How to Edit GIFs in GIMP

GIFs are everywhere across the web these days, but they’re also one of the least understood image formats. There’s even some controversy about how to properly pronounce the acronym, with some purists claiming it should be pronounced with a soft G sound, like ‘JIF’. I’ve never met anyone who insisted on pronouncing it that way but to each their own! 

GIMP is technically a raster image editor for still images, and animated GIFs are usually created using video editing programs, but you can edit both still and animated GIFs in GIMP (no matter how you pronounce it!).

Give ’em the dancing toe beans, Juniper!

The Quick Guide to Editing GIFs in GIMP

Editing a still GIF uses the same process as editing any other still image, but an animated GIF is slightly different: each frame is treated as a separate layer. Let’s take a look at the steps below.

  • Step 1: Open your GIF in GIMP.
  • Step 2: Edit your frame layers as desired.
  • Step 3: Export your GIF using the Export As command with the As Animation setting enabled.

Congratulations, you’ve just edited a GIF in GIMP! There are a lot of details that didn’t make it into the quick version of the guide, so let’s take a closer look at how GIMP handles GIF editing. 

The Detailed Guide to Editing GIFs in GIMP

Before we dive too deep into this guide, it’s important to point out that even though GIMP can edit GIFs, it’s not the best tool for the job. 

If you are going to use GIMP, it’s probably best to keep things simple, or you’ll start getting frustrated at its extremely limited (ie: virtually non-existent) animation-specific tools and features.

There are a number of free, open-source GIF editors available that are more focused on animation which you may find easier to use, depending on your project.

With that out of the way, let’s look at how GIMP handles animated GIF editing. 

Step 1: Opening Your GIF

This step is extremely simple and doesn’t require any additional work on your part, except to notice what GIMP does with your animation frames. When you open an animated GIF in GIMP, each frame of the animation becomes a separate layer visible in the Layers panel.

The Layers panel in GIMP 2.10 showing the frames of a very simple animated GIF

The layer at the bottom of the stack is frame 1, and each layer in the stack is one frame forward in the animation. 

GIMP also includes a small amount of information in the layer name indicating the length of time the frame is shown for, and how the frames are handled (combine or replace).

The Layers panel showing the GIF of Juniper in the (combine) frames mode

Some GIFs, such as the one of Juniper stretching her toes, use the Combine option instead of Replace, but it can be a bit more difficult to work within GIMP due to the way it handles frames as layers. 

You may wind up with empty layers used as a way of extending the visible length of each frame, but every GIF is slightly different.

Step 2: Editing Your GIF 

At this point, you’ve probably already got an idea of how you want to edit your GIF. Maybe you want to remove frames, add another picture, add some text, or something way cooler that I can’t even imagine. 

These text layers will be merged down into the frames below them in the stack using the Merge down command

For this simple example, I’ve added in a few text layers above the filled layer frames, which then get merged into the visible layer below. If you try to export your GIF without merging the layers, you’ll definitely get a bizarre result. 

However, if you wanted to (and you have the patience for it) you can do just about anything you want to the frames using GIMP’s impressive selection of editing tools. The only limits are your imagination and how much time you’re willing to spend!

Just remember that GIFs generally have a limited palette of no more than 256 colors, so any fancy color editing might be lost during the export process. 

Step 3: Exporting Your GIF

Finally, it’s time to bring your masterpiece to life! 

Open the File menu and choose Export As. Name your file using the file extension .GIF and GIMP will automatically recognize that it should be exported in the GIF format. Click the Export button.

Depending on your edits, you may get a warning dialog about the size of your GIF. Click the Crop button to proceed, unless you want to go back and change anything. All this will do is crop your image data to the visible image size, which is what we want to do anyways. 

Next, you’ll get the Export Image as GIF dialog that allows you to set the options for your GIF. 

The most important one is to check the box marked As animation because this gives you access to all the custom settings such as looping, frame delays, and whether you want to use replace or combine mode for frame disposal.

The Export Image as GIF dialog in GIMP 2.10

Adjust your settings as desired, and click the Export button (this is the last time, I promise!).

Assuming all goes well, GIMP will create your GIF. To check it, you may be able to use your operating system’s image viewer, or you can drag the file into a blank web browser window if your OS image viewer doesn’t support animated GIFs. 

Once more with feeling, little cat!

That’s all there is to know about how to edit GIFs in GIMP! If you find yourself doing a lot of work with animated GIFs, I strongly recommend that you find a program that is dedicated to animation or even to animated GIFs. 

They’re usually much easier to work with since that’s what they’re actually designed to do, although they rarely offer as many editing tools as you’ll find in GIMP. 

Happy editing! 

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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