How to Split GIFs Into Frames in GIMP

When most people think about image editing in GIMP, they’re usually thinking about editing a photo, making a tiling pattern, or creating digital artwork, but GIMP is also able to edit everyone’s favorite social media crutch: animated GIFs. 

Like any video or animation, an animated GIF is a sequence of still images that are displayed in rapid succession to create the illusion of motion. GIMP allows you to edit any of those still frames to add text, new images, or anything else that you can do to a still image with GIMP’s tools, which covers almost anything you can imagine! 

In order to start editing your GIF file in GIMP, the first step is to split your GIF into frames. Fortunately, GIMP makes this extremely easy and does it for you automatically as soon as you open your GIF file.

Step 1: Open Your GIF

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

You probably already recognize the GIF that I’m going to use as an example in this post!

No matter which method you use, GIMP will process your animated GIF and automatically place each frame on a separate layer.

Locate the Layers panel in the bottom right corner of the GIMP interface, and you’ll be able to see the entire layer stack displaying each frame of your GIF. 

If the Layers panel isn’t visible, you can display it by pressing the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + L (use Command + L if you’re using GIMP on a Mac). You can also open the Windows menu, select the Dockable Dialogs submenu, and click Layers

Step 2: Make Edits

Once your GIF is divided into layers, you can do anything you want to each frame with any of GIMP’s editing tools, filters, and plugins! 

The editing process can be a bit tricky for new users because when GIMP creates a new layer for each frame, it also makes each layer visible. If you want to edit frame 6 out of 30, you won’t be able to see the results of your edits because all the other layers above it in the layer stack are blocking the view.

In the Layers panel, you can see a small eye icon next to each layer entry, which indicates that it is currently visible. You can toggle the visibility of each layer off by clicking the eye icon and toggle the visibility back on by clicking the spot where the eye icon should be.

Enabling and disabling the visibility setting for 20+ layers every time you want to change frames would get very tedious very quickly, so here’s a quick tip to display just the layer you want to edit:

Hold down the Shift key when you click the eye icon beside the layer you want to edit, and the visibility for every other layer will be toggled off. 

Oh, hiya, Homer…

To re-enable visibility for all layers, hold Shift and click the eye icon again. 

Keep in mind that each frame is usually only displayed for a few milliseconds, so you’ll probably have to edit multiple frames in order to make your edits visible when the animation is playing. 

Step 3: Export Your GIF Correctly (Important!)

Once you’re finished making your edits, you have to save your GIF carefully to ensure that it works properly. 

First, make sure that all your layers are visible. Any invisible layers will not display properly in the final exported GIF!

Once that’s done, open the File menu and click Export As. Give your file a descriptive name ending in the file extension “.gif,” and GIMP will realize that you want to export it as a GIF file. 

You can use the Select File Type (By Extension) section to choose the GIF extension if you don’t want to bother with setting the file extension manually, but the result is the same. 

Click the Export button, and GIMP will open the Export Image as GIF dialog window, as shown below.

Make sure that you check the As animation option, or your animated GIF will be converted into a still image!

You can also configure whether you want your GIF to loop forever, which is the default option and usually a good choice. 

Click the Export button one last time, and you’re done!

A Final Word

That covers everything you need to know about how to split a GIF into frames in GIMP, as well as how to apply your edits easily and then export your GIF as a working animation again. It might seem a bit confusing at first, but the process is pretty straightforward once you get used to it. 

The kids seem to think that GIFs are dying as a form of expression on social media, but every fad comes back again sooner or later. 

In the meantime, 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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