Video and Motion • How-To How to go from line drawing to animated GIF.
Video and Motion • How-To How to go from line drawing to animated GIF.

GIFs are great, and guess what? They’re also super fun to make. Here’s how to create a custom, hand-drawn, repeating animation from a video using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fresco.

Heads up: This process takes patience. It’s the perfect project to noodle on when you’re streaming something you only kinda-sorta want to pay attention to, or when you’re craving a DIY distraction.

Step 1: Record and/or choose your video

Whether you want to dig into your camera roll or record something new, my do-not-disregard-this advice is to keep it simple and keep it short. Less than five seconds is ideal, less than ten seconds is doable, and I highly recommend no more than 15 seconds (at least for your first go).

Because a long video = a lot of work. Each second of your video has approximately 30 frames, and spoiler alert: You will draw every single individual frame of this GIF by hand. I’ll show you a way to bring the total frame count down, but a manageable GIF starts with your clip selection. 

Tip: If you want a seamless repeating GIF, the first frame(s) and the last frame(s) of your video must be the same. My video begins and ends with identical shots of a blank notebook.

Video that begins on a spiral notebook opened to a blank page; a hand comes into view and writes “Hey! I miss you!” with an orange Sharpie pen, then turns the page and exits the frame.

 

 

Step 2: Import your video to Photoshop and adjust your frame count

Open Photoshop and go to File > Import > Video Frames to Layers. Find your .mov file and click Open. The following pop-up will appear:

Screenshot of a Photoshop pop-up that appears after selecting Import Video to Layers from the File menu.

Make sure the box next to Make Frame Animation is checked. 

Click on Limit to every __ Frames. The higher the number you enter here, the lower your total frame count will be—which is good, because it means less work for you—but the movement of your GIF will also become less fluid. The goal is to find the right balance between the fewest frames you can get away with, and an animation that flows without being too choppy or sparse.

Those of you who are mathematically inclined can use a formula to determine your approximate total number of frames. 

 

[total # of seconds in your video] x [30 frames] 

______________________________________  = [# of frames you’re going to draw]

[limit to every # frames]

 

If you’re not mathematically inclined, trial and error works, too. In either case, enter a frame number and click Okay.

Go to Window > and be sure there's a checkmark next to Timeline; you’ll see your frames appear in a row below your image. Scroll all the way to the right of the Timeline toolbar to see your frame count. Because you'll be drawing each of these by hand, I suggest going back and making adjustments on this step until you end up with a final number of frames you’re comfortable with. (My number was 23.)

Click Play to see your GIF in action.

Video of a desktop computer screen that shows a how to import a short clip to Adobe Photoshop and adjust your frame count.

Tip: If you want to crop your image(s), now’s the time. I made mine square.

 

Step 3: Export your frames 

Go to File > Export > Layers to Files.

Click Browse and pick your destination, or click New Folder in the bottom left. Click Open. Then click Run. All your frames now exist as individual PSD files, numbered in chronological order.

Video of a desktop computer screen that shows how to export your frames from Adobe Photoshop into individual PSD files.

Step 4: Prep your Adobe Fresco file 

Open Fresco and create a new document with the same dimensions as your Photoshop files.

Tap on the Image icon in the left-hand toolbar and find the folder with your exported PSD files. Import the first frame of your GIF and resize it to fit the doc.

Tap on the Adjustments icon toward the top of the right-hand taskbar to adjust the opacity of the image; you want to be able to see your lines as you draw on top of it.

Tap on the [+] icon on the right-hand taskbar, then drag the new transparent layer above your image. 

Video of an iPad Pro screen opened to a blank doc in Adobe Fresco; a photograph is imported, and the opacity is adjusted down to be more transparent.

 

 

Step 5: Select a brush 

I used the Basic round vector brush at 7.0px for this project, but feel free to adjust to suit your own style.

