Background: The Power and Limits of Animated GIFs

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The Power: Sharability

It's easy to take digital photos for granted. They're easy to take and easy to share. All it takes is the click of an "upload" button and your image can appear on websites, social networks, in email newsletters, on mobile phone, etc. Digital images just work.

An Animated GIF is a Digital Image, Too.  

An animated GIF is like a video that works everywhere. But you don't have to worry about players or plug-ins or device compatability. It's simple. An animated GIF works almost anywhere an image can be shared online - and that's truly powerful.

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The Limits: File Size

Animated GIFs have limits. Because most GIFs are shared online, it's important that they play nicely with web pages and email newsletters. Like a photo or video, animated GIFs work best when they have a small file size. If the file size is too big, the page won't load quickly. The file size constraint is perhaps the most important technical consideration regarding animated GIFs.

To ensure an optimal file size, we have to consider the limits of the format. Here are a few general rules of thumb (we'll focus on these more later):

  • Duration - 30 seconds is about the maximum
  • File Size -  Under 250kbs is a good target
  • Color - A few, simple, flat colors are best.
  • Dimensions - Small dimensions = fewer pixels = smaller file size

These constraints may seem, well, constraining. But really, they give the format a shape, a starting point. When you set out to make an ExplainerGIF, some decisions are already made for you. This allows you to focus on content. 

The latter part of this guide will cover multiple ways to reduce file size in the production process.

The Power: Sources

Most animated GIFs we see today are created from existing videos.  People find a clip they like and convert it to an animated GIF. For example, services like GIFSoup and GIFYouTube automatically turn YouTube videos into animated GIFs. This has created an explosion in GIFs. Sites like Giphy are becoming the YouTube of animated GIFs. 

This explosion happened because new tools made it easy to turn almost any online video clip into a GIFs. I call this the second golden age of animated GIFs

The Limits: Creating Source Material

Converting an existing video to an animated GIF is the easy part. It's producing the source material that is the real challenge (and opportunity). Up to now, few people have had the know-how and tools to create compelling animations for animated GIFs.

With this guide, we aim to change that. We will show you easy ways to create and capture animations.

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Next: Let's take a quick tour of animated GIFs