How To Make A GIF In Five Easy Steps

It's hard to imagine the internet without animated GIFs. But have you ever stopped to think about where they come from and where they all end up? Can you make your own? Like Prometheus before us, we're going to share the divine power.

Before we go any further, let's make it clear that you're going to need Photoshop. I'm using Adobe CS6, but any recent version should be fine. There are also other ways to do it — we tried out web-based GIF makers picasion.com and makeagif.com, but they both uploaded pictures upside down and were mostly a waste of time. On an iPhone or iPad, apps like Flixel and Cinemagram work pretty well, and for Android phones and tablets, we like Fotodanz.

The point here is to show you how to make the best GIF possible on a desktop machine in Mac or Windows. OK, let's do this like the pros do. (That's you, soon).

1. Pick something you want to turn into a GIF

You can use any video file. I kind of want to make a GIF out of Lana Del Rey's face — the combination of the funny and sublime make for prime GIF material.

Here's a Lana Del Rey music video on YouTube.

You can download any YouTube video using a number of services such as KeepVid.

Important: Trim the source video file (the thing you want turned into an animated GIF) into a very short segment — a maximum of two or three seconds. If you don't do this, your file will be large and unwieldy.

2. Put the video in Photoshop

This part is very easy. File > Import > Video Frames to Layers. Your video file will be slurped into Photoshop and converted into a series of still images strung together, sort of like a flip book.

It will look like this.

3. Adjust quality settings

You're going to have to compromise here. The better your GIF looks, the less noise and compression junk there is in your image, which results in a bigger file size. Hit File > Save for Web and mess around with some settings to find a good balance.

  • You'll want to keep the "Colors" setting as high as possible. Knocking it down means the GIF is created with fewer colours mixed together, which makes it look less and less like the original video. But this does save a lot of space. Try to stick with 256 and only go down a level as a last resort.
  • Dither: higher equals better image quality and bigger file size.
  • Web snap: ignore this.
  • Lossy: dither in reverse. Higher means a worse image and smaller file. Slide it around until you hit a sweet spot.

You should aim for a GIF file that is no bigger than a few megabytes or so to be a good internet citizen. Bigger files slow down browsing, and that's a pain for viewers. You can always resize the image with the "Image Size" parameters to cut down on bulk too.

4. Save!

Click the save button. This whole thing should normally take you no more than a few minutes.

5. Share with and impress your friends

Use a free file-hosting site such as Imgur to upload and distribute your new craze acros the web. Maybe it'll become a hit viral sensation!

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