I've been tasked with exporting some small videos that will become GIFs. 350x50px etc. No matter how I export them the text comes out awful even in lossless.
I susp[ect the issue is that when they are played back or previewed they are being stretched because when I view them at 100% in AE they look good but the client isn't having any of it.
What makes it difficult is that when a colleague of mine is exporting the same thing as GIFs from PS they look better (not perfect) even when previewed. I can't export more HQ than lossless so I'm stumped. Can anyone help me?
You can't expect a gif in 350x50 to look high quality. 350x50 is a resolution, and in reality it would be played normally in a very small preview, because it's so low quality. That said, QuickTime or any other video player will "upscale" it, in essence try to make it fit the screen size. That's not a lossless feature, since it doesn't involve any real rendering, and it will lose you a ton of quality.
The only work around to this is (if your client allows you) to preconpose all your layers, resize the comp to something bigger, like 2100x300, and scale the hell out of it your precomp. Then to make it slightly sharper, go under quality & sampling and change it to Draft. Or as a better alternative, if you can, just make everything higher quality.
Start by adjusting the kerning of the text so the letters don't visualyl melt together. The rest already has been explained. 350 x 50 is nothing these days and will look tiny even on mobile screens. You can't expect to cram in massive amounts of info in something that will end up as a thumbnail - literally. The whole approach strikes me as slightly questionable, given that most banners are around 600 x 150 at least today.
Here are the problems that are difficult to overcome when you are creating small animated GIFs.
There are only 256 possible colors available, not 256 for each channel, 256 total different colors.
Horizontal and vertical edge detail, like the edges of a font, must be perfectly lined up with the pixel grid to maintain sharp edges.
Antialiasing, the trick that makes details look sharp in images with more colors available, like the more than 16 million available in a JPEG, is so limited in a GIF because of the small numbers of available colors that you have to be very careful with the total colors you choose to add to your gif.
After Effects does not have a 256 color display option, so there will always be a difference between the colors displayed in the comp panel and the colors you get in your gifs. You can simulate it a little with Posterize, but it will never be 100% accurate.
After Effects also does not let you adjust the timing of each individual frame. It is a pretty poor tool for efficiently creating animated gifs because the text and the color palette are almost impossible to preview in AE.
You can kind of solve the text problem by preparing the artwork in Illustrator, converting text to outlines, then turning on Pixel Preview and Snap to pixel and adjusting your text so that it lines up with the pixel grid. You can also design with only 256 total colors in Illustrator. You could then import your layered AI file as a composition, retaining layer size and work the animation backwards because all of your artwork is in the Hero position before you start.
If you must use After Effects, set the comp frame rate to no more than 15 fps. 12 fps was good enough for Buggs Bunny and just about every cartoon that was every animated by hand, so it is good enough for an animated GIF. Make sure there are no duplicate (identical) frames next to each other (no static images lasting several frames), then export the GIF, open it in Photoshop and set the duration of every frame you want to hold for a few seconds, and do your final export with the Save For Web Legacy option.