Here’s how to use Snapchat filters, so you can jazz up your boring mug

how to use snapchat filters ar
As of January, Snapchat had more than 100 million daily users; that’s a whole lot of duck faces and NSFW pics. When the app launched, its main draw was the fact that images and videos automatically disappeared after the recipient viewed them; this is still the case, of course, but these days there’s much more to Snapchat than that. In addition to sending “snaps,” users can save snaps as “Memories,” post stories (chronological series of snaps, viewable by any of their friends and followers), and chat via text (those messages are also ephemeral).

Since 2014, parent company Snap Inc. has been updating the app with new, fun features. In addition to the drawing tool, users can apply a number of themed stickers to their snaps, or even record snaps with a special set of smartglasses designed by the company. Snapchat’s most popular feature by far, though, is its filters. Like Instagram, you can add filters to images and videos after the fact, with standard fare like sepia tone and black-and-white filters available.

You can also apply filters before capturing. With Snapchat’s face-detecting Lens technology, you can make yourself barf rainbows, or give yourself cat ears and whiskers. The list of available filters goes on and on, with more added every day. Filters are awesome, but they can seem confusing if you don’t know how to use them. Luckily, we’re here to show you!

First things first: In order to access all of Snapchat’s filters, you first need to enable them. Head to the app’s settings (from the main viewfinder, tap the ghost in the upper-left corner, followed by the gear icon in the upper-right corner), and then select Manage Preferences (under Additional Services). If filters aren’t enabled, tap the switch icon to enable them. Some filters require geolocation to be enabled, so go ahead and turn that on in your phone’s settings as well.

Note: This article references Snapchat iOS version 10.9.2.0.

Pre-capture filters

Once filters are enabled, you’re all ready to start filtering like a Brita (sorry). Head back to the viewfinder, and tap the screen. Your camera will take a second to adjust and map your surroundings, then a series of circles will appear to the right of the “capture” circle. Each of the circles contains a little preview of what the filter might be like; tap on one of these to select it (or swipe to scroll through several at once), and the app will apply the filter. The list of filters is refreshed daily, so if you can’t find one you like, check back later (some popular choices, though, are semi-permanent).

Some filters are completely autonomous, while some require you to perform an action, like tapping on the screen or looking around in different directions. Snapchat is great at giving clear instructions on how to activate filters, and many of them are downright hilarious.  For instance, one filter placed a chicken on the screen, which we could then drag around in 3D space; other filters filled the screen with digital bubbles, or little floating balloons with cat faces (yeah).

Perhaps more popular and ubiquitous than Snapchat’s area filters is the “Lens” feature, which utilizes face detection technology to apply filters to users’ faces via the phone’s front “selfie” camera. The process here works the same way: Aim the camera at your face (it should be easy, since you’ll be displayed on screen), tap the screen, and wait for the list of filters to appear. Here, you’ll find filters that warp your visage in creative ways, filters that add goofy aftereffects, and — of course — the infamous dog filter.

how to use snapchat filters pre capture composite
Snapchat’s pre-capture filters

Some Lens filters require you to open your mouth or raise your eyebrows to fully activate, while some scan your face and then insert it into a pre-rendered scene (like some sort of weird dancing Abraham Lincoln, for example). One of the most popular Lens filters is “Face Swap,” which is pretty self-explanatory. To use this filter — it’s not always available, unfortunately, so you’ll need a bit of luck — simply select it from the list (it’s yellow, and usually located near the end), and you’ll see two circles appear on-screen, with the background dimmed. Line up two faces within the circles, and the app should automatically swap them.

Similarly, Snapchat sometimes makes available a filter that lets you swap faces with pictures in your phone’s library. Choose the filter from the list (it’s teal, and usually located near the end), make sure your face (or the face of your subject) is in the camera’s crosshairs, and the app will pull up a list of images from your library that have faces in them — or, at least, images that Snapchat thinks have faces in them. This is a great filter for those who can’t convince anyone to come close enough for a regular face swap.

Post-capture filters

Snapchat also offers several filters that can be applied after you capture your photo or video. Once the capture is complete, swipe left or right to access these filters. These include the aforementioned sepia tone and black-and-white filters; “filters” that will speed up, slow down, or reverse a video you’ve taken; and Geofilters, which add fun overlays based upon location (neighborhood or city) or events — there are holiday filters, as well as more specific filters for things like music festivals and big conferences. Geofilters are only available with newly captured snaps; they can’t be added to Memories.

how to use snapchat filters post capture composite
Snapchat’s post-capture filters

You can actually set up custom filters on the Snapchat website for events like birthdays or weddings, or for businesses or public locations. To do this, you’ll select an area from a top-down map, and submit it to Snapchat for approval. These cost money, though, so setting up a Taco Tuesday filter might not be worth it.

Other tools

Okay, so, when it comes to Snapchat, the word “filter” is a little bit restrictive. The app features a host of cool features that aren’t technically listed as filters, but they’re still worth checking out, so we’ll explain those for you. First up: the Scissors and Sticker tools. To use the Scissors tool, capture a snap (or pull up a previously captured Memory from the app or from your camera roll), then tap the scissors in the upper right – your image will dim. Next, you’ll want to use your finger to draw an outline around the part of the image you’d like to save. Once finished, Snapchat will copy the layer you’ve selected, create a Sticker from it, and paste it on top of the image. Now, you can drag the new Sticker around, rotate, enlarge or shrink it using pinch controls, or delete it by dragging it to the trash can icon.

You can also use the Scissors tool to erase part of your image, by tapping the little stars after selecting the Scissors. We haven’t found this tool to be particularly fun or useful, but it’s there. Stickers themselves are pretty straightforward; to use them, from a captured image, tap the middle icon on the right side, which looks like a little square sticker with the corner folded over. From here, you’ll be taken to a screen with several gray icons at the bottom.

Snapchat's Scissors & Stickers tools
Snapchat’s Scissors & Stickers tools

These are different categories of Stickers that you can add to your snaps. The first category (a little clock) is a list of your recently used Stickers. The next category (a pair of scissors) displays all the Stickers you’ve created using the Scissors tool. From here, you can delete custom Stickers by dragging them to the trash can icon. The third category displays Bitmoji Stickers (if you’ve downloaded the Bitmoji app). The fourth and fifth categories contain a variety of Snapchat-specific Stickers — selecting one of these categories will expand the list at the bottom to include more subcategories — while the fifth contains all the default Emojis that you’ll find on your keyboard. All these Stickers can be moved, edited using pinch controls, or deleted by dragging them to the trash can icon.

There’s another neat trick hidden up Snapchat’s sleeve: The Paintbrush tool. For some reason, you can only use the Paintbrush with Memories; the tool doesn’t appear if you’ve newly captured a Snap (though you can easily just save the new snap to your Memories and then access it). Once you’ve selected an image to edit, you should see a little paintbrush icon on the right side, just above the timer. Tap it, and a scrollable list of rectangles will appear at the bottom (in the same way that pre-capture filters appear). Each of these rectangles contains a small representation of a famous painting, each with a distinctive art style – reminiscent of the app, Prisma. Tap one, and after a few seconds, the app will imbue your image with that art style. You can then send the snap or save the image to your camera roll.

how to use snapchat filters paintbrush composite
Snapchat’s Paintbrush tool
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