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How to Open and Save Animated GIFs in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements

How to Open and Save Animated GIFs
in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements

by F.A. Moore

Update. October 26, 2012

Some techniques described in the 3 year old article below, are no longer valid, due to updates QuickTime. QuickTime X, no longer plays animated GIF files. For Mac, the solution is to use the tips regarding Preview, which is built into all Macs, and copying each frame, in turn, from the Drawer (sidebar) of Preview. Paste these into layers in Photoshop/Elements. As of PS/E 9, Elements still does not support opening animated GIFs into layers.

September 17, 2009

I recently discovered when upgrading my Photoshop Elements 1.0 to 6.0 for the Mac, after a zillion years of not caring about the differences, that Photoshop CS3 and later versions of Elements do not open animated gifs into their many layers. Hearsay is that this was an attempt to sell their Fireworks application, which does open animated gifs in layers.

For those who want to alter gifs, opening a file into layers is critical. Here are a some different options for Windows and Mac users to open GIF layers in Photoshop CS3 and Photoshop Elements 3, forward, when Fireworks is not available.

On either system, if you have QuickTime Pro:
1. File > Open File… (control/command + O) > then click the gif file.
2. This will open the gif in a new QuickTime player, with the same number of frames as the Gif animation.
3. Edit > Select All (control/command + A) (very important step!)
4. File > Export > Movie to Image Sequence.
5. Click Options and choose “BEST” for frame rate. That will give you 1 PNG file for each frame.
6. Now open those sequentially numbered PNG files with PS/PSE.

After a control/command + A Select All in QuickTime (Pro)

(QuickTime Pro is only about $30 bucks. It’s nice to have around. They just give you a long “key” to paste into the registration form of your regular QuickTime app., and it turns magically into the Pro app., which allows editing of frames and audio.)

OTHERWISE, branched options per system:

Choose File > Import > Video Frames to Layers. When it shows you the browse window,

  1. type in the name of your file (or * . * for the file name, but no spaces);
  2. click Load.
  3. Open your animated gif(s).
  4. Press Okay for the default import.
  5. Windows > Animation will allow you to view the animated frames.
    (caveat: I have not tried this!)

Mac – 3 more options, listed below:

  1. Option 1. Use Preview (a Mac OS X built-in app.) to open the gif. View with DRAWER open and click the carrot to see all layers in the drawer. Drag each layer to your desktop and then lasso all files and command click to “Open With” PS/PSE. Be sure to maintain the frame order when pasting into the layers of a new file.
  2. Option 2. Use Preview to open the gif, just as in option 1, above. Then Copy each subsequent layer (clicked on in the drawer) and paste into a PS/PSE layer. Be sure to maintain the frame order when pasting into the layers of a new file.

    gif opened with Preview

-# Option 3. Save the file as a .mov file (QuickTime). In Photoshop > File > Import > Frame from Video, point to the renamed file and import the first frame. In PSE this only allows ONE FRAME at a time. Each Frame will be opened as a new file in the project bin! Grab Frame and Click OK. Press your right arrow key to move to the next frame. Grab Frame and click OK. Continue until all frames are in the project bin. Add them to a layer, in order, as you would any image.- Update, Oct 26, 2012. This option does not work with the latest QuickTime X, for Mac.

PSE gif layers after paste or import

1. Delete any background layers, or merge a copy of the background into each animated frame. All layers in the file should be an animation frame. If not then merge until each frame is the next animation in a sequence.


3. Check Gif, perceptual, transparency, choose a “matte” color, or none.

4. Check Animation. Check if you want it to Loop and the seconds or partial seconds per frame. You can preview it in your browser with the preview button. You may need to add and select your default browser first, if you have not previously set this up.

5. Once you’re satisfied, click OK.

6. Save your original file as a PSD file! Use the PSD file to adjust layers, without having to go through the hassle of opening a separate file for each layer or importing as video frames, again from the saved GIF.

This public-domain image was originally downloaded from, then resized and saved.

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