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What is a GIF File?

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GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. GIF is a digital file format developed by CompuServe in 1987 to compress images and short animations without any loss of information at the time, it was popular due to its support of 256 different colors, which was considered significant. GIF uses a compression algorithm called LZW, which was invented by Lempel, Ziv, and Welch, and allowed for file sizes to be minimized. However, in 1994, Unisys Corporation, which owned a patent for LZW, caused controversy when they sought royalties from users. Even though Unisys Corporation’s patents related to LZW, the compression algorithm used in GIF, expired by 2004, the controversy over royalties led to the development of an alternative to GIF, the portable network graphics (PNG) format, which offered a wider range of colors and different compression techniques. While JPEG is commonly used to transmit high-quality images, it usually results in larger file sizes. However, despite the competition, GIF remains widely used and popular.

History of GIF

  • The history of GIFs dates back to the 1980s when Steve Wilhite, a programmer for Compuserve, began working on the Graphics Interchange Format (abbreviated as GIF).
  • CompuServe introduced the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) on June 15, 1987, as a color image format for their file download area, replacing their older black-and-white Run-Length Encoding (RLE) format. 
  • CompuServe introduced GIF in 1987 to provide a color image format for their file downloading areas.
  • GIF became popular because it used Lempel–Ziv–Welch data compression, which was more efficient than other formats at the time.
  • The first version of GIF was known as 87a and could already handle a stream of multiple images. CompuServe introduced an improved version, called 89a, in 1989, which included features such as animation delays, transparent background colors, application-specific metadata storage, and text labels as text.
  • CompuServe encouraged the adoption of GIFs by providing downloadable conversion utilities for many computers.
  • GIF was one of the first two image formats commonly used on websites, along with the black-and-white XBM.
  • The disagreement regarding the licensing agreements between Unisys and CompuServe in 1994 led to the creation of the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) standard. By 2004, all patents related to the exclusive compression used for GIF had expired.
  • GIF’s feature of storing multiple images in one file, accompanied by control data, is used extensively on the Web to produce simple animations. The optional interlacing feature also helped GIF’s popularity, as a user could abort the download if it was not what was required.
  • In 2015, Facebook added support for GIFs, and in 2018, Instagram added GIF stickers to the story mode.

Creating a GIF File

Method 1: Creating an Animated GIF from a Video

  1. Choose a reputable video-to-GIF conversion app or software. You can use a web-based tool like Giphy GIF Maker or IMGUR Video to GIF, or download an app from your device’s app store after reading reviews.
  2. Select the source video you want to use for your GIF. It can be any video with 0.5 to 15 seconds of movement.
  3. Load the video into the converter by pasting the URL of the video or uploading the desired file.
  4. Define the length of your GIF by selecting a specific section of the video to convert.
  5. Add text or other elements to your GIF if desired.
  6. Click the “Create GIF” or “Save GIF” button to launch the Save menu.
  7. Choose a name for your GIF and save it to a folder you’ll remember later. If the GIF is over 10MB, it may be saved as a . GIFV file instead of. GIF.
  8. Test your GIF by opening it in your web browser or tapping it open on a mobile device to ensure it plays correctly.

Method 2: Creating an Animated GIF from Images

  1. Gather the images you want to use and make sure they are on your computer or mobile device. If they are online, download them first.
  2. Choose an image-to-GIF converter, such as GifCreator or GIFMaker Video Maker, which are accessible on the web with no downloads required.
  3. Open the converter in your browser and upload your first image by clicking the “Upload Images” button and selecting the image. Adjust the size and repeat times if necessary.
  4. Upload additional images and adjust their size and order by dragging them around. Use the preview button to check your work.
  5. Click “Create GIF animation” or “Create GIF” to open the Save dialog. Choose a memorable file name and folder on your device, then click “Save” or “Download” to save your creation.

Method 3: Creating an Animated GIF From Scratch in GIMP

  1. Open GIMP and create a new image by selecting “New” from the File menu. Set the width and height of the image in pixels and choose a background color.
  2. Make the Layers dock visible by selecting “Layers” from the “Dockable Dialogs” option in the Windows menu.
  3. Create a new layer for your first element by clicking the small square paper icon in the Layers box and giving the layer a name. Set the color to “Transparent.”
  4. Add images or text to the layer using the paintbrush or text tools.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 for each additional layer you want in your animation.
  6. Preview your animation by selecting “Playback” from the “Animation” option in the Filters menu.
  7. Change animation options by selecting “GIF image” from the Export option in the File menu. Check the “As animation” box and set the delay between frames to the desired time in milliseconds.
  8. Fine-tune the delay for each layer by right-clicking the layer name in the Layers box and selecting “Edit layer attributes.” Enter the duration in milliseconds next to the layer name and click “OK.”
  9. Preview your animation again and then export it by selecting “GIF image” from the Export option in the File menu. Give your animation a name and click “Save” to finish.

