How To Make a GIF in Five Easy Steps

If there's a reason you haven't killed yourself by now, it's probably because you recently saw an animated GIF. But where do they come from? Where do they go? Can you make your own? Like Prometheus before us, we're going to share the divine power.

Let's get this out of the way: You're going to need Photoshop. I'm using CS6 for our purposes below, but any recent version should be fine. There are other ways to do it—we tried out the web-based GIF-makers picasion.com and makeagif.com, but they both uploaded pictures upside down and generally wasted our time. On an iPhone or iPad, apps like Flixel and Cinemagram work pretty well, and for Android phones and tablets, we like Fotodanz.

But the point of this story 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 make a GIF out of

You can use any video file. I kind of want to make a GIF out of Lana Del Rey's face, because she's funny lookin' and pretty—the combination of the grotesque 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 like KeepVid.

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

How To Make a GIF in Five Easy Steps

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. Think of it like a flip book.

How To Make a GIF in Five Easy Steps

It'll look like this.

How To Make a GIF in Five Easy Steps

3. Adjust quality settings

You're going to have to compromise here. The better your GIF looks—the less noise and compression junk in your image, the bigger the file. Hit File > Save for Web and mess around with some settings.

  • You'll want to keep the "Colors" setting as high as possible. Knocking it down means the GIF is created using fewer colors mixed together, which makes it look less and less like the original video. This saves a lot of space, though. Try to stick with 256, going down a level only as a last resort.
  • Dither: The higher the better. Lower means crappy looking, but smaller file.
  • Web snap: Ignore this.
  • Lossy: Like dither, only reversed. Higher means a worse, smaller file. Slide it around until you hit a sweet spot.

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

4. Save!

Save the file. Click the save button. This whole thing should have taken you no more than a few minutes.

How To Make a GIF in Five Easy Steps

5. Share with and impress your friends

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