How To Convert an Image to GIF Format

Save for Web in Photoshop Elements
If your software offers a save for web command, this is your best option for converting images to GIF format. © S. Chastain

GIF images are commonly used on the Web for buttons, headings, and logos. You can easily convert most images to the GIF format in any image editing software. Keep in mind that photographic images are better suited for the JPEG format.

  • Difficulty: Average
  • Time Required: 5 minutes

Step-By-Step Instructions

  1. Open the image in your image editing software.
  2. Go to the File menu and choose either Save for Web, Save As, or Export. If your software offers a save for web option, this is preferred. Otherwise look for Save As or Export depending on your software.
  3. Type a file name for your new image.
  4. Select GIF from the Save as Type drop down menu.
  5. Look for an Options button to customize settings specific to the GIF format. These options may vary depending on your software, but more than likely will include some or all of the following choices...
  6. GIF87a or GIF89a - GIF87a does not support transparency or animation. Unless you have been instructed otherwise, you should choose GIF89a.
  7. Interlaced or non-interlaced - Interlaced images appear gradually on your screen as they download. This can give the illusion of faster load time, but it may increase the file size.
  8. Color depth - GIF images may have up to 256 unique colors. The fewer colors in your image, the smaller the file size will be.
  9. Transparency - you can choose a single color in the image that will be rendered as invisible, allowing the background to show through when the image is viewed on a Web page.
  1. Dithering - dithering gives a smoother appearance to areas of gradual color gradations, but can also increase file size and download time.
  2. After selecting your options, click OK to save the GIF file.

Noteworthy Facts and Tips

  • GIF images are limited to 256 colors or less. Converting photographic images with more than 256 colors to GIF format can result in a blotchy appearance.
  • The fewer colors you have in your GIF file, the smaller the file size will be and the faster it will download.
  • You may want to use a GIF optimization program to give you better control of the various options

Changes to Various Software Applications

Things have changed a bit since this article first appeared. Both Photoshop CC 2015 and Illustrator CC 2015 have started to move away from the Save For Web panels. In Photoshop CC 2015 there are now two ways of outputting a GIF image. The first is to select File>Export> Export As which allows you to choose GIF as one of the formats.

What you don't get with this panel is the ability to reduce the number of colors.  If you want that sort of control you need to select File>Save As and choose Compuserve GIF as the format. When you click the Save button in the Save As dialog box, the Indexed Colour dialog box opens and from there you can choose the number of colors, the Palette and Dithering.

Compuserve? There's a throwback. When the internet was in its infancy Compuserve was a major player as an online service. At its peak in the early 1990's it also developed the GIF format for images. The format is still covered by Compuserve's Copyright. thus the addition of the company name. In fact, the PNG format was developed as a royalty-free alternative to GIF.

Illustrator CC 2015 is slowly moving away from outputting files as GIF images. It still contains the File>Export> Save for Web option but they have changed it to Save for Web (Legacy) which should tell you this option won't be around for long. This is understandable in today's mobile environment. The most common formats are SVG for vectors and PNG for bitmaps. This is quite evident in the new Export Assets panel or the new Export>Export for Screens features. The file choices offered don't include GIF.

Photoshop Elements 14 does retain the Save for Web - File>Save for Web - which contains all of the features found in the Save for Web (Legacy) panels in Photoshop and Illustrator.

If you have a Creative Cloud account from Adobe there is another option, which, for years, has been regarded as one of the best web imaging applications offered by Adobe. The application is Fireworks CS6 which is in the Additional Apps section of the Creative Cloud menu.  You can select GIF in the Optimize panel - Window>Optimize - and create some pretty accurate and efficient gif images if you use the 4-Up view to compare.

Updated by Tom Green