In this post, you’ll learn how to create a GIF and how to use it to maximum effect on social media and beyond.
The attention span in the digital age is now said to be well under 8 seconds. As for the newsfeed on Facebook, according to Facebook, it’s even only 2.5 seconds on desktop and 1.7 seconds on smartphone. So, to stand out, you need creative strategies that capture the fleeting user’s eye. What moves is more likely to stand out. For example, a well-done GIF. And it’s not that complicated.
If you want to take your social media strategy to a complete level and express what you really mean online, you simply must know how to create a GIF. With GIFs, you can create ads that really catch the eye, or increase engagement with your followers by quoting familiar pop culture motifs.
In this post, you’ll learn how to create a GIF and how to use it most effectively on social media and beyond.
Bonus: Learn how to create a social media strategy and optimize your social media presence with Hootsuite in our step-by-step guide.
What is a GIF?
The Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, combines multiple bitmap graphic files into one animated image. Each pixel within a GIF can have 256 colors, which is why GIFs also generally appear lower resolution compared to other online videos. GIFs also have a lower frame rate – but this works to your advantage because more frames per second also increases the file size. GIFs should remain small, however, so that people like to share them quickly.
You could consider GIFs as a middle thing between images and videos. Their main advantage: you can use them to tell a story quickly and they don’t require a lot of bandwidth to load. That makes them perfect for use on mobile devices.
If you think GIFs are a bit primitive, you’re not entirely wrong: animated GIFs are actually simple. After all, they’ve been around for 30 years – longer than the Internet has been around!
In the recent past, the popularity of GIFs has just exploded. GIPHY, an extremely popular GIF database on the web, claims to have more than 300 million daily active users. At the end of March 2018, Google bought GIF platform Tenor, a keyboard app complete with GIF database that helps iOS, Android and desktop users find the GIFs they want quickly. Tenor processes more than 400 million GIF searches day after day.
Since GIFs are so popular, you simply can’t afford to be without them. That’s why we’ll show you how to create them below, and what tools make working with GIFs easier.
How to create a GIF: the basics
If you want to craft a GIF quickly, a GIF conversion site like GIPHY, Make A Gif or Gifs.com the easiest way to find it. While these platforms all work slightly differently, the following steps will give you a rough idea of what to expect there when creating your first GIF.
1. Select the video you want to convert to a GIF.
The best GIFs target familiar moments in content that just about everyone associates with certain feelings or situations. Choose something that is likely to resonate well with your target audience.
Find the video that best captures your moment. If your computer or mobile device doesn’t have one stored, search online: YouTube and Vimeo offer countless video clips.
2. Upload the video for conversion.
When uploading your own video, select the appropriate option in the respective conversion program and upload the video. If you want to upload a video from YouTube or Vimeo, copy the full URL into the URL field of the conversion program.
3. Set the length of your GIF.
Once the video file is uploaded, mark the moment you want to capture with your GIF with a timestamp at the beginning and end of the scene. GIFs can be up to three minutes long, but the ideal length is two to six seconds.
4. Optional: Add text.
Since there is no sound in GIFs, you can also add text for further explanation or instruction. Subtitles provide the necessary context if you want to show something worth quoting in your GIF. However, you can also insert text to particularly highlight a situation or feeling that you want your GIF to express (e.g., you can use the GIF as a text file). B.: "Social media influencers are always thinking about one thing …")
5. Download your GIF.
If you’re sitting at your desktop computer, you’ll notice that the GIF you just downloaded isn’t animated, but just shows a series of frames. Don’t panic! Simply drag the GIF into your web browser to view the animation in a continuous loop. On mobile devices GIFs are animated immediately when opened.
So much for the basics. However, there are several ways to create GIFs – especially if you want to use your own source material in the process.
Let’s start with the most complicated method – creating a GIF with Photoshop.
How to create a GIF with Photoshop
Note: All screenshots used in this article are taken from Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 (Version 19.1.2).
In the Photoshop program you can string together a collection of images into a GIF. To create the following GIF (which we are maybe a little bit too proud of …) we took about 20 screenshots with the Photo Booth software and saved them.
To create a GIF in Photoshop you can also use a short video file. The process is – except for the first step – almost exactly the same.
If you want to work with a collection of photos, start with step 1A.
If you are converting a video to a GIF in Photoshop, then start with step 1B.
1A. Import your photo series into Photoshop.
In Photoshop go to File> Script> Load files into batch. Click Browse and then select the photo selection ("Layers") that you want to make into a GIF by holding down the Shift key and selecting the entire list, and then clicking Open.
The "Load Layers" screen should now look like the screenshot below. Click on OK and continue with step 2.
1B. Import your video file into Photoshop.
If you want to convert a short video to a GIF using Photoshop, the first thing you need to do is to convert the frames of the video to individual layers. To do this, go to File> Import> Video Frames in Layers.
