Snapchat’s become much more than the simplistic instant photo-sharing app it once was. In addition to refining the already-groundbreaking service it offered—temporary photos and videos for sharing the world around you with your friends—Snapchat’s built-in some incredible visual technology into their service that you should make sure you’re using to create the best Snapsterpieces for your friends and followers. In addition to classic filters that have been there since the beginning of the app, Snapchat’s included geofilters (based on your location), context-based filters (like time or temperature), and AR, or augmented reality, filters (also called lenses) that take the world around you and digitally enhance them, placing animated lifeforms and fun designs within your display.
Also see our article 100 Great Selfie Captions for Pictures of Yourself on Instagram
If you’re a Snapchat regular, you might be familiar with a lot of the tweaks and tips in this guide. But for those new to Snapchat, it can be a difficult app to use, with a steep learning curve for some of its more-advanced features. Luckily, one you know what you’re doing inside the app, it’s easy to take advantage of their filters, features, Snap maps, and everything else the app offers. Until then, let’s take a look at how to use filters—and how to get even more filters than what appears initially. Here we go.
The first thing we need to do is enable filters on Snapchat if they aren’t already. We’ll be using the redesigned Snapchat app launched in December 2017 on Android, though if you don’t have the new version of the app yet, don’t fret. This is a fairly simple process, and no matter whether you’re on Android or iOS, enabling filters (or ensuring they’re enabled) is a simple task as long as you know where to look. Open up your settings menu inside Snapchat by either sliding down from the top of the camera interface or, on the newer versions of the application, by tapping on the Bitmoji icon in the top-left corner. If you haven’t created a Bitmoji for your Snapchat yet, the redesign will feature a silhouette portrait here. Once you’re on the profile page, you’ll see the settings link in the top-right corner of your display. Tap it.
Inside settings, scroll down through the menu until you reach the “Additional Services” category. Tap “Manage Preferences” to open up your Snap preferences. There’s a bunch of stuff in here, but the option we want specifically right now is “Filters.” Make sure it’s enabled with a check next to it. If you do not see the option in here, it means your filters are enabled by default and cannot be disabled; Snapchat has been testing a fully-automated version of Snapchat where the filters are always enabled. While you’re here, consider turning on “Travel Mode” below it. It won’t have an impact on your filters, but it will save your phone some battery life and data usage by not loading snaps in the background while you’re on mobile data. It’s a good option to keep checked for regular Snapchat users.
With Snapchat filters enabled, it’s time to learn exactly how to use filters effectively in Snapchat. The app does a relatively terrible job of teaching you how to use filters, so let’s take a look at some tips. With Snapchat, some filters are permanent, while others—specifically geofilters based on your location and AR filters—will cycle and change based on what Snapchat’s offering at a specific time. You can cycle through filters by swiping left and right once you’ve taken an image for a video. Let’s take a look at each of these:
- Color filters: The most basic type of filter, these are always enabled inside Snapchat. You’ll find four different filters for changing the visual appearance of your photo. The first smooths out your skin tone, artificially removing blemishes and acne while also brightening your photo. The second is a sepia-styled filter, placing a sun-baked look on your photo. The third boosts the blue levels of your image while also oversaturating specific colors to create a unique look. The fourth is a simple black and white filter.
- Overlay filters: For years, these overlay filters gave some contextual information for your snap based on your location and activity. While they’re still able to be activated, every overlay filter has been translated into a sticker for easier use. We’ll describe why in a moment, but first, a short description of each one. The time filter actively displays the time you took your photo, without changing once the photo was taken. The temperature filter will display the temperature of your area based on your current location. The speed filter detects how fast you’re moving as you take a snap. Depending on your altitude, an altitude filter will appear occasionally to display your current height from sea level, and if your battery is fully charged or about to die, you’ll have a happy or sad battery icon available for use. These have been moved from their original filter location to the sticker tab (accessible by tapping on the small post-it note icon to the right) in order to be more flexible. With a sticker, you can now move the temperature or time around as opposed to having it stuck permanently in the middle of the screen. It’s a small change, but a smart one. So if you’re wondering where your filters went, they’ve been moved to the sticker menu.
- Geofilters: These are entirely based on your current location, and work for towns and cities large and small. Not every town has a local geofilter, and certain towns may default to the city they’re near. Other cities, like New York’s individual boroughs or Los Angeles, have multiple geofilters for tracking your location depending on the part of the city you find yourself in.
- Day of the Week filters: These are really similar to the overlay filters, but they’re all uniquely designed and, depending on your location, will change to say your town or city’s name below. Unlike the plain white design of the clock or temperature, these are cartoonish and fun in design.
