What is a GIF file?

Lewis Wake
Friday 14 June 2019

If you’ve scrolled through any social media feeds today, it’s likely you’ll have encountered a few GIF files (pronounced JIF…although personally I’m in the hard ‘G’ camp).

What is a GIF?

So, you wanna know what a GIF is?

A GIF is a lossless format for image files that supports both animated and static images.

It was the standard for 8-bit colour images on the internet until PNG became a viable alternative. You may have seen them used often in email signatures.

Animated GIFs are several images or frames combined into a single file. They are displayed in succession with varying frame rates to create short low-file-size animations. GIFs, by default, end on the last frame, though they are now more commonly seen looping.

GIFs are popular on blogs, social media, and instant messaging applications, often used as emotive reactions.

What does GIF stand for?

GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format.

When was the GIF created?

The GIF was created on June 15, 1987, by Steve Wilhite of CompuServe, the first major commercial online service provider in the United States.

How do you create a GIF?

Image editing programs like Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, and Microsoft GIF Animator can be used to create GIFs.

Giphy also have their own free online GIF maker which can be used to quickly and easily create GIFs.

When should you use a GIF?

GIFs should not be used for photographs.

GIFs are suitable for solid graphics with limited numbers of colours, such as logos. This takes advantage of the format’s lossless compression, which favours flat areas of uniform colour with well defined edges. However, PNG is now the standard for this usage.

GIFs were also used to store low-colour sprite data for websites and games. This is no longer best practice.

GIFs can be used for small animations and low-resolution video clips.

How we use GIFs on the University website

Due to GIFs being used for low-resolution video clips and short animations, we generally do not use GIFs on the University website. We do use GIFs frequently in social media communications, specifically on Twitter.

GIFs allow for more casual communication on social media. They can effectively be used for humorous effect and show a fun, likeable company culture.

Should you be concerned about copyright with GIFs?

Copyright laws surrounding GIFs is complicated. GIFs appearing on social media often contain material from film and television media. Modicum has a great article on copyright law surround animated GIFs for a full explanation.

In short, the best practice is to link to or embed content from somewhere else and let the site you link to deal with the liability. Throughout this article I have been embedding from Giphy.

The best way to avoid copyright issues is to design and create your own original GIFs.

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