By Tom May
The best VSCO filters to give your Instagram photos an edge.
Using the best VSCO filters can totally transform your Instagram feed, which explains the popularity of the VSCO app. When Instagram was first born, it was focused on its own retro, cool filters but since the platform has added more functions, its filters have been sidelined.
Third-party app VSCO (previously known as VSCO Cam) has filled the gap. Providing a range of expressive filters, VSCO allows you to elevate imported photos and also take photos within the app itself. Many of the filters are free forever, and there are over 100 others, which are included in a yearly subscription. We've chosen the best paid-for and free options and listed them here.
Want to make your feed even more unique? Take a look at our guide to how to change the font in your Instagram bio. You may also want to read our guides on how to repost on Instagram, or how to download your Instagram photos.
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On the whole, a VSCO (opens in new tab) filter will give your images a subtle, filmic look that, when used thoughtfully, can raise them above the norm and add a real touch of sophistication. You can also, if you wish, tweak things further with the app’s own toolkit, which allows finer adjustments to fade, clarity, skin tone, tint, sharpen, saturation, contrast, temperature, exposure and much more.
Rachel Etheredge, a strategist at Creative Parc (opens in new tab), is among the app's fans. “I wouldn’t use it for curated design work on my business feed, of course,” she notes. “But I love it for my personal Instagram.”
“I pay for all the filters through the annual membership,” she explains. “I start with one, and tweak and edit it with the photo editing tools until I get where I like. You can also copy the effect you create onto any other photo, so you don’t have to remember all your tweaks.”
Sharing on Instagram
VSCO’s makers would, of course, like you to share your newly edited images among its global community within the app, and many do. But there’s nothing to stop you sharing them to Instagram too, or instead, and a quick search for #vsco (opens in new tab) or #vscocam (opens in new tab) will show you how tens of millions are doing just that.
VSCO offers many more filters than Instagram, so you stand a better chance of finding one that will help your image stand out. But with hundreds to choose from, that can be a time-consuming business, so it’s good to have a few trusty go-tos to start out with. Here are 11 of our favourites. We've divided them into paid for and free VSCO filters to make things easier, and used the same image so you can see the difference between the filters. Skip to the paid-for filters here.
Best free VSCO filters
M3 is a natural-feeling filter, which tweaks the colours to bring a soft brown tone to them. Perfect for nature shots (especially with autumnal vibes), it's slightly faded and underexposed leading to a subtle change that speaks volumes.
P5 is a popular VSCO filter and it makes everything feel a little more edgy, a bit cooler and more atmospheric, like the light before a thunderstorm. It's a great filter for when you want to add a little grunge and grit to your image. You can also add scratches and grain to the image using this filter, to really amp up the atmosphere.
C1 is part of the Vibrant Classic series of presets (C1-C3) that’s intended for a variety of scenarios and uses. It gives your images a colourful, vibrant look that works really well on subjects like flowers, nature and beach scenes.
Desaturated and understated, the Mellow Fade F Series preset pack (F1-F3) aims to replicate the feel of analogue film stock. We especially love the free F2, an understated matte filter that’s great for enhancing tone, and for bringing to life intimate, everyday moments.
The second pack in the M Series (M4-M6) revives the vintage look of photo albums from the 1970s beautifully. Our favourite is M5, with a mellow, desaturated look that give a retro feel to both urban and rural environments, and works well with portrait shots too.
The Portraits G Series (G1-G3) is aimed at enhancing your portraits by flattering skin tones. But we’ve found that free filter G3 can sharpen the colours and vibrancy of still-life scenes, too. It’s an altogether different, slightly surreal twist on reality that doesn’t always work; but when it does, it can completely transform a shot.
A list of VSCO filters wouldn’t be complete without a monochrome preset. Black & White Classic B Series (B1-B3) is a great way to turn your shots black and white in a subtle way that doesn’t just blindly remove colour but evokes a true vintage feel. B1 is our normal go-to, with excellent shadow detail and contrast that brings out little details that other filters might have dulled down.
Best paid-for VSCO filters
VSCO label S2 as bright and clean, and it doesn't disappoint. It gives a light finish that feels classic and fresh all at once.
Created in collaboration with men's fashion and streetwear brand Hypebeast, HB1 gives a dramatic, gritty look to photos shot on city streets. In essence, you can use it to turn quite a banal scene into an urban hip hop video. It even makes landscapes look cool.
Chris Biss (opens in new tab), a designer at MoreNiche in Nottingham is a big fan. He explains, "I tend to use my main Instagram feed for design stuff, but I post photos to my Instagram stories for which I'll usually use HB1, HB2 [the sibling filter to HB1] or Nike's ACG filter."
A6 filter is a popular VSCO preset, and we can see why. It gives a beautifully clean brightness while adding warmth to the richer tones.
11. Dog 1, Dog 2 and Dog 3
Whether you loathed or loved Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, you have to agree it had a very distinctive look. So it's great that the film makers have teamed up with VSCO to create three filters that allow you to give your own images the same look: Dog 1, Dog 2 and Dog 3. The first emphasises neutrals and mutes vibrant colours to give your images an elegant, serene and classic look.
Dog 2 was inspired by the scene in the movie where student Tracey Walker calls on her classmates to take action. It boosts yellow hues and brightens your image. The effect is pretty full-on but when used in the right way it can certainly make your photos look distinctive.
The third has purple-pink neon hues and is inspired by a lab in Megasaki City, perfect for early evening light.
Another set of presets inspired by analogue film, the Aesthetic Series (A4-A6) is characterised by natural tones, subtle colour shifts and slight dimming. We love A4, which can be a great way to enhance interior photography. It also works beautifully for food photography.
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Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity (opens in new tab), published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine.Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.
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