- Sponsored filters: You might also see some sponsored filters for everything from movies to stores like Walmart to any other products made to be sold to mass audiences. Advertising is how Snapchat makes the majority of their cash, and you can bet those filters show up in your feed on a regular basis. If you’re curious if a filter is sponsored—beyond the fact that it’s typically pretty obvious—just look for the word “Sponsored” somewhere in the snap. This won’t be on your snap when you send it, and fades away after a few seconds, but Snapchat does make it clear and obvious what is and isn’t a sponsored filter.
- Bitmoji filters: Though Bitmoji originally began life as an independent company called Bitstrips (you may remember the customizable comics; they were incredibly popular on Facebook), Snapchat finally acquired the company in 2016, following a year of integration within the app itself. If you haven’t already made a Bitmoji on your Android or iOS device, you won’t see these options appear until your accounts are linked; that said, once you’ve created your digital avatar, there’s a ton of fun to be had with Bitmoji inside of Snapchat. And while most Bitmoji usage comes from stickers within the app, there are, on occasion, Bitmoji filters that feature your own avatar placed into the filter. Likewise, when you’re replying to a friend, you can also gain access to a Bitmoji filter, that has the two Bitmojis featured together.
Those are the basics when it comes to filters on Snapchat, but we still have to talk about a few more things. For that, let’s move onto the real meat of this article: how to get additional Snapchat filters on your snap.
Additional Filter Options
Alright, so we’ve covered the basic filters and what they do, but Snapchat offers so much more for filters and effects that what we’ve covered above. Snapchat doesn’t do a great job in teaching users exactly how these filters and augmented reality effects work, so it’s no surprise that some users have the hardest time getting these tips and tricks to work. A lot of this stuff spreads purely on word of mouth, and if you’re unfamiliar with Snapchat’s inner workings or you haven’t had a friend explain this stuff to you, it can be confusing at best and impossible to learn at worst.
So, we’re going to break this down into three categories: expanded filter usage, AR filters, and custom geofilter options. All three of these give you brand new creative options for expanding your Snapchat world. So get creative, and let’s begin.
Expanded Filter Usage
So we covered every standard filter you can use on Snapchat, but this creates a problem: what if you want more than one filter placed on your snap? Color filters and geofilters, for example, don’t interfere with each other, but swiping through filters changes the appearance one at a time. Is it possible to use more than one filter?
Yes but you can only use two at a time. Snapchat doesn’t make this incredibly clear, but filters can be swiped through while maintaining a filter by swiping through filters while holding a finger down on your screen. So, use one finger to select one filter, then press and hold your thumb on the screen while using your finger to swipe through additional unused filters without changing the first filter. Want a black and white filter that also shows the time? No problem. A smoothing skin filter that shows the day of the week? Absolutely.
There are a couple limitations to this. Filters that take up the same space—like time and temperature, for example, won’t all work together because they use the same spot. Other filters though, like the battery and day of week filters, will overlap, despite using the same general area. As a rule, your second filter is a bit more limited than your first. You can only use one overlay filter or one color filter on a snap at a time. Overall, however, the app allows you to customize the snap as you’d like.
And don’t bother trying to add a third filter using three fingers. With the exception of AR filters, Snapchat’s a two-filter-at-a-time game.
There is one other filter trick Snapchat hides from users though, and it’s arguably even cooler than the ability to use two filters at a time. Those standard overlay stickers we talked about above—time, temperature, and speed? Each of them have brand new filters if you tap them, providing new or additional information, or changing the format of the filter itself.
- Time: The time filter can also become the date in two separate styles (07/01/2017 or July 1, 2017, for example), making it useful if you’re trying to save a snap with the specific date of your event rather than the time.
- Weather: This one has a bunch of options. Tap it once to get an hourly forecast for your area, and again to get a three-day forecast. Tapping it a third time will change the unit of measurement for the temperature from fahrenheit to celsius or celsius to fahrenheit, depending on your location and the standard setting for your country (as a general rule, fahrenheit for the US, celsius nearly everywhere else). Once you’ve switched to the other measurement, you can then use the hourly and three-day forecasts in the alternate unit of measurement.
- Speed: Like with weather, tapping speed will change your unit of measurement from miles/hour to kilometers/hour, or vice versa, depending on your location in the world. Tapping the speed filter again will change it back.
We also haven’t mentioned the additional text and drawing-based effects you can use on Snapchat, but those are options as well, listed in the top-right corner of your display. You can also use emojis, stickers, and bitmojis (an avatar you build with an outside app) inside Snapchat, but these function less as filters and more as effects or decorations.
