Photoshop Animation: Design a Professional-Looking Animation Without Using Flash

photoshopanimationAnimation is a really awesome way to show your creative side while getting a message across. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a flash program to design an animation. You can do it right in Photoshop! I’m going to walk you through the things you need to do and know to make your first Photoshop animation a success. Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think. If you’re more of a video learner, you can take this online course that will teach you everything about creating animations in Photoshop.

Photoshop Layers

Before we get started, I just want to run over Photoshop layers to help those of you that aren’t too familiar with Photoshop.

Photoshop operates in layers. These layers allow you to create filters, change colors, add texts, draw images, or whatever on top of your background (1st layer). This may not sound that impressive but it’s an essential part of why Photoshop is awesome. Each layer you create with different content can be turned off, deleted or edited without affecting other parts of your image. This is precisely how we are going to create animations. If this is confusing, take this Photoshop crash course to clear things up.

Okay, let’s get creating!

Step 1

The first step requires you having some sort of idea of what you want to create. You need to decide on an approximate size so you can start your new canvas. I’m going to start off with a canvas size 600×600. To open a new file go to File–>New. Adjust your canvas size, name it and click OK.

Step 2

Now you will need to create those layers I was talking about. In Photoshop CC, your layers palette should be on the bottom right of your screen. Click on the icon that looks like a dog-eared page. This creates a new layer. You can name this layer whatever you want or keep it as Layer 1. You want to create as many layers as you are going to need to make your image look animated. For example, I am making dog paw prints run across the screen. I have three sets of dog prints and in each set there are two different paw prints.

I want each paw to appear one at a time. This makes it look like the dog is walking. Therefore with three sets of dog prints and two paw prints in each set I will need six extra layers. The background layer should not be included. This can always be changed later as you develop your animation so don’t stress if you have no idea how many layers you will need.

I hit the create layer icon six times. Now I have layer 1 – layer 6.

Step 3

It’s time to do the most important part. Design! If you have no images created yet, it’s time to get to work. Create the base of your animation in Layer 1 and build with each layer. Here’s my example of puppy paw prints. I put one paw print in each layer in a different position. When we animate the image it will look like the puppy is walking.

And so on.

You’ll also notice that there is an eye next to each layer. If you click on it that layer will become invisible but it will not be deleted. This just gives you more room to play around with the design of your animation.

One you’ve created your images in each of your layers you can move on to the next steps.

Already have images for the animation?

It’s possible that you have the images that you want to animate already created and saved on your computer. If that’s the case you will need to add each image to its own layer. Follow these steps:

  • Go to File–>Open. Select the image you wish to use for Layer 1.

  • The image will open in its own window. You will have to drag this image to your working Layer window. With your image in front of you click CTRL+T. This is the shortcut for Free Transform which essentially allows you to move and resize your image as you want.

  • Click on your image and hold down your mouse as you drag the image to the other screen where your Layer 1 is. Let go of the mouse. It should be there now!

  • Repeat this step with the remaining images and layers you wish to have as a part of your animation.

Step 4

It’s finally time to open the animation timeline. To do this, go to Window–>Timeline. You should see a timeline in the bottom quarter of your screen.

Note: This tutorial is being done in Photoshop CC, animation is still possible in other versions of Photoshop but instead of finding the animation panel under Window–>Timeline (like in CC), you will find it under Window–>Animation.


Step 5

In the middle of the timeline panel at the bottom of your screen you will see a button with an arrow next to it. The button will say create video timeline. Since we are creating an animation and not a video you will need to click the arrow and select create frame animation.

Step 6

After selecting create frame animation you will see your finished product as a thumbnail in your timeline. Your layers aren’t there yet because you have to add them. Go to the top right of your timeline box where you will see an icon like this: . Click it and select Make Frames From Layers. Now the layers you created in step 2 will be in your timeline.

*If you do not see thumbnails of your layers like the second image below you will need to click on the convert to animation frame (the hover text will say this) button on the bottom left of your timeline. It looks like this:  

Step 7

It’s time to set the duration of each of these layers. You’ll see in the above image and on your timeline that the thumbnails all have 0.03 (or some variation of this). This is the pre-set duration of the layer. The duration indicates how long that particular layer shows during your animation. If you have a bit of text that you want your viewer to be able to read, you may want to set the duration a little longer for that slide. You can change the time by clicking on the little arrow next to the numbers.

You will also see the word once or forever on the bottom of your timeline. You can change the duration loop to be a single time (the animation will only play through one time) or to forever (the animation will loop over and over again). Keep learning skills like these, and eventually you’ll be a Photoshop Guru.

Step 8

Your animation is complete! To see what it looks like in action hit the play button (the laying down triangle button). You did it!

Step 9

It’s time to save your animation! Go to File–>Save for Web. Make sure you save this animation as a GIF. The numbers next to the GIF indicate the quality of your animation. This also will give you some indication as to how long it will take for your animation to load on a webpage. Mess around with these different options and choose the one that works best for you. Just make sure it’s a GIF.

Dithering means that Photoshop will select two colored pixels to be next to each other in place of a third color. Essentially, you lose a little quality but this may not be apparent at all to your viewers. In fact, it could be beneficial. A lot of browsers will automatically dither an image depending on the users image viewing capabilities (24-bit or 8-bit).

Step 10

To use your animation on a website or a presentation, all you need to do is open the GIF image you’ve created. To test out your animation in your web browser all you have to do is drag your GIF file to the browser. There it is! How cool is that? Want to learn more advanced techniques in Photoshop? Here’s an online course for Photoshop Advanced.

Additions to your Animation

So, now you know how to create an animation. Now it’s time to tweak it so it’s exactly like you want it to be. I’ll show you how to add text, and how to change the transitions between slides.

Add Text

This is pretty easy. Choose the layer you wish to add the text to by highlighting it in your layers palette. Now go to your toolbar on the right hand side of your screen and click on the T button. This is your text tool. Now click anywhere on the layer that you wish to add text and type! You can change the font, size, color, etc., by using the top toolbar. This toolbar is activated when you select the text tool.

To move your text around hit CTRL+T. Remember this is the free transform shortcut and will allow you to resize or move your text around. You can also click on the arrow on your toolbar. This is the very first icon. When it looks like you want go ahead and save and move on to the next slide!


Fade In/Fade Out Transitions

Step 1

Make sure your layers and images are set up in the timeline frame. If you’ve followed these directions all the way through then your layers should already be in the timeline.

Step 2

Click on the layer image that you wish to start the fade transition, this will probably be the first thumbnail.

Step 3

Now click on the  icon on the top right of your timeline palette. A list will appear and you should select Tween. A box will pop up and you will see the option of Tween With: it should say next frame and you’ll probably want to keep it here. Next Frame means the current slide will fade into the next frame.

Under frames to add pick the number of new frames you want to add in between the current frame and the next frame. A larger number will make a smoother transition, but will result in a bigger file size. Make sure all layers is chosen, and at least opacity is checked. Click OK.


You’ll notice that now on your timeline there are a bunch more thumbnails. This is a good thing. There is now a frame in-between each of your original frames. The opacity of each layer transitions from 100% opacity to 0% and vice-versa. If you push the play button at this point you will see that your first frame fades into the next frame. Success!

Repeat steps 1-3 for each frame if you want ever transition to be a fade in/fade out.

Look at you, pro. You made your first animation with images, text and awesome transitions!

Master other techniques in this Photoshop fundamentals course.