Now a new window will open asking you what part of the video you want to import. You don’t have to import all the frames to create a GIF. In our example, I only imported every third frame and only half of my existing video footage. When you have finished selecting, click OK.
If you have imported your video file in layers, go on to step 4.
2. Create a timeline for your GIF.
In the "Window" menu item, scroll down to click on Timeline to open.
Now a small window will appear under the first frame in your list: Create video timeline. Click the button itself and change the selection to Create Frame Animation.
3. Convert your photo layers into a continuous loop animation.
At the top right of the "Timeline" window, you’ll see a small menu icon that looks like a stylized hamburger (outlined in yellow).
Click this menu, scroll down, and click on Create frames from layers.
The "Timeline" window will now show you a preview of the animation in the selected order. You can also drag each frame to a different location to change the order. (I have named my files in the correct order to save me this step).)
At the bottom of the timeline, click on the triangular Playback-Icon (outlined in red in the image below). Also be sure to click on the pop-up menu at the bottom left (outlined in yellow) and select the option Unlimited to make your GIF loop not just a few times, but infinitely.
4. Export your GIF.
Click File> Export > Save for Web (Legacy).
This is how you get to the menu shown below, which seems quite complicated at first sight. But don’t worry – in the menu "Default" just set GIF 128 Dithered a.
Then change the "Colors" value to 256 (the maximum number for a GIF).
Now you can export your GIF. If you want to check it first, click on the bottom left of the export dialog box Preview. Then your preset web browser will open and play an endless loop preview of your GIF.
Now click on Save, give your GIF file a name, choose a location and download it to your computer.
And that’s it. Congratulations! Now you know how to create a GIF in Photoshop.
To create a GIF without Photoshop
If you don’t have a subscription to Adobe Creative Suite, that’s no reason to despair either. As we all know, many roads lead to the GIF.
Create your own GIF from a YouTube video.
1. Go to giphy.com and click "Create".
2. Enter the URL of the video you want to make a GIF from.
3. Determine the starting point of the animation and set the length of your GIF.
4. Optional: Decorate your GIF.
There are several ways to do this. You can add text (different fonts and colors are available on GIPHY) or add stickers, filters or handmade annotations to your GIF. I didn’t add anything because I didn’t want to distract from AyaBambi’s nice dance moves.
5. Optional: add hashtags to your GIF.
Add hashtags if you want as many people as possible to find and share your GIF. For this, use your brand name and a few common related terms so that the GIF is found as often as possible.
BonusTo learn how to create a social media strategy and optimize your social media presence with Hootsuite, check out our step-by-step guide at.
6. Upload your GIF to GIPHY.
And you are ready to go again! Now to embed the GIF in your social media posts, simply insert the GIPHY link or download the GIPHY file to attach to your post (which method you use depends on the social media platform – more on that later).
PS: Follow the same steps if you want to upload a previously created GIF. To do this, instead of the YouTube video link mentioned earlier, you just need to paste a link to your GIF URL.
To create a mobile GIF
You can use mobile apps like GIPHY Cam to capture your own GIFs on your smartphone. It’s easy – if you’ve ever used Snapchat, you know how to use GIPHY Cam.
1. Launch the app and record your GIF.
Tap the photo button to capture a short series of photos, or stay on the button longer if you want to create a longer GIF.
2. Optional: choose a filter or add a sticker/text.
3. Save your GIF and share it with the rest of the world.
How to create screen recorder GIFs
Use apps like GIPHY Capture, ScreenToGif, LICECap and GifCam to make GIFs of your screen activities. This option is especially good for illustrating a short how-to article (z. B. for online help) if you want to visually represent each step of the process.
1. Launch the screen recorder software.
When you launch the software, you’ll see the area of the screen that will be captured – such as the area outlined in red in the screenshot below.
2. Drag the capture mask over the area you want to capture.
With GIPHY Capture, you can record anything that is within this recording screen (again, outlined in red below). To enlarge the area, click in the bottom right corner (outlined in yellow) and drag to adjust the area.
3. Record your screen activity.
Press the round red button in the middle to start recording – and again if you want to stop recording. Now a thumbnail preview of your GIF should appear in the bar below the recording area.
4. Customize your GIF settings.
Now reduce the size of the recording area and take a closer look at the GIF options menu. Here you can set several properties of your GIF – including the type of loop (forward or backward, or played with the "ping pong" option), the pixel size, and the frame rate. Now drag the tabs inward from the right or left to crop your GIF. You can also enter captions in this menu.
Once you have everything set to your satisfaction, you can hit the blue "Calculate Size" button to see approximately how big your GIF file is. I reduced the quality of my GIF when I realized it would be more than 8 MB (the ideal size is under 3 MB).
5. Save your GIF.
You can now save your GIF to your computer or upload it directly to GIPHY’s online archive using GIPHY Capture.
