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How To Make Gifs

If you’d like to access the original gif tutorial posted in 2011, you can still find it here.

As a disclaimer: there are many ways of making gifs, and this is only one of them. A lot of people use programs like Photoshop (I’ll talk a bit about this later). The advantage of the programs I’ve used in this tutorial is that they’re both completely free and legal to download.

  1. The first thing you need to do is extract a number of stills from the video clip you want to gif. The KMPlayer (a media player) is a great tool for this, because it can extract stills from both digital video files (ie, .avi, .mp4, .mkv, etc.) and DVDs. You can download The KMPlayer here. In the first gif tutorial I wrote, I used a different program - the free Video-To-JPG converter. It’s great, but can’t be used with DVDs. You can still find instructions for it over at Tutorial 1.0 if you’re so inclined.

    All you need to do in The KMPlayer is go to the point where you want to start your gif and pause it, then hit CTRL+G to bring up the frame extraction window and pick your settings. Here I’m making a gif of Quinn in ‘Nationals’.

    Leave the stills at the original size and pick an output folder. The most difficult step here is deciding on how many frames per second you want. The shorter your clip is, the higher this number can be. Your total frame number will eventually influence the virtual size of your gif, which is important (as Tumblr has a limit of 1000 kb for gifs).  

    Once you’ve adjusted your settings appropriately, click “Start” and then play your clip. Stop it once you’ve reached the end. It really is that simple! The pictures will save in whatever folder you specified. Here are mine:

  2. The second program you need is something to put the actual gif together. As I said before, there are lots of options for this, but I often use a free program called Photoscape (download here).

  3. Optional step: you may want to edit the stills before you make your gif. There are a few reasons for doing this - a) if you want to put a watermark on your gif; b) if you want to mess around with the colouring or lighting; c) if you want to crop the photos to a certain shape or size; d) if you want to add an object to your photo (like this); etc. All of these things can be done in the batch editor, where you edit multiple photos at the same time.

    Drag and drop your photos into the editor.

    The orange arrow points to the list of photos that I’m editing - all the JPGs that my converter program created. I haven’t done any editing to these frames yet. I’m now going to brighten them up by adjusting the Filter settings on the right (red arrow).

    There are too many options in the batch editor for me to show you them all. If you have specific questions on adding watermarks, cropping, converting to black and white, etc. then you can ask, but they should be pretty easy to figure out on your own.

    I’ve added some sample text to show you here, but I won’t include it in my final gif.

    Once you have the JPGs looking the way you want them to, click ‘Convert All’.

  4. Now, switch over to the ‘Animated Gif' tab.

    Drag and drop your converted JPGs into the gif editor.

    Now comes the tricky part - determining what size and speed to make your gif. The speed is basically up to you; it won’t affect the file size much, and is easy to change (just click ‘change time’ on the right toolbar). Just play around with it until the speed looks right to you. I usually find that somewhere between .08 and .12 seconds is about right.

    Size is a little more difficult to negotiate. In order to upload to Tumblr, your gif needs to be no larger than 500 pixels across (this is the maximum size it will display in on your dashboard). There used to be a height limit of 500 pixels as well, but this has changed recently - I’m not sure what the new rule is. I’ve set my gif here to 500x250, which is well within the limits.

    However, Tumblr also requires that the virtual size of your gif be smaller than 1000 KB (equivalent to 1 MB). When I save mine, it comes out too big.

    I need to make my gif smaller. There are a few ways of doing this - I can reduce the dimensions, reduce the total number of frames, or make the gif darker or less colourful (brightly coloured images carry more information, so they’re bigger). I opted to remove a few frames and shrink the dimensions down to 500x200.

    Now, this is technically over the limit of 1000 KB - but something this close can usually slip by the Tumblr limit. Typically you can get it to go through as long as it’s under 1.1 MB, which this is.

  5. My gif can now be uploaded to Tumblr!

Ultimately, the best advice I can give you is to play around with it yourself and find out what works. This is how I learned! Hopefully these steps will help you out a bit, but exploring the program on your own will be helpful too.

A note on making gif sets:

If you’re planning to post a photoset of gifs (see some examples herehere and here), you’ll want to size them appropriately. For instance, if uploading 2 gifs side by side, you should make each of them around 245 pixels across (500 pixels minus the 10-pixel space between the gifs, then divided by 2). You can upload differently-sized gifs if you want, but they might turn out funny depending on their dimensions.

A note on Photoshop:

There is no “best” program for making gifs, but Photoshop allows you to do a lot more than Photoscape does in some respects. Some of the more artistic or creative effects that can be done in Photoshop are extremely difficult or even impossible to replicate in Photoscape (some examples here, here and here). If you think that gif- and graphic-making is something you want to invest a lot of time in, it might be worth it to give Photoshop a try.

HOWEVER, Photoshop has a lot of drawbacks too:

  • It’s expensive (and any free copies you find online are illegal
  • It’s very difficult to learn. I found it to be unintuitive, complicated, and generally a big hassle when I first started out.
  • It’s a heavy-duty program that will make your computer run slowly. It’s also not uncommon to hear of Photoshop crashing in the middle of a project.

That said, I really like Photoshop, and once you’ve learned to use it you can create some really cool things. There’s a great list of helpful Photoshop tutorials here to get you started! But if you’re a beginner or you just want to make basic gifs, I can’t recommend Photoscape enough. It is infinitely easier to use, and you can usually make things much faster there than you can on Photoshop.