The Gift of the GIF: The Popular Image Format Turns 27

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On this day in 1987, CompuServe, the first major U.S. commercial online service, released the Graphics Interchange Format standard as a new computer graphics file format. It wasn’t suitable for reproducing color photographs due to it’s limited colors, but it was perfect for simpler images such as logos and graphics with solid areas of color. This along with the amazing support for animation helped it become one of the most popular graphics format during the early days of the internet.

27 years later, the beloved GIF is thriving all over the internet. For a few different reasons, the GIF has truly grown up and can be seen in your email newsletters to your favorite sports sites and so much more. What once was an image format suppressed by limited bandwidth and difficult to share, the GIF is back and learning new tricks.

56k ModemIn the late 90’s, a 100kb image was quite sizable and required both patience and desire to fully appreciate, not to mention an open telephone line. Today the restrictions on bandwidth are becoming a thing of the past and GIFs are weighing in at well over 1mb in size, allowing for longer and larger animations.

Along with an increase of speed has come a multitude of places to share these new animations. Gone are the days of figuring out how to upload your GIFs to your one-page website using CuteFTP. Social media and blogging platforms have made it easier than ever to upload and add them to your content.

Yet, the biggest reason as to why the animated GIF is now hugely popular is because of the expansion of source content. The advent of digital video and the ease of creating it ushered in new life to the GIF, paving the way for endless amounts of highlights, loops and movie clips. Along with the abundance of source content, imagination and creativity of graphic designers all over the world have spurred unique and amazing animated images like cinemagraphs. Cinemagraphs are shot with digital video and created in Photoshop using layers and masking to isolate a part of the image that animates and loops. Color palettes are manipulated to help you forget you’re only looking at 256 colors.

So happy birthday to the GIF and may it continue to surprise us with it’s ability to innovate itself again and again as a handy and fun image format.