First introduced to the world by Compuserve in 1987, the graphics interchange format—better known as the GIF—is having a real moment. Your mom loves ‘em, your social media feed loves ‘em, even politicians are getting in on the action, because who doesn’t need the tiny distractions that good GIFs provide? And in case you’re thinking that you could never make a viral masterpiece, I’m here to tell you it’s entirely doable. Here are the easiest ways to go from beginner to GIF kween.
Whether you pronounce it with a soft "g" like the peanut butter or with a hard "g" (the cool way), there are a plethora of apps out there for recording snippets of your favorite videos—almost like taking a series of screenshots—to create the lossless, compressed graphics of your dreams. Two of my personal favorites, owned by the Facebook and Twitter of the GIF-world, not only allow you to make your own graphics, but also house your creations within their image libraries for interweb posterity.
Over the past few years, Giphy—the multimedia company that put GIFs on the map—has expanded beyond its humble roots as a GIF-hosting platform. These days, it includes a suite of desktop and mobile apps that take the hassle out of GIF-making. After acquiring a widely popular Apple application called Gifgrabber, the company re-launched the tool early last year as Giphy Capture. This app is a great low-effort way to make a good GIF, but for the time being, it's only available on Macs.
After downloading and opening the app for the first time, you’ll see a green-tinted overlay window, which looks similar to your standard screenshot window on a Mac. The great thing about this is that you can place this window over any video player, whether it’s in a browser (like a YouTube video) or not (like a file on your computer). Once you’ve decided on the perfect snippet, hit record; press it again to finish recording. Pro Tip: Take multiple "screenshots" of your favorite clip so you'll have different versions of varying lengths to work with. This will all make sense for the next step.
After you’ve finished recording, a handy control panel will open up underneath your overlay window, allowing you to edit each clip—and initiate GIF magic.
Once you’ve decided on your ideal clip, click on it to open the editing window, which looks something like this:
From here, you can put the final touches on your masterpiece:
- Adjust the size of your GIF, which is especially important if you’d like to share it across social media. Pro Tip: Twitter caps out at 3MB, while Tumblr recommends GIFs no larger than 1MB.
- Use the slider to adjust the length
- Change the looping pattern
- Adjust the frame rate (if you're going to post the GIF on social media, keep it on the standard to low-res side of things)
- Add a caption or subtitle
Once you’re satisfied, press "DONE," and you can decide where this work of art will live—on social media, on Giphy, or on your computer to share at a later date. Pro Tip: If you create a Giphy account, you can get all the credit for your work, and others won't steal it.
Giphy Capture is extremely easy to use, but for years, GIF Brewery has been a more advanced option for those looking to "screenshot" their videos into GIFs. Late last year, Gfycat (in this instance, pronounced with a soft “g”), Giphy's chief competitor, acquired the app. Now, GIF Brewery includes the option to host your creations on Gfycat's platform (Full disclosure: Popular Science is a Gfycat partner).
All things considered, Giphy Capture and GIF Brewery let you "screenshot" your videos very (and I mean very) similarly. But two things really set the apps apart: You can import actual URLs (from YouTube, etc) and video files into GIF Brewery, and GIF Brewery provides access to more advanced controls for adjusting speed, size, and frame rate.
With that, let’s assume for a moment that you’ve mastered the art of the Giphy Capture approach and move onto the more intermediate GIF Brewery method for turning your video files into GIFs.
When you first open the app, you’ll see a dialog window that displays the different ways you can create a GIF using GIF Brewery. For the purposes of this demo, select "import video" and choose your favorite video file.
From here, you’ll visit this editing window. Don’t be intimidated. You got this!
In this editing window, you can do a number of different things to prep your video for GIF stardom.
From the bar at the top you can crop or adjust the size of your GIF, and add captions. Pro Tip: If you’re uploading to Tumblr or Twitter, you’ll want to keep things on the small side.
Pro Tip: If you're inserting captions, you can also position them and adjust where they'll appear in your finished GIF by clicking the “Overlays” button on the far top right of the editing window.
In GIF Brewery, your timeline window is more advanced too. You can set your "in" and "out" points, and even duplicate clips—to create more seamless looping—by pressing "add clip."
Still with me? Ok, good. After you’ve placed your captions, sized your GIF, and set your "in" and "out" points, it's time to place the final touches. Press the “Settings” button on the top right to initiate the next phase of your GIF-education.
From this panel, you can do the following:
- Adjust the number of frames in your GIF. Pro Tip: Adding more frames will give your GIF greater clarity.
- Tweak the frame delay.
- Speed up (or slow down) your GIF.
- Select the type of loop and loop count you’d like for your GIF (i.e. Normal, Reverse, or Palindrome).
- Alter the color spectrum for your GIF.
When you’re satisfied with the results, press “CREATE” and watch your video frames magically compress into a GIF. (Woo!)
To the cloud
Now you're a screenshot-GIF-creator. But what if you’re too lazy and would rather let machines do all the work? Meet CloudConvert—your new best friend. CloudConvert is a freemium service—you get a certain number of file conversions free, but after that, you have to create a paid account—that allows you to convert any file type into an entirely different one. This means that it can take you mere seconds to convert your favorite video files into GIFs.
Here’s how it’s done. First, click the first "anything" at the top of the page and select either .mp4 or .mov from the video drop-down menu; repeat for the process for the second "anything" and select .gif from the image in the drop-down menu.
Once you’ve selected your presets, press "select files" to upload your video, and press the "start conversion" button at the bottom of the page. Voila! You’ve just made a GIF in seconds. Now download it and share it with the world.
You’ve (hopefully) mastered the basics of making GIFs on your computer. Now it’s time to take your show on the road and bring GIF-making to your smartphone. Here are two of the best apps to download for this purpose.
GIPHY CAM for iPhone and Android
GIPHY CAM, created by the aforementioned company Giphy, squeezes everything great about Giphy Capture into an easy-to-use smartphone app. But it has two notable differences: It’s available in the Google Play Store (Android users, rejoice!), and you can use both existing and on-the-fly footage to create your tiny masterpieces.
When you first open GIPHY CAM, a camera window will appear, allowing you to record footage on either the front-facing or the rear-facing camera. For on-the-fly videography, press the record button, and your footage will magically transform into an editable GIF.
Alternatively, you can access your camera roll by clicking the preview button on the left edge of your screen. If you’re importing your footage, your edit window will look something like this:
In the end—after you press the "right arrow"—both methods will take you to your final pit stop before the fun begins. From here, you can add Instagram-esque filters and stickers to your creation before you share it with the world. Pro Tip: It’s okay to GET WEIRD.
Once you’re satisfied, click the blue “Next” button, and out comes a piping hot GIF!
These days, all internet roads lead to Facebook (or one of the many apps they own). Which brings us to arguably my favorite way to make GIFs on mobile: Boomerang. Along with Hyperlapse and Layout, Boomerang fills out Instagram’s truly wonderful suite of visual apps. In fact, the app is now so popular, it was integrated into Instagram Stories late last year. So what exactly is a Boomerang, you ask? While not technically a GIF, a Boomerang is a short, looping video file that looks and acts like a GIF. And making them is a cinch.
Ready? Wait for it. Here goes: Download the app. Open the app. Switch your camera between front-facing or rear-facing. Toggle the flash (in the upper right hand corner) on or off. Press record. BOOM(erang).
And there you have it, folks. Now, go forth and GIF!