Have you ever had an idea that sounds great on paper, but turns out to be a nightmare in practice?
30 click-to-tweet gifs to make my next post more shareable. It couldn’t be that hard. There are obscure twitter bots set to spew out randomly generated images for crying out loud – you just record something, stick it on a loop, put text over it, and boom, a quick and brilliant marketing resource generated for the post. Job done.
That wasn’t what happened.
I struggled with the first gif for hours, looking up endless guides and how-tos to look for the easiest way to create a 2-second long gif from scratch. I slowly descended into despair as my productivity system lay in tatters around me in a pile of frustration.
Except I did.
Not only that, but I finished all 30 gifs in one day with a little time to spare by taking the first gif’s template and applying it to the rest of my footage. No cheap “hacks”, no secret productivity apps, just good old-fashioned elbow grease and an optimized process.
Here’s how I did it.
Decide on the gif’s size and style
Before anything else, you need to know what size and style the gifs will be in.
In my case, I knew that they would be supporting each of my 30 productivity quotes, and so they would probably have the quote (or a section of it) in a text overlay, along with the person who said it.
Because the gifs had a text overlay, I also knew that they would probably need to be darkened a little so that the white text would show clearly.
So, that’s the style set, but what about the size?
Well, all of these gifs were intended to be shareable, meaning that they would need to be the right size for our blog, but also for display on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram). Having said that, I also didn’t want to make a different gif for each platform, because that would turn 30 gifs into 120.
So I compromised. I created gifs that were 1024×512 to cover the ideal size for our blog – these images also scale perfectly on Twitter and Facebook.
Instagram, on the other hand, works best with square images, so to suit that I made sure that the important information would be in the central square of the image – the quote itself and the speaker’s name would all be in a central 512×512 box.
Record with ScreenToGif
So, now that you know the style and size of your gifs you can record the footage that you’re going to loop. For this I’d recommend ScreenToGif – a free tool that’s as simple as can be for recording your screen, then turning the footage into a gif. You could also use any free screencasting app – most either come with or are compatible with free recording software.
To use it, first select what you want to record. If you’re demonstrating a product, then make sure you know what you want to show and have it set up before you hit record. In my case, I wanted some footage related to the person who said each quote, so I went out and found footage that fit the bill.
Next, you need to set the size of your recording window to the size of your desired gif – for me, this was 1024×512 pixels.
The final step before recording is to choose what FPS (frames per second) you want to record at. This is essentially the number of images you want to capture per second and will change depending on what you’re recording – if there’s a lot of movement, then having a higher FPS will make the motion clearer.
In general, however, you’ll want to stick to around 15 fps. Any higher and your file size (and therefore the page’s loading time) will be frustratingly big, and the only things which tend to go over 15fps are TV programs, videos, movies, and video games. In other words, there’s little benefit from having the bigger file size.
Once you have your dimensions and recording size set, it’s time to record your footage. Again, make sure that everything is set up ready to go beforehand to give yourself an easier time editing it down to size.
Trim the recording to size
Once you’ve stopped recording, you’ll be taken to the editing section of ScreenToGif. Here you can see the individual frames and easily trim the recording down to size.
This stage will depend on how long you want your gif to be, and what FPS you recorded at. For example, I knew that (due to the number of gifs in one post) my gifs should be no more than 2 seconds long, and at 15 FPS, this meant that I chose the best 30 frame segment to keep, and deleted all of the others.
If you’re not sure of what will look best, just hit the spacebar to play your gif in real time.
Once you’ve finished editing, save your gif in a place where you’re certain it won’t be lost. I recommend using a separate folder in Google Drive for doing this, as this means that you’ll automatically back up your work to cloud storage, meaning you’ll likely never lose it.
In my case, this meant creating a folder inside the one storing my blog post called “Raw Recordings” – this kept the raw footage separate from the final gifs so that (if anything went drastically wrong) I wouldn’t accidentally save over my footage and be unable to edit it anew.
Set up a Photoshop template and open your recording
Here’s where the big timesaver comes into play – creating a Photoshop template which all of your gifs can be applied to.
First create a new canvas in Photoshop with the same dimensions as your gif (eg, 1024×512). Next, set up your gif’s style, such as adding transparent black rectangles and a text box to overlay on the images. Save the whole thing as a .psd called “gif template”.
Now we’re ready to open up our raw recording in Photoshop – doing so should show each frame you recorded as a separate layer, and display a timeline of your frames at the bottom of your window. Like with ScreenToGif, you can press your spacebar to play your gif and see how it looks.
The number displayed under each image in your timeline is the number of seconds that frame will be displayed for. We’ll leave this alone for this post, but you can change this if you want to speed up or slow down a section of your gif.
Apply your gif template to the recording in Photoshop
Now it’s time to combine your template with your raw recording, making the final product.
First, in your open recording, create a folder called “Frames” and move all of your layers (frames) into it. This will make it much easier to edit the gif without altering the recording itself.
Next, copy the individual layers from your template into the recording. For example, copy in your transparent overlay and text, but make sure they are outside and above of the “Frames” folder.
Finally, click each of your copied template layers and click the three buttons next to “Unify” for each in turn. This will make sure that they will have the same position, visibility, and style over the entire gif.
This is why we moved the raw recording into a separate folder – you’re telling Photoshop that you want these elements to overlay every frame (layer) underneath it, that being the entire recording.
Hit your spacebar to see your finished gif in action and double check that nothing is amiss, then click “File” and “Save for Web”.
In the save window that pops up all you need to do is make sure that the file type (under “Presets” in the top right of the window) is set to gif, then check the file size to make sure that it isn’t too large. For me, what with having 30 gifs on one page, “too large” meant more than 10mb.
If your finished gif is a little too hefty for your liking, you can reduce the number of colors used (this affects file size more than anything else), along with the type of dither and quality of the image from this same window.
Once you’re done, remember to name the gif to include the keyword you’ve settled on from your keyword research.
Make a process
Saying “this is how you do this” is all well and good, but there’s no way I could’ve remembered all this without having a standard operating procedure in place.
I recorded every step, from determining the gif’s size and style all the way to checking the file size and saving it. This meant that as soon as I’d finished one gif I could move on to the next one, run a new checklist, follow the instructions (without having to worry about forgetting anything or getting details wrong), and all-around plow through the remaining 29 gifs.
Hell, for comparison, the first gif too me around 4 hours to make (including time spent researching image sizes, etc). The other 29 took a little over 3 1/2 hours in total.
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