Technical Terms: GIF

GIF is an image file format that is commonly used to post images to the web, social media or messages. They are not ideal for photos, but are often used for graphics. Animated GIFs are commonly used to convey emotion on social media and messages. You can find free animated GIF images online and from tools right inside social media apps and messaging apps.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Technical Terms: GIF.

So let's take a look at a technical term that I'm sure everybody knows but it's worth taking a closer look at. That term is GIF. Or is it GIF? Because the first thing we should ask is how to pronounce it. Before we even talk about what it is because a lot of people will say it's pronounced GIF (hard G) and a lot of people will say it's GIF (soft G). Probably the definitive answer is that it's GIF (soft G) because the creator of the term says it's GIF (soft). However, for years and years I've pronounced it as GIF (hard) before that information ever came to light. So I'm pretty much stuck for the rest of my life pronouncing it GIF and I really don't think it matters too much. Everyone knows what you're talking about if you say GIF or if you say GIF.

So moving past that GIF is an image format. It's stands for graphics interchange format and it's just basically a way of representing images digitally so that you can post them to web pages, you can post them to social media, in messages, send them in emails, whatever. It's typically thought of as a final format for images. So you would take a photograph, that would be as a raw image or JPEG image, or use a graphic as a vector graphic in a proprietary format, or perhaps as a PNG graphic. Then you would export as GIF to get a nice compression and something that can be easily used on a webpage or whatever.

So GIFs were on the scene very early on before the web. 1987 is when they first appeared on CompuServe and since then they've gained wide use and support. So pretty much anything, a browser, image editing apps, messaging apps, anything can display a GIF image. They do have a small file size. The way they accomplish this is that instead of using just any color for pixels every image is examined and 256 colors are chosen as the colors to use for every pixel. So you can represent every pixel with the number between zero and 255 rather than having red, green, and blue values for every single pixel. That's what makes it pretty small but it also limits its quality.

Now animation is a big part of GIFs and it's why they persist even though they're not the best format for regular images. See as regular images JPEG always wins when it comes to photographs. You can see here some parts of the photograph on the left at the GIF image look about the same as the JPEG. Like the cherries for instance or the strawberries. But if you look at say the apples near the top you can see that there's a lot of pixelation when it comes to the GIF. The JPEG looks better and, in addition, this JPEG image here, and I've blown these both up about three times so you can see the pixels, the JPEG image is actually smaller in file size. So it wins in every respect.

Now when it comes to graphics format GIF can be better. You'll notice the field of red in the middle of this apple in a drawn graphic is nice and red whereas the JPEG is pixelated because it's trying to represent it as an image. So GIF can be better. These are both about the same image size. Now PNG will get you exactly the same as the GIF. It may actually be smaller and it, at least, is a tie for the best format for graphics.

GIF does shine over JPEG in terms of being transparent. You can have pixels that are transparent and see through whereas JPEG you cannot. But notice that the pixels around the border, they either are transparent or they're not. Pixels around the border here are basically fading to white which creates a white halo since it's on a dark background. So transparency only works really well if there's a very nice solid edge to the image or if you already know the background color of the background that the image is going to go on. PNG can be transparent and can do a much better job. It doesn't completely get rid of halos and things like that. You can see a little bit around here but it's a much smoother transparency for graphics like this.

But where GIFs really do shine, of course, are animated GIFs. Basically the term GIF has become synonymous with animated GIFs. People will say look at this GIF or I'm going to post a GIF, or I posted a GIF. What why really mean are animated GIFs. There are tons of websites, like this one, that allow you to basically grab animated GIFs, usually made from TV, movies, and you know YouTube videos and things like that. They're short tiny little clips because you really can only include a very few frames in a kind of loop to show a quick animation. There's no audio included but very often these are used to either make somebody laugh or to show an emotion instead of actually typing out how you feel.

So you can use these in messages. You can use these to post on social media. A lot of times it's very easy to actually search for and find these. For instance in Messages in iOS you can easily search for and find a GIF right inside of a Messages app and post it. So it's very easy to do. You can also make your own. So you can, in the App Store, for instance on the Mac, you can find tons of apps that will convert videos and convert even burst photos and things like that to animated GIFs that you can then post. They would unique because you would be the one creating it. You can find apps, as well, that do this on iOS.

Comments: One Response to “Technical Terms: GIF”

    Emily Grae
    3 months ago

    I pronounce it as gif. My son argues with me about it though and insists that instead I should pronounce it as gif. I’m holding to my guns though, I’ve said it as gif for far too long to change it now to gif.
    Great video as always!

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