Tips for using GIFs in social media
The social media platforms best suited for GIFs are Facebook and Twitter. Instagram only supports GIFs that are uploaded as video files. (as of April 2018)
Share a GIF on Facebook
It’s easy to share a GIF on Facebook: All you have to do is copy and paste the link to your GIF, wait for the preview to pop up – and you’re in the clear. For best results, Facebook recommends:
- Choose high quality images or animations.
- Use one on .gif ending link.
- Use a GIF with a file size of less than 8 MB.
- Use a GIF whose text is less than 20% of the image area.
- Don’t use GIFs that automatically flash or are grainy. (Adhere to Facebook’s rules for advertising.)
Share GIF on Twitter
Here’s how to share a GIF on Twitter:
- Type your tweet (or a GIF URL) into the box at the top of your timeline or click the button Tweet.
- 2. Click on the Camera-Button to upload a GIF from your computer.
Select a GIF from Twitter’s built-in GIF library and click on the GIF-Icon. You can only send one GIF per tweet.
- After you select a GIF, the image is attached to your tweet.
- Click on the button Tweet, to post your GIF.
Now you have also learned how to share GIFs on Facebook and Twitter. Following, we’d like to share a few different approaches to incorporating animated GIFs into your social media strategy.
1. Grab the attention of your target audience.
Remember: a good social media strategy should not be solely about conversions and sales. One of the things that’s so fun about social media is discovering GIFs that you can then share with friends.
Humor is one of the most effective ways to reach your audience and keep them engaged. Choose GIFs that resonate well with your audience and make them feel personally connected to your brand.
By the way, you don’t have to bury your GIFs under brand mentions – that will only annoy your customers. Rather, make sure your cultural references on social media are current or of timeless quality. You don’t want your target audience to get the idea that you’re out of the loop.
2. Add value to your instructions.
GIFs are great for adding a visual component to instructional text. InStyle’s 18 Ways to Wear a Scarf guide is a wonderful example of how how-to GIFs can work well. The GIFs in this article work so well because you show what to do and what the end result looks like – all in less than five seconds!
The Huffington Post recently featured a huge collection of fitness GIFs for those of us who don’t like going to the gym. Each GIF shows how to perform an exercise correctly in a short video loop. It saves the user the hassle of fast-forwarding and rewinding in YouTube videos (or dragging their tired body to a personal trainer).
3. Promote your products.
The fact that GIFs are so easy to share and can also go viral very quickly also makes them an ideal advertising medium.
Last year, Converse and ad agency Big Spaceship created a back-to-school marketing campaign featuring actress Millie Bobby Brown. The "First Day Feels" campaign included 32 reaction GIFs from the Stranger Things-actor and was incredibly successful: with more than 276 million views and 11.500 Shares between GIPHY and Tenor she managed to Converse as a the To firmly establish a shoe brand for the start of school for tweens and teens.
4. Boost your visual branding.
GIFs are undoubtedly more stimulating than static images – especially if you use them sparingly. Of course, you can overdo it and create a visual nightmare reminiscent of the 1990s on GeoCities (some people strive for that on purpose). Such aberrations can be avoided, however, by choosing GIFs with muted colors and shades that don’t disrupt the browsing experience – like this cool, unobtrusive GIF from Nike.
Of course, you can do just the opposite and create a sensational GIF that is absolutely freaky.
For example, the mail-order company Blackbox, founded by the people behind Cards Against Humanity, recently placed this insane GIF by pixel artist Paul Robertson on the home page of its website.
The visual overstimulation in this GIF represents exactly what Blackbox is all about: shipping products from independent artists around the world, and making it fun too. Robertson’s GIF went over extremely well on Twitter, being retweeted nearly 850 times and receiving 2.500 Likes!
5. Make your data more visually stimulating.
GIFs are also a very viable way to add dynamic elements to graphs and charts. This makes data more visually interesting and can be prepared in a way that makes its development and collection easy to see and therefore more vivid. I particularly liked this example from info we trust, which shows which of the 112 flowers in Jefferson Monticello’s garden are growing at which time of year.
This is admittedly a very complex example, but you can also use GIFs to visualize your data in a more straightforward way. Google has been providing Data GIF Maker for this purpose since last year. All you need to do there is enter your numbers – Google will do the rest!
However you choose to incorporate GIFs into your marketing strategy, whether on social media or elsewhere, you should use them thoughtfully, making sure they reflect your brand’s values – and that they are fun for you and others to use!
Easily add your creative GIFs to your social media posts with Hootsuite. Manage your social media channels from a single dashboard and interact with your followers across all networks. Try it for free today.
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Fergus Baird is a freelance writer and editor. He’s currently building the web’s most bizarre professional portfolio, featuring content on human embryology, holograms, Scottish rap, and battery-charging neckties.