mad in pursuit: photoshop tutorial

animating a layer in Photoshop to make an animated GIF (revised for CS3)

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Goal of this tutorial

Make a little movie... an animated GIF with Photoshop CS3. (Finished GIF at bottom of this page.)

Level: Intermediate - assumes you know your way around Photoshop and already have some images you'd like to animate.

Preparation. Get yourself a Photoshop image you want to use for a background. Choose or add an image you want to see moving across it.

The art

The prime directive is "don't be annoying." The idea is to attract a little attention, then let people go on to read your content without something flashing at them. (This tutorial shows a continuously looping airplane... I would normally have it loop only once... Or once every 20 seconds.)


Get all the elements you need into one Photoshop file, in layers.

I'm going to enhance my REDESIGNING LOGO above [substitute your background] by adding a little airplane [substitute your moving image]. I started with the original layered PSD file and have dragged in a vintage airmail airplane from another old envelope.

I inserted the airplane between the text and the background. Select the airplane layer and move it to your animation's "start" position. Save.

Open the Animation panel (Window > Animation).

Your image will be Frame 1. Click on the Duplicates Selected Frames icon at bottom of window to create a second frame.

Select the second frame and move the airplane layer to its "finish" position.

Now, click-select both frames (now your two "keyframes").


Press the Tween... icon at the bottom of the Animation window. In the Tween dialogue box, Tween with "Selection"; add 8 frames; Layers - All Layers; OK.






In the Animation window press the Play button. You will see version 1 of your animation. Fun. But maybe a little crude and way too fast -- less than a second.


I want my animation to wait 2 seconds before starting. In the Animation Window, select Frame 1. Under the frame thumbnail, I change the delay time to 2 sec.

You can speed up or slow down your animation by click-selecting the rest of the frames and changing the delay time. Too long a delay will cause choppy start-stop motion. For longer, smoother animations, select frames two at a time and Tween them, adding several frames. Experiment!

Adding a shadow (Revising graphic elements)

I decided it would be cool to add a shadow for the airplane.

Go to a Frame where you can see the moving image well. Select Airplane layer in the Layer panel. Click Add A Layer Style button at the bottom of the Layers panel. Add a Drop Shadow.

At the top of the Layers panel, click on Unify Layer Style button. This propagates the drop shadow layer style to all the frames.

Finishing up

If you're satisfied with how your animation looks, from the Animation Window menu, choose Optimize Animation... and press OK. This helps create a much smaller file.

Make your movie

Animated LogoAnimated GIF. To make a simple animated GIF, select Frame 1 in the Animation window.

Chose File > Save For Web And Devices... and select a GIF preset. Notice you can preview your movie, specify looping options, and resize it if you wish at this point. Save and you're done. (Example here loops continuously for demonstration purposes.)

Flash SWF animation. Photoshop CS3 apparently does not support exporting frame animation as a SWF file (like the old Image Ready did). A challenge for another day...


Did you try this? Did it work for you? Let me know if you have any suggestions.


11.17.05 (revised 4.30.08)