A lot of people write in and ask me how to make GIFs. I’ve tried many times to type up a tutorial, but there is just too much GIF info in my brain to cram into one post.
That said, there are many GIF tutorials on youtube and tumblr. They give you the basics. But most of them are incomplete or have a certain degree of wrongness. So I’m just going to point out those particular things instead of trying to write a complete tutorial.
Things you need to make good GIFs.
Video Downloadhelper for Firefox
This downloads any video off of Youtube. Always choose the MP4 download.
A simple video editor
It is much easier to pluck out the best frames before you enter photoshop. Find a program that works with MP4s and exports as MOV. Not necessary, but it will speed things up and make your job less frustrating. I like tmpgenc xpress 4. But you have to really get in touch with your inner pirate to find that version.
There is nothing better at making GIFs. Accept no substitutes.
When editing your video, try to keep it to 100 - 150 frames. Less if possible. Pick out the best moments in the video. Do not just randomly splice out bits. Try to find sections that have a beginning and an end. Try to find sections that end the same as they begin, making for a better loop.
In Photoshop, import the video using FILE > IMPORT > VIDEO FRAMES AS LAYERS
Do not just hit okay! There is a very handy tool at this prompt. Frame limiting is very important. You want to end up with as few frames as possible so that your GIF will work within the 1 megabyte file restriction.
I’ve seen many tutorials in which the person tells you to just randomly delete frames until you are down to 1 megabyte. THIS IS VERY WRONG AND TEDIOUS.
In the import dialog there is a place that lets you “limit to every X frames.” This skips the frames for you.
This is the first choice that determines the quality of the GIF. If your animation needs smooth movement, but the image detail isn’t as important, limit every 2 or 3 frames. If your GIF doesn’t have a lot of movement, or it doesn’t matter if it is a little choppy… try 4 or 5. I would not go passed that.
Now that you have limited frames, you must adjust the timing of the GIF. Usually your GIF will be .03 or .04. If you “limit to every 2 frames” you would assume the time should be double. Not exactly. Here is a little guide…
If timing is .03 or .04, change to…
Limit every 2 frames = .07
Limit every 3 frames = .09
Limit every 4 frames = .11
After that, the timing becomes unstable and you have to use your best judgement.
Once you have your GIF how you like it, it’s time to “Save for Web and Devices.”
This is the most important part of the process. Many people just tell you to reduce the colors. But this panel is much more powerful.
First, set the top left drop down box to “perceptual” as shown above. I could explain this, but I won’t. Just change it and leave it there.
There are 4 quality adjustments that you must use to reduce your file size below 1 megabyte.
Colors, Dither, Lossy, and Image Size.
There is no exact formula to this. You will have to play with these things and learn how they interact. This is a skill that will take time and practice to develop. I will give you the basics.
I adjust the colors first. There is almost always a magic number for colors. The GIF will go from looking good to looking like crap with only a one number difference.
Use the preset color numbers in the dropdown to find the range. Perhaps 64 colors will look like crap and 128 colors looks fine. Your magic number will be within. Start at 128, highlight the number with your mouse, and with your down arrow key, keep reducing the number by 1. Once the image turns to complete crap (usually very noticeable) go back up 1 color and you’re done.
The next adjustment is Dither. Dithering is a technique that smooths out the color transitions and keeps the GIF from looking splotchy and banded. 100% is best, but I almost always set it to 99% because that usually gives you a good file size reduction. If your file size is still well out of range, you can reduce this further, but it doesn’t help a great deal and the image quality suffers. 70 - 80% is usually the lowest I go. One exception… if it is a cartoon with very few color transitions, you can sometimes just put this at 0% without much quality loss.
Now we come to lossy. So many tutorials skip this all together and it is one of the most powerful file size reducing tools. Again, I’ll skip the technical details of what this does. Just know that the higher the lossy, the crappier the GIF looks. Basically, I just add lossy until I reach 1 megabyte OR the image just looks too crappy. If it starts looking terrible, back it off until it is acceptable.
Last, we have image size. I usually make all of the adjustments above, and if I can’t get to that 1 megabyte… then I look at reducing the overall dimensions. I just reduce 50 pixels at a time. Trial and error.
These 4 adjustments are not an exact science. All images react differently. Sometimes you need to go back and add more colors, reduce some dither, add more lossy, adjust the colors again, trim the dimensions, adjust the lossy… and so on. You want the best looking image that you can squeeze into that 1 megabyte. Eventually you will learn the best adjustments to make for different images.
There are some other extreme and tedious techniques to reduce file size, but I will save that lesson for another time. I hope this helped a few of you. Good luck with your GIF making.