There are a lot of great reasons to use an eLearning platform, and a lot of great techniques to get the most out of your training. Today, let’s take a look at how to make a GIF to enhance your instructional content.

You see GIFs used for entertainment and marketing purposes all the time, but they’re also a great way to present educational content. GIFs are the perfect alternative to video when you need to illustrate a quick point. This is especially true for product demos and employee onboarding. To show you what I mean, I’m going to make a quick 4 second GIF that shows first time users of Versal how to add a gadget to a lesson.

The Photoshop GIF
Our product demo GIF. This version was created with Screenflow and Photoshop. We’ll also look at some great free ways to create a GIF.

The basic workflow

  1. Select your images or video
  2. Choose a screen recorder (if needed)
  3. Make your video footage GIF-friendly
  4. Choose your GIF-making software
  5. Done!

Select your images or videos

If you are only using images, you don’t need to worry about screen recording software. You also don’t need to worry about making video footage GIF-friendly. Most GIF-making software let’s you upload you images, arrange them in order and set the timing. You may also be able add text or other decorations to the GIF, depending on software. Feel free to scroll down and check out Choose you GIF-making software.

If you are going to create an instructional GIF like the one above, you need screen recording software. If you are using a video clip – or if you already have screen recording software – you can jump down to Making your footage GIF-friendly.

Choose a screen recorder (if needed)

Professional screen recording software tends to have more features, giving you more control over what you create. If you are on a Mac, Screenflow is a great option for screen recording. Camtasia is also highly regarded for its professionalism and features, and is compatible with both Windows and Mac.

That being said, there are some very good free screen recording options available for Windows or Mac including:

Windows 10 users can also use the Xbox app to record any open window on your desktop. To open the Xbox app, press Win + G and select the check box next to “Yes, this is a game.” You can’t record your entire screen, but you can record any open window on your desktop. You can do some basic trimming to the beginning and end of the clip here, too.

screen recording with xbox on windows

These Xbox videos are found in your Videos > Captures folder. To edit multiple clips together, use the Microsoft Photos app on Windows 10. Select Create > Video Project and select your videos. From there you will be able to edit your clips together into a longer video, add effects, text, and more. When you are finished, export your video and you are ready to make your footage GIF-friendlly.

Record your screen to create a GIFIf you are on a Mac, then you have a built-in set of screen recording and video editing
software through QuickTime Player and iMovie. Open QuickTime Player and select File > New Screen Recording. Record your entire screen, or click and drag your pointer to select a specific portion of the screen you’d like to record. You can trim your video in Quicktime ( Edit > Trim ).

If you have multiple edits you need to make, use iMovie. Click in the media drop zone to import videos, then drag them into the play area below the media library. When you are done editing, export your video and go to the next step below.

Make your video footage GIF-friendly

how to create a gif
A video clip that was 30 frames per second (FPS). I used Handbrake to change this video’s FPS to 15 before making the GIF.

You want a frame rate of either 12 or 15 frames per second. This reduces file size while still preserving a nice feel in the motion of your GIF. If you are using screen recording software, you should be able to set the frames per second. You will do this either before you record or when you output your video, depending on your screen recording software. If your screen recording software doesn’t give you an option, use the process detailed below.

Footage from a video camera, cell phone, or even the internet, will almost always be somewhere between 23.976fps and 60fps (I’ll spare you the boring details about video frame rates and why they exist). Getting the frame rate down to 15fps is easy using Handbrake, a free, open source video conversion tool for Mac and Windows.

Add your video to Handbrake, then go to Dimensions and make sure preserve dimensions is checked. Next go to Video and select 15 or 12 from the Frames Per Second drop down menu. You can save this as a custom preset, too. Then the next time you need to convert a frame rate, you can do it with a couple of clicks.

Choose your GIF-making software

Once your screen recording, video footage, or still images are ready, you will add them to your GIF maker, make a few tweaks (depending on which software you choose), and you’re done! There are a few free GIF making apps available on the internet:

I’m going to use Giphy. All you have to do is upload the clip. Use the slider controls to choose your start time and how long you want the GIF to be. You also have options to create captions, tag your GIF, and make it public or private. When you are ready, choose upload and your GIF is created for you.

GIF output options on GIPHY
GIPHY provides a variety of options for downloading or embedding your finished GIF.

Once the GIF is completed, you have a variety of options for sharing, downloading, and embedding. I used the Source option to download the GIF below. The Social option provides nice results, as well.

how to make a GIF with Giphy
Here is the GIF made with GIPHY. I downloaded the source version.

How to make a GIF in Photoshop

The product demo GIF at the top of the page was done in Photoshop. Scroll back up and take a look at it. The quality between it and the free one we made on GIPHY is very close. That being said, Photoshop will offer you a lot more control – if you need it. There are also a few things to keep in mind.

Using photoshop to create a GIFFirst, Photoshop limits video to 500 frames when importing with Video to Layers. You can trim the video during import, and you can also skip frames. But be aware, if you take a 30 frame per second video and skip every other frame, the video playback speed will double. There is a way to extend the time that each frame stays on screen in Photoshop, but I find it much easier to get the frame rate set properly beforehand. That’s why I recommend using video at 15 frames per second if possible.

After import, you can make some adjustments if necessary, but this would happen on a frame by frame basis. That’s fine if you are using a handful of still images for your GIF. But if you have 100+ frames of video to deal with, you really want it edited properly before you bring it into Photoshop. This way, all you have to do is mash the keyboard: Shift + Option + Command + S all at the same time and the “Save for web” panel will appear.

Photoshop GIF options

There are a lot of options here to fine-tune the finished quality of your GIF. You can choose the number of colors, you can have transparency in parts of the GIF, you can resize the source footage, and you can choose whether or not your GIF loops indefinitely.

I’m choosing the maximum number of colors (256), because our video has quite few colors. This makes the file size bigger, though, so if you can get away with 128 colors (or less), great! For comparison purposes, I have scaled the image size down to match the GIPHY output dimensions. And I have set Looping Options to “Forever”. Note the estimated file size of 239kb – that’s not terrible.

As I mentioned, the results between the GIPHY and Photoshop GIFS are very close. The GIPHY version is maybe a little less sharp, but it is also a smaller file size, 168kb versus 246kb (the actual final output size) for the Photoshop version. Not bad! And now you have all the information you need to create GIFs for your Versal lessons. And don’t forget, you can use GIFs as your course cover image like I did for the main post graphic.

Universal best practices for GIFs

And finally, here are a few best practices to remember. You can learn how to make a GIF with or without professional image editing software. No matter the tools you use, always do your best to:

1. Use a frame rate of either 12 or 15 frames per second (FPS)
2. Edit in your screen recording or video making application, if possible
3. Keep the colors as simple as possible – more colors means more data and bigger file sizes
4. Keep the height and width as small as possible – bigger image, bigger file size

These four things all help reduce the file size of your completed GIF. This is important because GIFs get really big really fast. You don’t want to create a bad learner experience because your GIF is taking “forever” to load.