Why can’t GIFs be compressed in the same way videos can?

  • GIF or graphics interchange format has become part of our online culture. Prior to the surge of video streaming in the last two decades, GIF was already powerful, serving as the only way to share animated images. Today, it surpassed being an old, soundless format. Now, they can be classified as art forms in their own essence. GIFs gave success to sites such as Reddit and Tumblr. Moreover, reaction GIFs are also regarded as one of the most widely-used and most popular memes.Unlike their video and image counterparts, GIFs, however, are harder to compress. Yes, they can be compressed but, it is not as good as compressing other image and video formats. One of the main reasons why GIFs remain successful after Compuserve launched them in 1987 is that the format itself allows animation. However, most GIFs you encounter online are either extremely huge files or terribly compressed ones.

    With that, compressing GIFs requires thought and a great amount of effort. GIF files are typically large. Keep in mind a table of 256 colors can be stored in a single GIF with the pixels only keeping one color index to use. If different pixels utilize the same color, the format just keeps one color index and many pixels that use the same hue. You can compare it with digital paint by numbers.

    With that, some GIF images can be ten times larger than the file size on one movie file, making it troublesome if you’re looking to share them online or on your site.

    Well, if you’re accessing the web through high-speed connection, chances are you won’t be having issues loading a huge GIF embedded on a site. It may only take up to two seconds to pop up, which is hardly noticeable.

    However, not all people are as blessed as you to have such fast internet speed. While new people are obtaining access to the internet year by year, millions of them are from developing countries. What’s sad is that they don’t have the opulence to get a fast yet affordable connection. Most of the time, their internet speed is slow and extremely expensive.

    You’ll be surprised that even with rich countries, there are still a considerable amount of individuals who aren’t able to enjoy a fast and affordable connection. Smartphone users have limited and costly access to the internet. While it is the most widely-used and quickest way to get into the internet, it entails a hefty price.

    With such situations, it is important for everyone to consider such users when designing GIFs – they should be compressed suitably.

    There are some steps on how you can do so. You can try cropping any extra and unnecessary space around the GIF. Reducing the image dimension is one of the quickest and most effective ways to compress the file size. If you are using Photoshop, using the Trim command tool would be very handy in cropping your GIF. 

    Alternatively, you can start compressing during the preparation of your GIF image, start by limiting the dimension of the output. Different graphics-editing programs have their distinct commands for resizing images.

    You can also decrease the number of colors you use in your image. GIFs can show 256 colors, but if your image has less, it will reduce the color count significantly. When trying to reduce the colors in GIFs, you can get the best compression results when the number of colors is on the smallest possible count.

    Another way is to limit the name of frames on your GIF. As much as possible, refrain from using unnecessary animation. Not only it adds to the download and loading time, but some people may also find it annoying.

    There are some graphics-editing programs that allow dithering. While it turns some images more stunning, it considerably increases the file size. If you’d like to use it, you can use it in moderation or on a lower level to save a few bytes.

    Also, there are programs that allow lossy compression for saving GIF files. It can significantly decrease the size of the file but at the expense of the quality.

    More Readings:

    GIF (Wikipedia)

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