How to create gifs

How to create gifs

Morgan Smith's Layout avatar

Have you ever found yourself wanting to try your hand at animation? Nothing too advanced, just a simple moving graphic. Believe it or not, creating a simple gif using Photoshop might be just the ticket.

Before you get started, you need to understand the basics of what you’re doing. For example, you can set each layer in your Photoshop file with different properties and to different frames. Generally, to create movement, you’ll have one layer end while a new layer appears. To make the transitions feel natural, you’ll want to create small changes between each layer. Think of it like a flipbook — the more subtle your changes, the more fluid the movement will look.

The rest will make more sense once we’re actually creating the gif, so let’s get started.

1. Create your layers

Start with creating your artwork. You can do this in Photoshop, but you can also import photos, Illustrator files, basically whatever you need. Just make sure that you keep your layers separate.


Here’s a couple tips that will make your life easier when designing your layers.
If you have elements that go together to create a larger element (such as the snowman in this example), combine those into one layer. It’ll simplify the animation process, since you’ll have fewer layers to work with.

On that note, remember that you won’t be able to animate groups. So either don’t use them, or merge the layers inside your group to create one master layer instead.

Duplicating layers will be your best friend. Instead of trying to recreate a layer, just duplicate it and move it to its new position.

2. Open the Timeline

If you’ve never used the Timeline before, you’ll probably have to manually open it. Go to Window > Timeline, and it should appear at the bottom of your screen, like this.


Let’s take a moment to understand the Timeline.

On the right, the wider portion is the actual “timeline.” This is where you’ll adjust how long a layer plays for and in what order they appear. You just click and drag on the purple frames to change these, so it’s super easy.

On the left, you’ll see your layers. If you hit the drop down arrow for each layer, you can access options for position, opacity, and style. The little stopwatch next to each option enables you to adjust these properties over the course of your animation.

Above the layers section of the Timeline, you’ll see controls for playing your animation, the sound, and resolution settings. Pretty basic. The scissors icon in that toolbar will split a layer wherever the playhead (that vertical red line) is. The final icon (the square with the triangle inside in the toolbar) enables options for fading a layer in or out.

Take a minute or two to play around with these settings to get familiar with what they do and how they affect your soon-to-be gif.

3. Now, create!

Once you understand how the tools work, go ahead and make your gif! Use the play button in the Timeline toolbar to watch the motion unfold and make sure everything moves like you want it to. You’re not locked into any of the changes you make, so play around as much as you like.


Notice how my layers of snow only show for a small amount of time and kind of stair-step through the timeline? That’s how I’m creating the movement of the snowflakes.

As you’ll see in the final gif below, these aren’t the smoothest transitions (my changes between layers could have been a little more subtle), but it works for this gif.

Want to use an image in your gif? Learn how to convert it into a vector.

4. Save and finish

Saving a gif requires a little more work than your typical Photoshop project. Go to File > Save for Web. The following screen will pop up.


This screen looks overwhelming, but don’t worry. Obviously, you can go through every option as in depth as you would like but just make sure you check these three things:

  • Select GIF at the top right so that your project saves as the correct file type.
  • Below the Color Table, check that the image size is correct.
  • In the Looping Options field at the bottom, decide how you want your gif to loop (once or forever).

And just like that, you’ve created your very own gif and entered the world of animation! How’d it turn out? And hey, feel free to tweet us some cool gifs at @HeyFlywheel — we’d love to see what you created!


Comments ( 3 )

  1. Bart

    December 2, 2015

    Great, straight forward walk-through! Several YouTube videos did not even compare to your level of step-by-step detail. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Morgan Smith

      December 2, 2015

      Thanks Bart! Glad I could help.

  2. Amy

    March 1, 2016

    These are great instructions. thanks!

  3. Mary Johnson

    September 13, 2017

    Thank you so much for this! It has been an invaluable resource for my company in the creation of multiple gifs. Very clear, very easy to follow!

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