How to Add Text to a GIF in GIMP

While animated GIFs were long considered a silly way to animate a webpage, increases in internet connection speeds and the rise of the GIPHY image library brought the animated GIF to social media feeds around the world. 

Unless you’ve been completely avoiding the internet for the last decade, you’ve probably seen them around: a short, low-quality video clip that usually gets paired with a small piece of text.

This GIF of Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road has prevented a lot of trolls from getting fed

Apparently, most internet users under the age of 25 now consider GIF react comments to be a sign of anciently old people (aka anyone who is 25 or older), but that doesn’t seem to have diminished their popularity among those of us who have already passed that auspicious age milestone.  

If you’ve got a favorite GIF that needs some text, you can add it using GIMP. It’s quite easy to do, but it can get pretty repetitive since you need to add the text to each animation frame individually. Here’s how it works! 

Step 1: Open Your GIF in GIMP

Like all videos, an animated GIF is just a series of still images that are displayed in sequence to create the illusion of motion. Each still image is known as a “frame.” 

When you open an animated GIF in GIMP, it automatically splits each frame onto a separate layer and names each layer with key information about the frame order and how long each frame is displayed for. 

Open the File menu, and click Open. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + O (use Command + O if you’re on a Mac) or drag and drop your GIF file onto the blank GIMP workspace. 

Browse to select your GIF file and click Open

Depending on the file size of your GIF, GIMP might take a few seconds to process all the frames and generate a different layer for each one.

Once the GIF has loaded, look at the Layers panel in the bottom right corner of the GIMP interface to see each frame of your GIF. 

This GIF has 24 frames that each display for 50 milliseconds

If the Layers panel isn’t visible, you might have closed it by accident. To reload it, open the Windows menu, select the Dockable Dialogs submenu, and click Layers. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + L (use Command + L if you’re on a Mac).

Step 2: Create Your Text

With your GIF open and divided into layers, it’s time to create your text. 

For the purposes of this introductory tutorial, we’re just going to create a single word of text that will be visible over the entire animation, but once you’re familiar with the basic technique, you can get much more creative with your text content as long as you’re willing to put in the time (and if you have the patience for it). 

Switch to the Text tool using the Toolbox panel or the keyboard shortcut T. In the Tool Options panel, configure your font and text size in advance. You can change it later, but GIMP can be frustrating when it comes to working with text, so it’s best to keep things simple. 

Click and drag on your document to place a text box, and type in your text

If your text layer isn’t visible, it might have been positioned below the other layers in the layer stack. Check the Layers panel to make sure that the text layer is located above all the GIF frame layers. If you need to reposition it, just click and drag the layer entry in the Layers panel. 

Step 3: Duplicate Your Text Layer

Now comes the slightly tedious part of the project: duplicating your text layer for every frame, and merging each duplicate with the corresponding GIF frame. 

You need to make a copy of your text layer for every frame, but GIMP helpfully numbers each frame layer to keep track of the animation sequence, so check your Layers panel for the total number of frames in your animated GIF. 

If you don’t want to place text across the entire animation frame, you can get away with fewer duplicate copies, but you’ll have to decide for yourself how many frames you need to keep your text visible and readable. 

In my example, I want the text visible for the whole length of the animation, and there are 24 frames, so I need 24 copies of my text layer. 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to create 24 copies all at once, so I need to use the Duplicate Layer command repeatedly until you have enough copies.

You can open the Layer menu and click Duplicate Layer, or you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + D (use Command + Shift + D on macOS).

That’s 24 NOPEs, plus the original layer

Fortunately, GIMP also numbers your duplicated layers, so it’s fairly easy to keep an eye on the Layers panel to know when to stop duplicating. 

Next, drag and drop each text layer to reposition them in the layer stack so that the text layers alternate with the frame layers, as shown below. 

You don’t have to match the text layer duplicate numbers to the frame numbers, but it makes my OCD brain happy

Finally, it’s time to go back and merge each pairing of the text layer and animation layer. To do this, select each text layer in the layer stack one by one and click the Merge Down button at the bottom of the Layers panel (as highlighted below). 

This will combine the text layer with the next visible layer below it in the layer stack, ie your animation frame layer. 

It’s a bit hard to see in the thumbnail, but the text is now visible in the animation frame layer

Repeat the process with each pair of text and animation layers until every animation frame has text merged into it.

Step 4: Test Your GIF

Phew, that got a bit tedious by the end, but the hard part is over! You should now have a copy of your text layer merged into every frame that you want it to be visible in, but it’s a good idea to take a look at the animation and see how it works. 

You can save the document as GIF again and preview it in your web browser, but GIMP has a faster way to view the finished animation. 

Open the Filters menu, select the Animation submenu, and click Playback. GIMP will process the animation and open a new window for playback. 

To check the placement and timing of the new text in your GIF, press the small Play button in the upper left corner of the window, as shown below. 

If everything looks good, close the Animation Playback window. It’s time to export your GIF!

Step 5: Export Your GIF

To make sure that GIMP exports your GIF properly as an animation, you can’t just save the file. 

Open the File menu, and click Export As. Give your updated GIF a descriptive name, and click Export

GIMP will open the Export Image as GIF window which allows you to specify that your GIF should be exported as an animation, as well as some basic settings like looping. 

Make sure that you enabled the As animation setting (highlighted below), or you’ll just get a still image! 

Click Export, and you’re done!

A Final Word

Congratulations, you’ve learned how to add text to a GIF in GIMP! You had better start practicing now, though, because if the kids are to be believed, react GIFs are already uncool and they will soon be banished from every corner of the internet. 

That doesn’t seem likely to me, of course, but I’m way past the age of 25, so what would I know about what’s cool? I even still use the word “cool”, so I may as well be dead 😉

Enjoy your GIFs!

About Thomas Boldt
I’ve been working with digital images since the year 2000 or so, when I got my first digital camera. I've tried many image editing programs. GIMP is a free and powerful software, but not exactly user-friendly until you get comfortable with it, and I wanted to make the learning process easier for you here.

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  • Fritz

    Great! Excellent explanation.