What is an Animated GIF?

Animated GIFs are used for various purposes in social media and elsewhere. Learn what they are and how they're used here.

What is an animated GIF?

Pronounced gif or jif, the GIF file type was originally designed for graphics, but it's now most commonly used for simple animated images on the Web. For example, the image below is an animated GIF file.

an animated gif of a newton's cradle

It might be easiest to think of a GIF as a tiny movie that plays over and over in your web browser. This video from PBS gives a really nice introduction to the history of the GIF file format.

PBS Off Book has a lot of great videos about Internet culture. You can find more of its videos here.

Finding and sharing GIFs

Google has made it a lot easier to find animated GIFs. Just go to images.google.com in your web browser, enter your search term, then select Search Tools > Type > Animated.

searching for GIFs on Google Images

This is the image search tool we've used a lot in our office. It's been really fun to surprise each other with animated GIFs of our favorite TV shows and movies. There are animated GIFs out there for almost anything you can think of, so have fun looking for them!

How to create an animated GIF

There are a lot of different ways to create an animated GIF file. One of the most common techniques is to use a series of frames from a pre-existing video. For example, the GIF below was made from a video taken by one of our staff members:

animated GIF of two seagulls

Here are a few websites you can use to create a GIF from a video:

You can also create a GIF from a series of still images. A few of the sites above can do this automatically. You could also use a program like GIMP or Photoshop to create a GIF manually, but this can be a bit more complicated. The tutorials below will show you how to create GIFs this way:

Now you know the basics, so have fun with GIFs!