Lately—over the past year or two, in fact—Snapchat’s main focus has been on augmented reality, or AR filters (called “lenses” by Snapchat). The phrase “augmented reality” has become a bit of a buzzword over the past year or so, starting with Snapchat’s usage of AR inside their filters and exploding with the release and popularity of Pokemon Go last summer, which used AR to show Pokemon on your camera in the “real world” (though most serious players turned this feature off nearly immediately). Augmented reality has also become something of a competitor to virtual reality machines like the Oculus or Vive from HTC and Valve. Augmented reality refers to using a camera, along with location and sensor information, to place a digital object on your screen that “appears” to be in the real world, without actually being there. Unlike virtual reality, goggles or a headset aren’t needed to accomplish augmented reality—you just need a phone with a good camera and the proper sensor support. And while companies like Samsung and Google are investing in mobile virtual reality headsets, Apple is preparing to go all-in with augmented reality, announcing AR Kit at their developer conference in June 2017 for developers to take advantage of up and coming technologies in this segment of the market.
If you’ve used Snapchat for any extended amount of time, you probably know exactly what AR filters are. From the rise and fall in popularity of the dog filter to the absolute ubiquity of the “face swap,” Snapchat users have become accustomed to using AR filters constantly, and Snapchat knows this. Just as we saw with standard filters above, Snapchat offers users “sponsored” filters for every product from drinks to movies to shopping centers, all based on whatever product is being pushed at a certain time.
If you’re new to Snapchat, AR filters may seem out of your league or impossible to learn how to use, but this simply isn’t the case. Augmented reality is actually incredibly easy to learn how to use, and just as we saw with standard filters above, there are a ton of options here for us to fool around with. First, the basics. Activating an AR filter is just as easy as using standard filters, but with two big differences: AR filters are applied before you take the shot, not after, and instead of sliding through options, you tap on the camera display to activate AR mode. Once you’ve done this, you’ll see plenty of different options to pick from. To preview and use these AR filters, simply slide your finger between the options along the bottom of your screen, with each filter represented by a circle icon. Most filters are made to be used with the front-facing camera, but there are some alternate versions. Let’s take a look at some examples of filters. Since Snapchat adds and removes new filters everyday, we’ll just be listing some sample filters instead of focusing entirely on what each filter looks like.
- Sponsored filters: These don’t always appear, but when they do, they’ll typically be among the first filters you’ll see within the app upon activating AR mode. Despite their sponsorships, these can sometimes be a bit fun to play around with—for example, the film 47 Meters Down, a shark attack movie, used a sponsored filter showing the area around you being attacked by swimming sharks.
- Animal filters: Hot off the success of the dog filter, Snapchat’s added (and regularly adds) new animals for you to play around with. Typically these include a nose change, some form of animal ears, and even virtual glasses. These can be really cute, though your mileage may vary depending on the variation chosen on the app at a specific time.
- Face modifiers: Obviously, most of these AR filters modify how your face looks, but some of them can really do a number. The classic example of this is the big-mouth filter, which magnifies your mouth so it takes over half of your face, but there’s plenty of other options that rotate in and out while you’re using the app.
- Friend filters: These can vary from animal filters to face-modifiers, but Snapchat almost always has a filter than can support two people in the shot at once. They can sometimes be used solo as well, but they’re definitely more fun with a buddy, so grab a friend and try them out.
- Action filters: These require you to perform some form of movement to activate an action within the filter. Typically, the reaction involves opening your mouth, raising your eyebrows, or blinking. This can trigger everything from the dog tongue licking the screen on the dog filter to magic cards flying everywhere as you’re wrapped in a Harry Potter-inspired scarf. These are a ton of fun, though you’ll want to record the filter instead of taking a simple photo snap for sending to others.
- World filters: These are the newest additions to Snapchat, and they’re built a bit different than you’re probably used to for AR filters. Instead of using your front-facing camera, these use the world around you to put cartoon characters and other words and creative phrases into a background, similar to how Pokemon function in Pokemon Go. You can move and resize these characters, making it easy to modify and change how your snap looks right from inside the app.
- 3D Bitmoji lenses: Like the standard Bitmoji filters listed above, you’ll have to first create and sync a Bitmoji avatar with your Snapchat account to gain access to these lenses. Basically, your app will create a 3D version of your standard Bitmoji, creating a virtual “you” that you can place anywhere in the world around you. There are typically two or three different animations available at a time, and you can find them in the same menu for AR filters as the rest of your content. The circle icons are typically highlighted in blue or green to designate that they’re a 3D Bitmoji filter, and the work relatively the same as the World filters we mentioned above.
It’s worth noting that some of these filters typically have a secondary function if you move from your front-facing camera to your rear camera, though the effects typically put a matching pattern on the environment around you.
