gif tutorial

this is basically just me showing you how I gif. (dunderklumpen style? idek) I only ever read one tutorial long after I figured out how to gif, so we’ll see how this goes. there’s a section on the basics, but most of it is focused on the more interesting stuff like sharpening and colouring. or, how to make your gif look pretty. just one thing: a lot of the things I do are the result of linda and me challenging each other to become better gifmakers and constantly trying and combining new things.

if you have any questions or comments, leave them in my ask or browse my answered questions tag.

recommended software: photoshop cs5, the kmplayer and topaz clean

things that are in this tutorial:

giffing 101
1. capping and choosing the right caps/size
2. the basics in photoshop

more advanced things (or, how I gif)
3. using actions
4. (auto) sharpening
5. colouring
6. static background and other tips on saving kbs

7. psds

giffing 101

1. capping and choosing the right caps/size

the easiest way (for me) is capping with the kmplayer. alternatively, you can use virtualdub for capping image sequences too, or vlc player if you want to cap manually. the great thing about the kmplayer is that it a) plays/caps all files, including mkv and b) it can cap automatically.

in general, the bigger and brighter your caps are, the better the quality of your gif will be. ideally you’ll want 720p mkv files for the best quality gifs, in particular when you’re planning to edit your gif in any way (like sharpening). keep in mind that not every scene is focused properly, which might cause problems if you want to sharpen the caps.

capping with the kmplayer is pretty straightforward:

  • open your video file
  • find the point where you want to start capping (press the arrows to go 5 seconds forward/back and f to go one frame forward)
  • press control + g for the capping menu
  • use the following settings:
  • press start in the capping menu, let the player play the bit you want to cap, pause and press stop in the capping menu

2. the basics in photoshop

to load all the caps you need into a single file, choose file -> scripts -> load files into stack and select the caps you want to use.

minor note: caps have wobbly camera movements, you can use attempt to automatically align source images to stabilise them. this only works when the camera shifts, not when it zooms. most of the time it doesn’t have the desired effect, but sometimes it does work.

the first thing you should look at is cropping/resizing. tumblr only accepts gifs of certain dimensions. bigger gifs will just not work. the maximum size for a single gif is 500*700 px and smaller gifs in photosets can be 245*400 or 160*400 at most. keep this in mind to avoid auto resizing by tumblr/quality loss. click here for a visual representation of all possible dimensions.

cropping/resizing: two possibilities

  • if you want to use the full surface of the cap, resize via image -> image size
  • if you want to use just a part of the cap, select the cropping tool (or press c) and enter the desired width in pixels in the options bar that appears under the file/image etc menu bar

making the animation:

  • open the animation panel (window -> animation)
  • open the menu in the top right corner and select make frames from layers
  • select reverse frames from the same menu

the colours and level of detail determine the amount of frames that fit in a 1 mb gif. in general, you should keep the following in mind:

  • 500*500: ~12 frames
  • 500*280: ~20 frames
  • 245*245: ~30 frames
  • 160*160: ~40 frames

if you have too many frames, keep every second or every third frame. deleting more frames would result in a choppy animation.

the last thing you need to do is setting the frame delay. select all the frames in the animation panel and click right on the 0 sec. area. I generally use a delay between 0,1 and 0,2, depending on how many frames I cut and how fast or slow the animation should be. note: the gif will seem slower in photoshop, but it will actually play faster in a browser.

notes on saving:

  • to save, select file -> save for web
  • to get the best results, choose the following settings:
  • always try to keep the colours above 100 and keep the lossy lower than 20
  • playing around with dither and lossy can decrease the gif size a lot
  • you nearly always need to use a dither (in the screenshot the menu that says diffusion). diffusion works best, but pattern gives better results.
  • usually a dither makes the gif look better, but that is not always the case. check how the gif looks without dither!

following all the steps above would result in a gif like this:

more advanced things (or, how to laura-ify gifs)

3. using actions

actions are recordings of, well, a sequence of actions you can use over and over again with a single click instead of doing everything manually every time you make a gif. suffice to say, making actions for certain parts of the giffing process saves you heaps of time. I’ve automated pretty much everything and my actions look like this:

the top folder contains actions specifically for sharpening while the bottom folder contains more general actions. make sure you restart photoshop after making actions because photoshop won’t save them if it crashes.

