How I Make GIFs

I launched MacManX Aside about a year ago, and since then, I’ve been filling it with animated GIFs. I’m no stranger to GIFs, I like that they can provide additional context on top of text when replying, and there is even a thankfully now-dormant Slack bot at work that pings me to return a reaction GIF instead of Slack’s built-in GIF sources.

Folks have been asking me how I make GIFs for quite some time, and it seem appropriate on this almost-one-year anniversary of MacManX Aside to share that now. A quick note before you read any further, these instructions are for macOS only, but the basics might still apply to whatever you use on any other system. So, let’s learn how to properly make GIFs, or at least how I do it.

First of all, you’ll need GIF Brewery. This hasn’t been updated in a few years, but it’s very feature-rich and still works great. That’s the only third-party thing you’ll need going forward, so find your GIF’s source, and open QuickTime Player.

Get your source close to where you want the GIF to start, think of this like pre-editing, and in QuickTime choose File > New Screen Recording. Line up the crop markers and hit Record, play the video you’re recording from, and hit the stop button in the menu bar when you’re done. Not all video sources will let you record this way, some even blank out the video when QuickTime is recording. If you find that happening to you on a streaming service, try playing the video in Firefox instead, as it doesn’t seem to share the same qualms about this with other browsers.

Once you have your raw screen recording in QuickTime, choose Edit > Trim to further edit your selection. Hold the shift key while dragging the selector to move frame-by-frame, and when you’re done, choose File > Export As > 480p. There’s no reason to export higher, because we’ll size it down even further later.

Next, open the video in GIF Brewery. In the Settings section at the top-right, check “Calculate Frame Count & Delay” to synchronize your GIF’s frame rate to the video (so it’s not too fast or too slow), and “Optimize GIF Colors” and “Enhanced Color Optimization” for the best quality to file size ratio. For the color count, start at either 256 or 128 colors, more on that later.

In the Resize section at the top-left, resize the GIF to 500px wide with “Maintain aspect ratio” checked. 500px is plenty big enough, and it’s the content width in Tumblr’s default theme. Remember, someone will have to download this to view it, maybe on a mobile phone, so there’s no reason to be posting huge GIFs. Now, finish up any necessary edits at this point by clicking Frames, where you can highlight individual frames and choose “Set Start” and “Set End.”

Finally, let’s talk file size. First of all, many places allow maximum uploads of 10 MB, but don’t shoot for that. Again, someone will have to download this to view it, and they may be on a mobile phone, so be nice. I try not go higher than 5 MB in general, and no higher than 2 MB for reaction GIFs (by default, Slack won’t auto-play GIFs larger than 2 MB). When you click “Create” in GIF Brewery, after some processing time, you’ll see both your finished GIF and its file size. If you need to decrease the file size, mess around with the number of colors first, and don’t go below 48 colors. If messing with the number of colors isn’t enough, make the GIF itself smaller. I recommend no lower than 450px wide if it includes text, and no lower than 400px wide overall.

What’s that about text? Yes, you can add text in GIF Brewery! Choose Text up top where you can type your text and choose its font, color, and size. In the editing window, you’ll be able to drag that text around and right-click it to set its start and end time. You can even add multiple text elements, like I did for The Code, which has no place being embedded here so you’ll just have to click the link. Or, if you don’t want to bother with that, try making your GIFs from already subtitled sources, like that massive tokusatsu library at ShoutFactoryTV.

Most important of all though, learn by doing, tweak your formula as you go along. You won’t learn anything about making GIFs by not making GIFs, so go out there and have fun! If you don’t have anywhere to post GIFs, consider opening a Tumblr or WordPress.com site just for this. And when you post your GIF, don’t forget to share its source. If you’re using Tumblr, they have a special field for that.

Everything in this tutorial is free except GIF Brewery, which is about the price of a fancy coffee and worth every penny, so start making some GIFs today!