Finally, the standard guidelines for these lenses: most Android phones running Android 4.3 or above should support them. For iOS devices, lenses are supported on the iPhone 4S and above, iPod 5th generation, iPad 2nd generation and above, and Original iPad Mini devices and above.
Our last suggestion for new filters on Snapchat is probably a bit out-there for most users, but we think a select few will really love them. Above we mentioned Snapchat’s reliance on advertisers placing ads within Snapchat, saying it’s the majority of how Snapchat makes their money, and this is absolutely true. That said, there is another path of money making for Snapchat, and it’s through custom geofilters. These on-demand filters allow you to create your own filter for a limited area for events, weddings, businesses, announcements and more. It’s a really interesting idea, and as long as you’re sensible about where you’re keeping the filter in effect, it’s pretty affordable too.
There are two separate ways to do this, and it really depends on how much energy and time you want to put into designing and creating a filter. If you know a lot about graphic design, or you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of designing a filter, you’re better off with our second option. For most users, follow our first direction to quickly and easily create a custom filter for your friends and family to use at an event, or to hype your business.
The easier method: start by heading into the settings menu inside Snapchat we mentioned earlier. Find “Custom Geofilters” inside your settings menu and tap the option, then tap “Continue.” Snapchat will give you a bunch of different options for what the occasion you’re looking to design is. These range from standard, always-there options (wedding, birthdays) to time-based holidays (at the time of writing, 4th of July and graduation are at the top of the list, as are
summer vibes”). Choose your category to load a list of standard templates to pick from for geofilters. Tapping on an option will give you a sample photo of your filter, and you can do one of three things from here: go back to the options menu, select the geofilter, or customize it with your own text and drawings.
After you’ve designed your filter, hit the green checkmark in the corner to move on. You’ll have to name your filter, and select between a personal or business filter. Tap continue, and you’ll be able to view the options for when your filter activates. By default, this gives you about a six hour window; extending it will make the filter cost more, and reducing it will cost less. When you select the next icon, Snapchat will load into a map interface, where you can type in an address and drag a shape around the area you want to cover. The current cost of your filter—which rises as you expand your filter beyond the basic scope of your outreach. Your filter can only be so big, so if you go too large, you’ll get a warning to make your filter smaller. Though standard prices start around $5.99 or so, making the area larger can cost as much as $169.
Once you’ve selected your area, tap “Continue” and you’ll be able to review your order. From here, you hit submit and then head over to payment options. Most filters with a reasonable, house-and-yard-sized area shouldn’t cost more than $10 to $15, making it perfect for parties, reunions, and vacation spots.
All of this can be easily accomplished right from your phone, but if you’re into the idea of customizing your filter with your own graphics, or you want the freedom and usability of designing a filter with a keyboard and mouse, you’ll want to turn to using Snapchat’s own on-demand geofilter website here. The website allows you to design similar filters to what we’ve seen on the mobile app, but you’ll also be able to upload your own designs from Photoshop or Illustrator. In general, even if you’re using the “standard” recommended designs, the desktop web application gives you a lot more freedom in terms of customizing your image with various colors and other designs.
There are some guidelines you should follow when designing a geofilter, and we’ll quickly cover theme here for those users looking to design your own filter either within the app or on your computer:
- Personal geofilters don’t use any sort of branding or promotion. Business geofilters do, and both have separate guidelines for rules that you can find in more detail here.
- You can’t use hashtags, photographs of people, phone numbers, email addresses, and other similar information. The link above has a full list of do’s and don’ts.
- If you’re looking to design your own custom filter in Photoshop or Illustrator, you’ll want to know these design guidelines: files should be 1080×1920, under 300kb in size, and should be careful not to take up too much room on the screen, otherwise you’ll risk being turned down for your design.
Overall, designing and submitting a filter is easiest from your phone, where every filter is basically guaranteed to be approved and accepted by Snapchat. But the web-based designer definitely allows for more creative freedom, and if you really want to get interesting, you’ll want to submit your geofilter design through their client. It’s a really neat feature that definitely doesn’t get enough use, and for most events, it’s fairly affordable.
There is a ton of hidden functionality inside of Snapchat, especially when it comes to filters and AR-enabled lenses. From the ability to enable two (or three, with lenses) filters at once, to the additional designs of the weather, time, and speed filters within Snapchat, the app definitely does a good job keeping some of the best functionality hidden from its users. AR lenses and filters are a great way to customize your snaps on Snapchat, and some of them even contain hidden functionality when you switch to the rear-mounted camera on your phone. And custom geofilters are one of our favorite ways to promote and celebrate events with your loved ones for only a few bucks. Snapchat’s an app that keeps you on your toes, always adding new functionality without much explanation. Hopefully this guide—and future updates—will help you make the most out of your Snapchat filters and lenses.