Recording Screencasts as Animated GIFs

Your customers and readers are inundated with text and images daily, and the challenge of every writer and marketer is to cut through the clutter to present something unique and useful. One way to quickly share information, examples, or a series of images is to create an animated GIF file that will load quickly.

At the same time, screencasts offer a way to show changes on a computer screen over time, a kind of movie that is especially useful for instructional online videos and the like. They can be quite large, taking time to load that might deter some users. Turning screencasts into animated GIF files is one way to address this and a few other issues.

Here are some of the most highly recommended GIF animation tools around that are easy to use clean and intuitive interfaces, inexpensive, and capable of creating high quality animations.

Why Use GIF Animation Files?

GIF animation is useful when you need to easily post short clips and animations that are highly compressed. Reviewer Amit Agarwal recommends animated GIF files because “when the recording is short … an animated GIF would make more sense than a video based screencast. They load quickly, work across devices and you don’t have to hit play to watch the screencast.” This helps your website load faster and makes your screencast easier to share with users who work with a variety of connection speeds.

Businesses also regularly use animated GIF files for e-mail marketing campaigns, inserting an animated GIF screencast into the text of their messages. Rebecca Swayze of Aweber shares, “It’s a double-duty move: it grabs readers’ attention and gets a variety of products face-time that wouldn’t be possible in a static email.”

Keep in mind that animated GIFs don’t support vector graphics, can be rather large as files, and don’t offer a wide range of colors. While animated GIFs are quite useful, they have their limitations. If you need higher quality images, more colors, or a higher recording quality, look into using a video, especially if you have an HD video camera handy.

Free Online GIF Animation Tools

Online tools such as Gickr, Gifninja, and Make a GIF enable users to simply upload their images and then create animated GIF files. These are simple and free tools that provide an especially accessible point of entry if you’re new to imaging and video software.

You can also download a YouTube Video and use free online tools such as Zamar and Gifninja to convert a segment of the video into a GIF screencast. MakeUseof.com provides a thorough list of options for working with animated GIF files that are suitable for a variety of users.

Free and Premium GIF Animation Tools

If you’re creating a GIF screencast from scratch and need more features, there are several excellent tools available such as Screenr and Screencast-O-Matic. They both offer free and premium versions. Screenr limits the video length to five minutes but doesn’t add a watermark to the final product. Screencast-O-Matic provides 15 minutes of recording time but also adds a watermark to the animation.

In a review, one editor remarked, “Screenr has to be one of the smartest ways we’ve seen anyone approach a screencasting product. It’s easy to use, nicely integrated with Twitter, and all around a solid web application.” Many users enjoy the way Screenr easily integrates with Twitter, allowing users to tweet their screencasts with a click.

If you’re starting with a video on a site such as YouTube, Screencast-O-Matic can also convert all or part of a video into a GIF file where the video file will be compressed into a series of animated GIF images. Watch this tutorial about how to use Screencast-O-Matic’s simple drag and drop feature.

Premium Tools

If you need more features for creating GIF files, CNET highly recommends Ulead GIF Animator because its “clean interface keeps you oriented among the multitude of tools, frames, and objects.” Though it carries a $50 price tag, it optimizes files for downloading and viewing.

Sometimes you can say more in a short animation than in a paragraph. If you need to say a lot in a small space, consider creating an animated GIF in order to effectively share your story, brand, or products with customers.

Keep in mind that there are plenty of animated GIF tools available, so this is not meant to be a comprehensive review, just a taste of some of the most popular options.

If you know of other options and tools, please add them in the comments below!

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