Method 4: Creating a (Non-Animated) GIF from an Image

  1. Choose an image to convert to GIF format, keeping in mind that GIF files can only display 256 colors, so higher-quality images may experience a reduction in quality.
  2. If the image is on the internet, save it to your computer before proceeding. If the image needs to be scanned, follow the appropriate steps for scanning.
  3. Open the image in Preview (Mac) or Paint (Windows).
  • For Mac: Go to the File menu and select “Save As.” From the Format menu, choose “GIF.” Provide a name for the new file in the “Save As” field and click “Save” to save the GIF.
  • For Windows: Click on “File,” then click the right-facing arrow next to “Save As.” From the list, choose “GIF Picture” and give the file a name. Click “Save” to create the GIF file.

Method 5: Creating an Animated GIF From Scratch in Photoshop

  1. Open Photoshop and create a new image by going to File > New. Name your animation and set the width and height for your image.
  2. Choose a background color for your animation and click “OK” to create the image.
  3. Open the Layers and Animation panels by clicking on Window > Layers and Window > Animation.
  4. Create a new layer for your first frame in the Layers panel and name it “Frame 1”. Add your text or drawing to this layer.
  5. Create your next frame by creating a new layer or cloning the previous one. Repeat until you have every frame on its own layer.
  6. Create new frames in the Animation panel by clicking on the New Frame button.
  7. Edit the contents of each frame in the Animation panel by removing visibility from all layers other than the one you want to be visible in that frame.
  8. Adjust the duration of each frame by changing the time at the bottom of each thumbnail.
  9. Press the Play button to test your animation.
  10. Save the animation as a GIF by going to File > Save for Web and Devices and selecting GIF as the preset. Click “Save” to save your animated GIF.

Usage of GIF

  • GIF animations are a great way to illustrate products, either through CGI or video loops.
  • ‘How-to’ guides can use multiple GIFs to break down steps, accompanied by text.
  • Animations can be used for websites, presentations, and app demonstrations.
  • GIFs can also be used for fun, such as reactions in comments or emails.
  • GIFs have gained significant popularity on social media, with many becoming especially well-known. Instagram users often create GIFs on their stories that relate to their business or modify existing popular GIFs to fit their message.

Advantages of GIF 

  • Easy to create using a series of images.
  • Small file size compared to other formats, resulting in faster loading times without compromising quality.
  • Can be viewed without any additional software.
  • Ability to convey messages and emotions effectively.
  • Support transparent backgrounds, giving images a professional look.
  • Supported by all major web browsers.

Disadvantage of GIF

  • Using too many GIFs on a single webpage can slow down the page speed.
  • Once a GIF is created, it cannot be edited again.
  • Limited color depth (256 bit) compared to other image formats, resulting in blocky images.
  • A high-speed internet connection is still required for optimal loading times, despite the small file size.

Reason Behind the Popularity of GIFs

  • GIFs have become increasingly popular in recent years due to the fast internet, messaging apps, and meme culture.
  • GIFs allow people to quickly express their emotional response, convey identity through pop culture references, and capitalize on meme culture.
  • Compared to texts and still images, GIFs compress a lot of information into something that’s easily shareable, making them a draw for consumers and brands.
  • Most GIFs are taken from media products and reflect personal interests and cultural backgrounds.
  • GIFs are also a major source of digital culture and the birthplace of popular memes.
  • Brands can use GIFs to stay culturally in sync with today’s connected consumers.


It is uncertain whether GIFs will remain relevant in the future when wearables and AR glasses become the main computing devices, focusing more on audio and 3D objects than visuals. However, it is possible that new forms of reaction GIFs may arise through facial tracking technologies like Apple’s Animojis or that hologram versions of GIFs could be created. Despite how GIFs may evolve, they are currently an important aspect of our digital culture, and brands should be familiar with using them to gain popularity. 

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Last Updated : 22 Mar, 2023
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