The Meaning of GIF: What It Is and How To Use It

What is the file format GIF, and how is it used? This article covers many meanings of GIF as well as its primary use as a type of image.

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How do you pronounce GIF? Even if you haven’t seen this acronym around often, you’ve probably heard about the debate surrounding its pronunciation. Read our article on the meaning of GIF, then decide for yourself how you think it should be said!

What Does GIF Stand For?

According to Cyber Definitions, the acronym GIF stands for graphics interchange format. This is a type of image format file that displays a short animated picture with no sound. This type of file was invented by Steve Wilhite from the company CompuServe. He later won a lifetime achievement award for his invention.

There has been a lot of controversy about the pronunciation of GIF. Some people pronounce it with a hard G because the word graphics starts with a hard G, like “giff.” However, the inventor prefers it to be pronounced like “jif,” with a soft g as in the word gift. The original joke tagline of the image type was based on a Jif peanut butter brand ad and read, “Choosy programmers choose GIF.”

These days, an animated GIF can often be seen as an internet meme. This file type can support 8 bits per pixel for each separate image. Every image can reference its own palette, which can contain up to 256 different colors chosen from the 24-bit RGB color space. It can also use a separate palette for each frame, according to Definitions. The color palette limitations make this file extension unsuitable for color photographs but great for simpler images like line art.

GIFs use the LZW lossless data compression technique, an abbreviation that stands for Lempel-Ziv-Welch. This type of file has wide support — of course, all binary computer files and file types have their advantages and disadvantages, but the GIF search bar has become a popular web page tool for looking up a single GIF file.

What Are Other Types of Image File Formats?

There are many types of file formats besides the GIF format, each uniquely suited for different types of graphical data. Some offer transparency, while others offer better visual quality and solid areas of color. Graphic files might be suited for one format over the other based on file size and compression, as well. 

EPS Files

EPS stands for encapsulated postscript, which is a high-resolution print file format that can be created by many types of design software. This is considered a vector file type. 

PDF Files

PDF stands for portable document format. PDFs are often not editable like word documents, but people can view them with no extra software. These are often used for contracts but can quickly get large in file size.

PSD Files

A PSD or Photoshop file type contains many layers but is still considered a raster image, meaning that you cannot resize it to any scale. That can be limiting for some graphic designers who want to be able to alter the size of their graphics. 

TIFF Files

TIFFs are considered raster files and often have large file sizes because of their ability to save layers. These files also have lossless compression, which means that the image will retain its quality no matter how many times you copy, compress, or edit the file. These are often not used on the web because their large file size makes them take a long time to load. 

PNG Files

PNG files are lossless image types that support transparency. These are often used in web projects because they are low-resolution files and therefore have very small file sizes. You might see these on web pages as logos, images, and more. 

JPG or JPEG Files

JPG files are used frequently on the internet, in documents, and in projects that require high resolution images. You may wonder why there are two different file extensions for the JPG file type. In the early days of computing, there was a three-character limit on file extensions, but that limit does not exist today.

What Are Other Meanings of GIF? 

The Free Dictionary states that GIF can have a number of other meanings in contexts outside of programming or image file formats. This abbreviation can be used as a slang term in the fields of technology, business, government, military, and more! 

If you are ever unsure what a person might mean by the abbreviation GIF, do not be shy about asking them to clarify their intended usage.

  • Geezers in Freezers (Simpsons)
  • Generation IV International Forum (nuclear reactors)
  • Guinee Airlines, Guinea (ICAO code)
  • Global Interface
  • Grønland Idræts-Forbund (Greenland)
  • Global Income Fund (stock symbol)
  • Government Interoperability Framework
  • Governance Interoperability Framework
  • Gauntlet Internet Firewall
  • Gamma Irradiation Facility
  • Gradient Induced Flow (urban planning)
  • Gatan Image Filter (a device attached to a Transmission Electron Microscope)
  • Gen IV International Forum
  • Guy In Front
  • Giant Is Free
  • Gestor de Infraestructuras Ferroviarias (España)
  • Global Interest Forum (Polycom user group)
  • Guaranteed Investment Fund
  • Global Integration Framework (platform unifying integration industry components)
  • Growth and Innovation Framework
  • Grey Iron Foundry (Saginaw, Michigan)
  • Gimp in Flames
  • Graphics Interchange Format
  • Grace International Fellowship
  • Guidance Integrated Fuze
  • Global Ill Framework
  • General Instructional Facility (various organizations)
  • Guidestar Information Form
  • Green Investment Fund (various organizations)
  • Gibostad Idrettsforening (Norwegian: Gibostad Sports Association)
  • Google It First
  • Global Infrastructure Fund
  • Genocide Intervention Fund


Overall, GIF is a type of image file that allows for transparency and animation. GIF stands for graphics interchange format and was invented by computer programmer Steven Wilhite. The pronunciation of GIF remains controversial, but Wilhite maintains that it should be pronounced with a soft g as in giant or jiffy. 


  1. GIF – What does GIF stand for? | The Free Dictionary 
  2. What Does GIF Mean? | Cyber Definitions 
  3. What does GIF mean? | Definitions