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GIFs are everywhere. The once-humble animated image is now the unofficial language of the web. GIFs are the quickest way to express an emotion on Twitter, and you can waste hours watching them on Reddit and Facebook.
But nothing beats making your own. You can create an animated GIF in Photoshop by converting videos or using a series of static images. Let’s take a look at how to do both. We’ll be creating gifs in Photoshop CC for this example.
Make a GIF From a Video
One of the most common reasons for making a GIF is when you’ve got a video clip you want to share online. It’s very easy to convert a video into a GIF in Photoshop.
Start by going to File > Import > Video Frames to Layers. You don’t need to create a new file first. Select your video and click Open.
In the dialog box that follows you can choose whether to import the entire video or only a select portion. If you opt for the latter, drag the trim handles beneath the preview window inwards to set new start and end points. Everything between these handles will be imported; everything outside discarded.
Bear in mind that the more video you import, the larger your resulting GIF will be.
If you’re importing a large clip, selecting Limit to Every 2 Frames (or more) is a simple way of reducing the size without affecting quality too much.
Make sure Make Frame Animation is checked, then click OK. The video will start importing. It may take a while depending on how large it is. When it’s done, you’ll have a new image file, where each frame of the video is placed on its own layer.
At the bottom of the screen is the Timeline palette. This shows all the frames that will make up your GIF, which each frame corresponding to a different layer in the image.
You can add or remove frames or edit of any of the existing layers just as you would a normal layer on any other image. But for a straight conversion of a video to a GIF, simply hit the Play button at the bottom for a preview. When you’re happy, you’re ready to save the GIF.
How to Save a GIF in Photoshop
Go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy). In the box that opens, set the format to GIF, Colors to 256, and reduce the Image Size to something smaller as a way of keeping the overall file size down.
You can see how large your resulting file will be in the bottom left of the Preview window. If it’s too big, drag the Lossy slider to the right. This will affect the quality, but also reduce the file size significantly.
Finally, hit Save to create your GIF.
Manually Create a GIF From Still Images
If you don’t have a video to use as the basis of your GIF, you can create one manually from a series of static images. It’s a little more involved, especially if you want to make something complex, but the basic process is straightforward.
You make your GIF from a single image file containing several layers, and the layers are used to provide the content for each frame of your animation. There are two ways to get started:
- If you’ve already made the images for your animation, import them by going to File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack. Click Browse, then select all the images you need, and hit OK. Each image will then be placed on its own individual layer within the same file.
- If you haven’t already made the images, do so now. Remember that each part of the animation should go on its own layer.
Now you’re ready to make the animation.
Animate Your GIF
Here’s how it works. When you manually create a frame in the animation, every layer in your image that is set to Visible will be included in that frame. Layers set to Hidden won’t be included in the frame.
For the first frame you might want to set the background layer to Visible and all the other layers to Hidden. Then, in the second frame you might want to make the second layer visible, and then the third layer in the third frame and so on. It’ll become clear once you get started.
First, go to Window > Timeline. In the center of the panel that opens, click Create Frame Animation. This creates the first frame of your animation. In the Layers palette, hide the layers you don’t want to be part of this frame by unchecking the Eye icons.
Now click the New Frame button, which will duplicate the previous frame. Once again, hide the layers you don’t want included in this new frame and make visible the ones that you do.
Repeat this process until you’ve added all the frames you need in your GIF.
To finish off, set the Frame Delay — this is, in effect, the frame rate. Click the first frame, then shift-click the last frame. Now click the dropdown arrow beneath one of the frames and select a delay. No delay means the animation will run through rapidly, while a specific number of seconds means each frame will stay on screen for that length of time.
Finally, set the Looping Options, which you’ll find at the bottom of the Timeline panel. It sets how many times the GIF will play. In most cases you’ll want to set it to Forever.
Now hit the Play button at the bottom of the screen to preview your GIF. You should be seeing something like this:
You can edit frames just by selecting them and adjusting which layers are visible (you can also adjust the opacity or make other more advanced tweaks). Add more layers if you need them, or hit the trash can icon to delete them.
When you’re happy, you can skip ahead to the Saving Your GIF section. Or read on to refine the animation.
Advanced Animations With Tweening
Photoshop supports a powerful animation feature called tweening. This enables you to create smoother animations by automatically generating transitional frames between two existing frames. For example, say you wanted a layer to fade in. You would create one frame with that layer set to Hidden, and another with it set to Visible. And then you would tween between those two frames.
In our example, we’re going to tween between all the frames to give our starry sky more of a twinkling effect.
First, select the first frame and click the Tween button on the toolbar at the bottom of the Timeline panel.
In the dialog box that opens, set Tween with to Next Frame, and Frames to Add to the number of transitional frames you want. A higher number means a smoother but slower effect. Click OK to generate the new frames.
Now repeat the process for the other original frames you created. When you get the last one you may want to set Tween with to First Frame. This helps create a smooth transition back to the start of a looping GIF.
Hit the Play button to preview the effect.
Saving Your GIF
When you’re finished, you should first save your file in the .PSD format. This will save all the layer and animation information so you can come back and edit it later on if you need to. After that, you can export it as a GIF.
Go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy). In the dialog box that opens make sure the format is set to GIF, and the Colors option is set to 256 (this ensures maximum quality).
Other settings you may want to change include the Image Size and Looping Options if you didn’t do that before.
The preview window shows what size the file will be when you save it. You can also click the Preview button to test the animation in a browser window.
Finally, click Save to save your GIF.
Other Ways to Make GIFs
Making GIFs in Photoshop is easy. But what if you don’t have Photoshop? It doesn’t mean you need to be left out.