If a still picture tells a thousand words, an animated GIF can tell a million. Despite the rise of HTML5 video, the snappy little animations are still hugely popular – partly because of their relatively small file size, which is friendly to mobile devices on limited data plans, and partly because the format is so widely supported.
Sites like Giphy are a great source of ready-made animations, but sometimes you can only express yourself by creating your own – and with the right tools, it's a surprisingly easy process.
If you already have a video file, skip straight to step three to find out how to edit and convert it. Alternatively, you can grab and convert a video from YouTube, as explained in step one, or make a recording from your desktop, as described in step two. This is a great way to make a GIF from a game or movie playing on your PC.
1. Download a video from YouTube
If you want to make a GIF from a video on YouTube, Facebook or any other video hosting site, Freemake Video Downloader is the easiest and fastest tool for the job – and it's free.
Download Freemake Video Downloader and run the installer, selecting ‘Custom installation’ when the option is presented. You’ll be offered a free download of the Chromium browser and Search Manager extension for Chrome, so uncheck both of these if you’d rather avoid them.
Now find the video you want to save in your web browser and copy the URL frp, the address bar. Open Freemake Video Downloader and click Paste URL, and the video will be downloaded immediately to your Videos folder. You can play around with the quality settings using the Optional Parameters settings, but for creating animated GIFs the defaults will be fine.
It's important to note that you should only download videos if you have permission from the copyright holder.
Review and where to download: Freemake Video Downloader
2. Record a video from your desktop
If you want to make a GIF from a game or other software, you need free screen recorder OBS Studio. It might look intimidating at first glance, but it’s remarkably easy to use.
Download OBS Studio and run the installer (there are no unwanted extras to worry about, so you can accept the default settings), then launch the program. Look towards the bottom of the screen and you’ll see a box labelled ‘Sources’. Click the plus icon here and select either ‘Display capture’ or ‘Game capture’, depending on whether you want to record a program running in a window on your desktop, or a full-screen game.
Once you’re ready, click the ‘Start recording’ button on the right, then minimize OBS Studio and do whatever you want to record. When you’ve finished, maximize the recorder and click ‘Stop recording’. The video will be saved automatically in your Videos folder. FLV is the default format, which is fine for our purposes. Don't worry about the extra footage of you messing about with the screen recorder – we'll trim that away next.
Review and where to download: OBS Studio
3. Edit and cut the video
ShotCut is our favorite free tool for editing short video clips. It’s free, doesn’t add watermarks to your videos, and contains lots of handy tools and filters.
Download and install ShotCut, then run it. Click ‘Open file’ and choose your video to load it into the editor. If it needs cropping, click ‘Filters’, then click the plus icon to add a new filter. Click the small monitor icon to see video filters, then click ‘Crop’. You can now use the sliders to adjust how much is cut off the top, bottom and sides of the video.
When you’re happy, click the video preview and drag it into the timeline at the bottom of the screen. You’re now ready to begin cutting. Brevity is essential for great GIFs, and ideally they should be no more than 10 seconds long. Drag the vertical white bar (the playhead) along the waveform until you find the point where you want your GIF to start and click ‘Split at playhead’ (the icon looks a little like an open book). Click the section of video you want to remove and tap Delete. Now do the same for the end of the video.
Review and where to download: Shotcut
4. Convert from video to GIF
When you’ve trimmed your video down to a few seconds, click Export and select GIF as the format. Now take a look at the resolution. The size of the GIF will depend on where you’re planning to use it (Sprout Social has a comprehensive guide to optimum image sizes for various social media sites), but a resolution of 800 x 600 should be fine for most purposes. Click the ‘Codec’ tab and change the codec to GIF, then click ‘Audio’ and select ‘Disable audio’.
Finally, click ‘Export file’, give it a name ending in the extension .gif and click save. Congratulations, you’ve turned a video into an animated GIF, ready to share wherever you like.
Here’s one we made earlier to demonstrate free game Barbershop Simulator: