What Is a GIF File and How to Open It

GIFs are everywhere, and people love them.

Since they were created back in 1987, they’ve become very popular on the World Wide Web. But what is a GIF file, and how is it different from all the other image formats? 

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  1. What is a GIF File?
  2. What are GIFs used for?
  3. Advantages and disadvantages of GIFs 
  4. Difference between JPEG and GIF 
  5. How do you open a GIF file? 
  6. How to make a GIF?

What Is a GIF File? 

Animation of a walking man
Animation of a walking man

GIF, or Graphics Interchange Format, is an image file format just like .jpg or .png saved in the Graphical Interchange Format (.gif). It can be used to make still and animated images.

GIFs can contain a maximum of 256 colors. Because of their low number of colors, GIFs are used to store low-resolution images. Considering there isn’t too much color information to store, they’re small in size, usually not exceeding a few kilobytes.

An essential aspect of GIFs is that they use lossless compression algorithms that do not degrade the quality of the image.

What Are GIFs Used For?

1. Expression

People use GIFs to convey a clear message. Remember that saying, a picture is worth a thousand words, then a GIF is worth a million. Whether it’s through social media or popular messaging apps, people share GIFs to express their thoughts, feelings, or emotions.

2. Marketing Strategy

Many businesses use GIFs as a powerful marketing tool, whether it’s to increase their brand awareness or show off a product.

3. Tutorial Animations

Another popular way of using GIFs is to explain a process or a how-to. Sometimes it’s much easier to explain something with images than words, and GIFs can do that well.

4. Advertisements

Advertisers use animated GIFs to play ads. And people sometimes will interact with them and share them without knowing that they’re ads.

5. Visualize Data

Media companies and academic institutions often use GIFs to compare and animate data. A typical example would be to show the population increase of a country during a specif time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of GIFs 

GIFs have many advantages and disadvantages that come with them. Below you’ll find the main ones.

Advantages of Animated GIFs

1. Small File Size

One of the main advantages of GIFs is their file size, which is relatively smaller when compared to other file formats. The smaller size can be beneficial on the web, as they’ll load quicker without affecting a website performance.

2. Single-bit transparency

Another perk of the GIF format is that it supports transparency. It’ll come very handy when designing a website that uses a complex background, keeping the page clean and professional. 

Disadvantages of Animated GIFs

1. Limited Color Palette

One of the main disadvantages of GIFs is their limited color pattern; they can only have up to 256 colors. This limitation creates low-quality images, especially when used on images that originally had millions of colors.

2. Editing require special software

Another big drawback of GIFs is you cannot edit them like you can for images on your phone or computer. For that purpose, you’d need a GIF editing software like Photoshop or the popular online GIF editor, EZgif.com.

Difference between JPEG and GIF 

As we’ve mentioned earlier, GIFs aren’t the only way of storing images. There’s another image file format that’s very common on the web, and that’s JPEG. So what’s the difference between JPEG and GIF, and why should you choose one over the other? 

Unlike GIF, JPEG does not support storing multiple image files, which is the most obvious difference between them. Besides that, JPEGs use lossy compression, whereas GIFs use lossless compression algorithms.

GIFs also support transparency in images, which is not the case with JPEGs. Although GIFs use lossless compression, they can only store only 256 colors, compared to JPEGs that support millions of colors. This is why JPEGs are commonly used for storing digital photos, and GIFs are used for logo design/marketing. 

How do you open a GIF file? 

GIFs, unlike other file formats, require a particular way of decoding, but most web browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc.) come with GIFs support. So all you need to do is double-click on the file, and your web browser will be open and loop the image file infinitely.

For photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop, it will open the GIF file but not in a way for you to see it. It’ll instead display the frames embedded in the file, which is great for editing purposes.

You can use Microsoft Windows Photos on Windows PC and Apple Preview on macOS computers to open GIF files. Android devices can use Google Drive to open GIFs, and other mobile devices can use their respective photo viewer app to open GIF files.

How to make a GIF?

Now that you know what a GIF file is and how to open it, you may want to create your own animated GIF. Luckily, there are tons of available software that allow you to create a GIF such as  ImgurGifycat, or GIPHY’s video-to-GIF tools. For this guide, we’ll use GIPHY.

Creating a GIF is much easier than you think. If you have ever seen a GIF online, chances are it was created or downloaded from GIPHY.com, which is the world’s largest library of animated. It allows us to create GIFs from video files, YouTube links, existing GIFs, and photos. 

Creating a gif on Giphy.com
GIF Maker Interface

To create a GIF using GIPHY, first head over to GIPHY.com and click on the Create button at the top right of the screen. Drag and drop a video file, or enter a video URL from YouTube, Vimeo, you’d like to turn into a GIF. Next, trim your video to a short length of about 2 to 5 seconds. You can also spice things a little bit by adding a caption, stickers, or drawings to your GIF.

In case you’re looking for better and more control over your GIF, it’d be better to use a photo editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Krita, GIMP, or Corel Painter. You’ll have more options like creating custom illustrations, cropping, manipulating colors, etc. 

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