely everywhere these days. Why? Because GIFs are freaking awesome and everyone loves them.

animated GIF

Animated GIFs increase engagement on Twitter, supercharge email newsletters, blog posts, and even customer service interactions. Bottom line: GIFs are a quick, fun, easy way to interact with your customers. And the best part about animated GIFs is that you can make your own GIF in just a few easy steps. All you need is a video clip and an internet connection.

We’ve compiled a few of our favorite GIF making sites and search engines, as well as a few tips and best practices on when and how to use your shiny new GIF. Enjoy!

animated GIF

Wait, What are Animated GIFs?

If you’re not sure what a GIF is (or how to pronounce it) here’s a super quick overview of GIFs, why they matter, and what makes a great GIF.

A GIF (graphic interchange format) is a looping file format that cycles through a series of images (or frames) to create a short animation. It was originally developed in the late 80s, and uses a nerdy lossless compression technique to generate animations that won’t crash your server with massive file sizes. Remember this flashing, blinking garbage from pretty much every website in the early 90s?

Yeah. Those are the first generation of GIFs. Luckily, GIFs have evolved over the years. Nowadays you can make seamlessly looping gifs, cinemagraphs (GIFs with dynamic elements in a “static” picture), and all manner of crazy mashed up GIF images. It’s a playground for micro animation.

animated GIF

Here are some of our favorite tools to knock out GIFs in minutes.

Giphy: The Best Animated GIF Maker

Giphy is without a doubt the easiest way to make a GIF. Their site features thousands of keyword searchable GIFs for any occasion, but the simple upload and copy paste GIF maker options are the real strengths of the site.
To make a GIF on Giphy you can either drag and drop to upload your own video clip from your phone or desktop, or copy a YouTube url of your brand spanking new animated explainer video. In either case, simply select the start point of your GIF, the duration, and watch the animated preview to get the transition just right. Add text (if that’s your thing), tag it for others to find and enjoy, and then share it via social media or download it for whatever nefarious purpose you have in mind.
Giphy allows several different download formats and sizes, so you won’t kill your page load times with a few well placed GIFs.

animated GIF

It really is that simple. The one drawback of Giphy is that it’s not compatible with Vimeo files (which is super weird), and you can only make GIFs under 10 seconds. It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to make a longer GIF, but it’s worth mentioning.

Gif.com: Customizable Animated GIFs for Free

GIF.com is an incredible GIF maker tool. Simply upload your own video or copy a YouTube link and you’re on your way. Gif.com gives you a suite of adjustment tools like the ability to crop, resize, change color, saturation, and even add blur effects in just one click. The interface is simple to use and change, and the features like color correction make this especially useful for animated explainer video GIFs because you can change the entire color palette in just one click for seasonal videos or just a fresh look on an old clip.

animated GIF

animated GIF

Makagif: Great Premium Animated GIFs

Makagif functions almost identically to Giphy. You can upload your own videos or create GIFs with a YouTube link (no Vimeo again), but the site provides two tiers of service—free and premium.

For $11/month you can make higher resolution GIFs with twice the frame rate (8fps vs. 4fps) and you can adjust the max pixel ratio from 320px (small) to 1280px (full screen), which is nice. The free account also includes a branded watermark at the bottom of your GIF which you probably won’t want if you’re using this to make your own branded content.

Here’s an example of the free GIFs you can create. You’ll notice they’re pretty small (320 px) and the watermark is a bit much.

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While the premium grade GIFs are smooth and more visually appealing than most free GIF makers, the price tag is a little steep. Only subscribe if you’re making GIFs everyday.

RecordIt: Animated GIFs for Screencasts & Tutorials

Not all GIFs are created equal. Sometimes you want a cat falling off a couch GIF (we all do), but sometimes you simply want to capture a simple instructive moment on your computer. You can go through the hassle of shooting and editing a screencast (woof), or you can make a quick helpful GIF of your screen with RecordIt.

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Simply download the RecordIt app for Mac or PC and follow the simple instructions to capture seamless screen captures for explaining every step of your product or your next tutorial in a friendly, easy to view loop that students and customers will love.

GIFCreator: Animated GIFs from Images

While not one of the sleekest online GIF makers, GIFCreator allows you to create GIFs from multiple image uploads. That means your time lapses, burst photos, and sequential (tripod friendly) photos can all become beautiful looping GIFs in no time.

You can adjust the GIF size and time delay between each frame, allowing you more granular control than other GIF makers. Also, it’s one of the few online GIF tools that lets you create a GIF absolutely free without adding a tacky watermark to your final product. Well worth it if you have a lot of photos or individual frames and want an interesting new way to showcase them.

Making Animated GIFs: Best Practices

A great GIF is really in the eye of the beholder, but good resolution (at least 1080p) is important, as well a keen editing eye, and attention to file size. If your GIF is too large (over 1MB) you may run into trouble posting it on sites like Tumblr or Reddit, and your website or blog will take a long time to load it. Keep the GIF dimensions to 450px wide and make sure the frame rates are low (custom frame count: 24). If that all sounds like gobbledygook, don’t worry. Most GIF makers have custom settings you can adjust to keep the file sizes small.

Keep GIFs Short and Smooth

GIFs can technically be any length of time, but the most popular only last a few seconds (2-4 seconds) before returning to the first frame of the animation. You also don’t want your GIF to “glitch” and jump from the last frame to the first frame every time it cycles. Make sure the lighting is consistent from the end to the beginning frames (that’s why animated videos make great GIFs), and you’ll be on your way to a smooth, easy to watch GIF.

The goal is to create so called, “seamless GIFs”. These animations are shot and edited to make the animation look like it goes on forever instead of restarting every few seconds, and they are some of the most effective GIFs online.

Cinemagraphs are probably the best example of this high production value GIF, since they create the illusion of a single element moving in a still picture.

Video Marketing and Animated GIFs

Millions of people watch and share GIFs everyday on social media and sites like Tumblr and Reddit every single day. In fact, a well made GIF is often the launching pad for viral memes and successful marketing campaigns. GIFs liven up your Twitter feed and create unique opportunities for brand building and engaging social media posts, among other tools like email outreach, company newsletters, and even easy to understand tutorials.

Brands in practically every industry have embraced the power of animation with their own GIFs, and thanks to new to use online GIF making tools, it’s never been easier to make your own GIF. Get out there and get your GIF on. You’ll like. I promise.

And if you’re interested in animation for business, check out our work!

Shawn Forno

Shawn Forno is a massive Studio Ghibli fan who does content marketing. In that order. Find his other writing and extensive travel blogging here.

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