Screenshot from an iPad Pro screen featuring a blank doc in Adobe Fresco with the vector brush menu expanded and the Basic round vector brush highlighted.

 

 

Step 6: Start drawing 

Trace over all lines and details in the image that you’d like to capture for your GIF.

Don’t get too hung up on being perfect with your linework. The variations between every frame will make the GIF look more alive. Save any spot color or additional flourishes until you’ve finished the lines for all your frames.

Tip: If you need multiple layers to complete this step, merge them down into one before proceeding.

When you’ve finished, delete the reference image and tap the Eye icon in the right-hand taskbar to hide your drawing. 

Video of an iPad Pro screen opened to Adobe Fresco that shows the lines of a slightly transparent photograph being traced over with a black vector brush.

 

 

Step 7: Repeat step 6 for every. Single. Frame.

Keep going… and going… and going… until you’ve made your way through every frame. Be sure you keep them in order, with the newest Fresco layer above the last. This is a great time to queue up some binge-worthy fluff, or zone out into a flow state.

 

 

Step 8: Add color (or not) 

Time to add color and/or texture—how much is up to you. If you want to keep the whole thing black-and-white, skip to Step 9.

Tip. The Paint Bucket makes it quick and easy to pick colors using the Color Chip icon; pop them into each layer; fill; and repeat. 

Video of an iPad Pro screen opened to Adobe Fresco that shows color being added to a black-and-white line drawing using the paint bucket tool.

 

 

Step 9: Troubleshoot for Dark Mode by adding white backgrounds

You should now have a whole stack of line drawings on transparent backgrounds, with or without spot color. To be certain you can properly see your GIF from a device that’s on Dark Mode, you’ll want to add a white background to each drawing. 

Tip. If you went wild with color and there’s no visible transparency left on any of your layers, you get to skip to Step 10.

Tap once on the bottom layer—this should be the first one you drew—and then tap the Eye icon in the right-hand taskbar to make it visible.

Tap the [+] icon on the right-hand taskbar and drag the new layer to the very bottom of the column (beneath the layer you just made visible). Tap on the Paint Bucket icon on the left-hand toolbar. Tap on the Color Chip icon in the left-hand toolbar and select white. Tap once anywhere on the transparent layer; you’ll be prompted with a pop-up asking how you would like to fill this layer. Tap Vector.

Tap on the layer above; when the Layer Actions menu pops up, tap Merge Down.

Repeat until every frame has an opaque white background.

Video of an iPad Pro screen opened to Adobe Fresco that shows a white background being added to a transparent layer featuring a line-drawing plus a few hits of color.

 

 

Step 10: Export Your files from Fresco 

Tap the Export arrow in the upper right > Publish & Export > Export as. Name your file and choose PSD under the Format drop-down menu. Tap Export, choose a destination for your file, and tap Done in the upper right corner.  

Video of an iPad Pro screen opened to Adobe Fresco that shows a document with multiple layers being exported as a PSD file.

 

 

Step 11: Finish and save your GIF

Almost there! Open your PSD file in Photoshop. Click Create Frame Animation in the Timeline toolbar.

Click the hamburger in the upper right of the Timeline toolbar and select Make Frames from Layers. Your hand-drawn frames will appear. Press Play to see it in action.

To adjust the speed, highlight all the frames and click where it says “0 sec.v” at the bottom of one of the frames. Select a new speed. Press play. Repeat as needed. 

Video of a desktop computer screen that shows how to import a PSD file with multiple layers; transform that file into a GIF image; change the speed of the GIF image; then export that file into a GIF image.

 

When you’re happy with the pace, go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy).

 

Check the file size in the bottom left-hand corner of the window. Larger file sizes make sharing and loading difficult; try to get it under 2MB by reducing the GIF dimensions before saving. 

 

Finally, save the GIF and start sharing it.  

 

Jordan Kushins lives in San Francisco, California, where she draws stuff, makes things, designs jewelry, writes stories, and does a little creative project everyday.