GIFs are the condiments of a healthy social media diet. The short visual loops are the best way to make pop culture references, avoid responding to emails with full sentences, capture a moment of natural beauty that can’t be done justice with a photo, save a precious memory of your friend or lover doing something embarrassing, or memorialize your own face with an animated alien munching your nose off.
But how does one make a GIF without sinking cash into Photoshop and After Effects? In 2016, there have never been more easy and fast alternative methods. This is a delightful time to be alive — sort of like being the first batch of people to get to use a disposable camera or DVR an episode of Desperate Housewives.
Since there’s a GIF for every occasion there should be a GIF-making tool for every occasion, so here are eight easy-to-use options and some suggestions of when to use them. This list is going to be Giphy-heavy because Giphy’s invested a lot of time and energy in dominating the GIF-making market. They may not be making any money, but they sure are making a lot of GIFs.
Best for: simple, fast GIFs for everyday jokes and burns. Mac only.
By far the simplest option for making GIFs on a Mac desktop is Giphy’s relatively new Capture app. Set its friendly green overlay on top of a video (you can resize it) to capture up to 30 seconds of footage at a time. Use the app’s sliders to select the moment in the footage that you want to GIF — this part’s a little annoying if you’re looking to GIF something very short. The sliders won’t let you select anything shorter than three seconds. No winks.
You only have three choices for frame rate and size, but you can add captions and easily upload to all your various social platforms and your Giphy account. One problem: the app makes high-resolution GIFs that often have file sizes too big for Tumblr. If you’re just looking to make something quickly for a Twitter zinger or a group email thread and you want it to look fine and you don’t have too many file size or speed requirements it’s your best bet. Most of the time, if you’re being honest with yourself, fine is fine enough.
Best for: high-art GIF selfies just for you.
Giphy’s mobile app lets you take short videos of your own face and overlay them with animations and filters inspired by the weird web. It’s available for iOS and Android, and everyone in The Verge office loves it. Playing with filters that aren’t part of Snapchat’s overfamiliar roster can be fun, plus there’s no obligation to share. These lil beauties are just for you!
You can play with the looping mode; add filters like VHS grain, Pixel, and 3D; slap on text, frames, faces, or some “Deal With It” shades; and easily share to Twitter, Instagram, your texting app, or Facebook Messenger — but only if you want.
Photo Booth + Giphy
Best for: GIF-ing your bedroom dance routines for a global audience.
When you need to make a good GIF of something you are doing alone in your home, I know of only one good way to go about it. My friend Claire Carusillo, who writes the beautiful and inspiring skin care Tiny Letter “My Second or Third Skin” taught me this method. You merely position your computer in front of your body (at any distance you please) and record a video using a Photo Booth app.
You can upload that video to the GIF Maker section of Giphy’s website. (This is also another useful tool for making GIFs from YouTube videos, with similar limitations to those I mentioned above re: Giphy Capture.) You can also add text to your GIFs by flipping over to the GIF Caption tab, so as to narrate your dance routine.
My friend Claire uses these GIFs to make illustrated how-to guides because it’s easy to record hands-free video with Photo Booth and it’s easy to add legible captions through Giphy. Just look at her beautiful and useful handiwork:
QuickTime + GIF Brewery
Best for: Making multiple GIFs from the same video source, and using lots of custom options. Mac only.
The QuickTime + GIF Brewery option is what I use for most of the GIFs I make for The Verge Dot Com. It involves several more steps than Giphy Capture and GIF Brewery costs $4.99 to download, but it gives you a lot more freedom and, to be honest, I’m just in the habit of it.
Here are the steps. There are nine, which is a lot, but I assure you the results are worth the extra lift.
- Open QuickTime player and select “New Screen Recording” from the File dropdown. Drag the transparent box around the video you want to record or just click to record your entire screen (this is very useful when submitting evidence of something that’s malfunctioning on your computer to a customer service rep who does not quite believe you).
- Click record! Click stop! Save the file.
- Open the file in GIF Brewery, which you purchased from the App Store for $4.99. If you’re making GIFs for a professional reason, I assume you can submit this as a work expense.
- Crop and resize the video in GIF Brewery.
- Use the yellow and red sliders at the bottom of the window to select the section of the video you want to GIF. The best thing about GIF Brewery is that you can select moments as short as one millisecond. Why would you do that? None of my business.
- Add captions and then use the “Manage Overlays” tool to set start and end times for the caption if you don’t want it to appear during the entirety of the GIF.
- Use “GIF Properties” to select your Frame Count, add a freeze frame, and choose a looping mode (Palindrome is fun).
- The most useful option in GIF Brewery’s GIF Properties is “Reduce number of colors in GIF.” It’s useful if you don’t want to mess around in Photoshop simplifying colors, and if you’re trying to get a GIF down under Tumblr’s sort of Draconian 2MB limit. While the image won’t be quite as beautiful, it should still look better than most GIFs made with other methods.
- Click “Create GIF” and save! You can make a GIF set from the same video by readjusting your sliders and creating again — the settings you chose before will stay locked in until you change them.
Best for: your Instagram, and that’s it.
The Verge’s gadget queen Ashley Carman discussed the art of Boomerang with me at length on a recent episode of What’s Tech. You should listen to everything she has to say, but the basic takeaway here is that Instagram’s supplementary Boomerang app does not technically make GIFs. When you record short videos in Boomerang they are saved as mp4 files. But they appear as GIFs that play in a boomerang-style loop when you upload them to Instagram. They are, emotionally speaking, similar to GIFs, despite the fact that they are not Graphics Interchange Format.
All you have to do to turn your Instagram into a Harry Potter-inspired moving photo album is download Boomerang (it’s free) and get really, really good at recording the perfect two-second snippet of your life. You post the videos to Instagram the same way you would post a photo, and though you can still add filters to them it’s sort of a bummer that you can’t tag your friends. The videos will rapidly consume space on your phone, so you should probably delete the original files after you post them.
Best for: diversifying your VSCO account, on-the-go GIFs for iOS.
Like Boomerang, VSCO’s GIF app has a basic roster of filters and records only very short blips of video (2.5 seconds). Unlike Boomerang, the app automatically saves both an mp4 and GIF version of everything you make. It also uploads the files to your VSCO account (you have to have one to use the app), from which you can choose to share them onto other platforms.
Best for: Retro photo series GIFs, on-the-go GIFs for Android.
In addition to recording up to 30 seconds of video, this Android app lets you input up to 50 photos to create a classic flipbook-style GIF. All you have to do is select “Gif using pictures,” then go through your photo roll and select all of the 50 consecutive photos you took of your face (the app’s continuous shooting tool can help you with that).
Best for: Tumblr-in’ on the run!
Tumblr added a GIF-making feature to its iOS app last November, with the feature coming to Android four months later. It’s a great tool if you’re invested in posting to Tumblr while you’re out on the town, especially since it can handle standard video or Apple’s Live Photos.
Open your Tumblr app and select “Compose,” then choose “Photo.” You can select a Live Photo, video, or series of stills from your camera roll — Tumblr adds a little “GIF” badge to the corner to indicate that a file format is compatible. After you edit the GIF, you can add a caption and some tags. The feature has the same basic speed, loop, crop, and sizing tools as most GIF creators, but since it’s part of Tumblr’s own app you can also use it to create GIF sets and post them straight to your blog.