Optimizing Animated GIFs / Conclusions
Conclusions and the Future
Optimizing Animated GIFs
Creating compelling GIF animations is really a two-step process. First, create the animation in your favorite 3D or image creation program, and then shrink the file in an animation program that includes the optimization features discussed in this article. Usually, the creation and optimization programs are not the same. Macromedia's Fireworks is the first product to combine LZW optimization, lossy preprocessing, and image creation and manipulation into one program.
This article showed you how to best perform the second step, shrinking animations, and which programs did it best. By carefully tuning your palette, and optimizing with a program like ImageReady, SuperGIF, WebPainter, Fireworks, GIF Wizard, GIFMation, GIFCruncher, or GIF Animator, you can create the smallest possible GIF animations.
One way to compare different animation programs is by the efficiency of their frame optimization algorithms:
- Minimum bounding rectangle (75% reduction)
- Frame differencing (5-7% additional reduction)
- LZW Inter-frame Optimization (1-2% additional reduction, lossless)
- LZW Image Data Preprocessing (5-40% additional reduction, lossy)
For the Mac, there are finally some compelling alternatives to GIFBuilder; Adobe's ImageReady 3, BoxTop Software's SuperGIF, Totally Hip's WebPainter 3.0, Macromedia's Fireworks, and BoxTop's GIFMation. ImageReady 3 (bundled with PhotoShop 6) combines best-in-class frame differencing, a "lossy GIF" slider, a unique "weighted compression" feature that uses alpha channels to apply regional compression, plus an intuitive PhotoShop-like interface for the smallest animations we've tested to date. SuperGIF combines LZW interframe optimization, a smart re-dithering algorithm, and a mud-simple drag and drop interface for easy one-step GIF89a optimization. WebPainter combines best-in-class pure LZW optimization plus Photoshop-like image manipulation tools, and ease of use for a complete Web image creation and optimization tool. Fireworks 3.0's offers easy one-step LZW optimization, a lossy GIF slider, plus always-editable graphics makes tweaking your entire site a pleasure.
For straight LZW optimization SuperGIF is the new champion, eeking out WebPainter, Fireworks and the rest optimizing our test penguin. SuperGIF defaults to comments off, so optimization is a one-step process, just drag and drop a single GIF, or an entire folder.
WebPainter defaults to comments on, so optimizing in not a one-step process, but it makes the second smallest lossless GIFs to date. Fireworks combines LZW optimization plus vector and bitmap-based image creation and manipulation tools and is much more than a GIF animation program. For the smallest possible animated GIFs I recommend ImageReady 3, with its innovative "lossy GIF" slider and regional compression. GIFmation 2.1 adds optimization features (intelligent frame differencing) to 2.0's newly revamped and intuitive interface. The combination makes this product a pleasure to use.
For the PC I recommend the five cross-platform products above, plus Ulead's SmartSaver Pro. Ulead pioneered one-step optimization of animations, and their latest version (3.0) features frame differencing, plus the pro version adds a lossy slider. The retail product allows the removal of comments, which allows for extremely small animations.
It's gratifying to see that the "shrink the penguin" contest has had the desired effect on developers. Optimization programs continue to improve, with developers leap-penguining over each other, adding and combining techniques to create ever smaller animated GIFs. Keep it up!
Many developers said they will soon release improved versions of their animation programs. BoxTop Software says they are working on improved optimization methods for the next release of GIFMation and SuperGIF. I'd like to see Adobe's add LZW interframe optimization to ImageReady, and Macromedia perfect their LZW optimization algorithm. I'm sure we're in for some more surprises.
8-28-00 Adobe announced Photoshop 6/Imageready 3, includes "weighted compression" using alpha channels.
8-00 - BoxTop Software releases SuperGIF w/ LZW interframe optimizatio and smart re-dithering.
8-99 - Adobe releases ImageReady 2 with "lossy GIF" feature.
2-22-99 - Macromedia will release Fireworks 2.0 this week featuring improved GIF89a optimization and a plethora of new time-saving features.
10-22-98 - Totally Hip, makers of WebPainter, have improved version 3.0 to include LZW inter-frame optimization. WebPainter is one of the few cross-platform animation programs available, and has an intuitive, feature rich interface.
06-10-98 - Macromedia's Fireworks 1.0 includes LZW compression.
6-25-97 - BoxTop Software's GIFMation 2.1 adds frame differencing with its "export optimized..." feature.
5-23-97 - ULead's GIF Animator 1.5 has added LZW optimization its one-click optimization feature, and of the programs tested it now makes the smallest files with one step.
GIF Wizard is not standing still either. Kirchman has already improved the LZW algorithm since the print version of this article went to press (Web Techniques, June 1997), and has plans to tweak even more bytes out of each GIF it processes (he has). Kirchman was remarkably responsive to my queries and suggestions, one improvement I suggested was implemented in one hour. GIFizard is now payware, and includes a new free Sitescan feature that automatically calculates the efficiency of your HTML and graphics for your site.
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Comments are welcome
Created: Oct. 7, 1996
Revised: Aug. 28, 2000