4. (auto) sharpening

I sharpen in three steps:

  • smart sharpen
  • unsharp mask
  • topaz clean (or alternatively, reduce noise)

if you make an action of the way you sharpen (even if you just use one step), you can use this script to automate the process and sharpen every layer automatically. it’s pretty straightforward, so just follow the instructions in that post. make sure you sharpen after cropping/resizing but before making frames from layers.

because sharpening can cause a semi-transparant border around the gif, make sure the bottom layer is a black fill layer to camouflage the transparency.

the sharpening action I’m currently using has the following settings, but keep in mind that every gif is different and might need other settings for the best result:

  • smart sharpen
    amount: 500%
    radius: 0,2 px
  • unsharp mask
    amount: 72%
    radius: 14,2 px
    threshold: 57 
  • topaz clean - curly smooth
    clean strength: 1
    clean radius: 8
    clean threshold: 17
    edge sharpness: 1,2
    edge radius: 1,27
    edge accent: 1

5. colouring

colouring is extremely fickle because the way I do it, I make a new colouring for every gif. I have an order that is always pretty much the same, but what I do never is the same. instead of telling you exactly what I did with the example gif, I’ll show you the possibilities that I use. if you want to know exactly how I coloured this gif, you should download the psd at the bottom of this page. everything below this point might not make sense.

first things first: the order

  • adjustment layers:
    * curves
    * levels
    * brightness/contrast
    * selective colour
    photo filter 
    colour balance 
  • fill layers:
    solid colour

I use the adjustments layers indicated with * practically on every gif, whether I use the other ones depends on the gif.

to use adjustment layers:

  • open the adjustment window
  • newer versions of photoshop will automatically make adjustment layers, for older versions make a layer via layer -> new adjustment layer
  • make sure the adjustment layers are on top of all other layers
  • adjustment layers apply to everything below the layers themselves

how to use adjustment layers:

as I said, I do something different every time, so I’ll just explain the different ways I use them.

the first three adjustment, curves, levels and brightness contrast are mainly used for increasing the contrast.

  • example settings:


  • curves have many, many more possibilities than just increasing contrast (that’s easily achieved with an S curve in RGB), read more about curves here.

vibrance, hue and saturation adjustments:

  • vibrance is a form of increasing saturation without being too much “in your face”
  • I mainly use hue/saturation to desaturate colours that aren’t really in the gif (saves kbs) and to emphasize colours that are in the gif
  • after using hue/saturation, use selective colour to further empasize certain colours or change them slightly to make the overall picture look better. for example: I often use this adjustment to tone up/down reds.
  • example settings for toning down reds:

photo filter and colour balance are mainly used for the overall colour of the picture, like to give the gif cooler, bluer tones. for example: this gif has a blue photo filter combined with extremely saturated reds.

fill layers are mainly used as blending layers. you can change the blending mode of a layer by selecting the layer and then opening the drop down menu left of opacity. you can make a fill layer by selecting layers -> new fill layer -> solid colour/gradient

  • I mainly use solid colour fill layers in the lighten and darken modes. choose a dark colour set to lighten to make blacks lighter and choose a light colour set to darken to make whites lighter. solid colour fill layers are very usefull when you need to lose kbs because they take away detail in the very light/dark areas of the gif.
  • I use gradient fills set to soft light to emphasize certain parts of the gif, as well as darken parts that are not important. usually it’s a black/white gradient, but using less harsh colours will lead to less harsh effects.

6. static background and other tips on saving kbs

by making the background of a gif static you can save heaps of kbs, but it will only work if the background does not move. if the background does move, it will just look cheap, and you’re better off darkening the background instead of making it static.

how to make a background static: two ways

  • possibility 1: duplicate the first frame and erase the parts of the duplicated frame that do need to move
  • possibility 2: select the first layer and use the pen tool (press p) to trace the areas that need to become static. once you closed the pad, click right to make a selection. select the marquee tool (or press m) and click right for the the option copy via layer.
  • always play the animation to check if you the right parts of the gif are static!
  • always make sure the static layer is on top of all other layers (but under the colouring layers) and that it is visible in every frame. as long as you make the changes while having the first frame selected, is this not something to worry about.

other ways of reducing the size of gifs:

  • darker colours take less kbs than lighter, brighter colours, so darken the parts that are not important by making a black fill layer set to soft light (and erase the parts that are important)
  • less detail = less kbs, so use fill layers set to lighten/darken to lose details in high/lowlights
  • another way of reducing detail is to add a posterize adjustment layer; use it on unimportant parts
  • increase the blackness via a levels layer because it also takes away detail

7. psds

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