The latest rage on Instagram: creating your own AR face filters and effects

On: November 13, 2019
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Instagram is a platform that continuously changes, and its latest rage has been the new ability to create your own face filters and effects and share them with other users. The fact that anyone can now create augmented reality filters and effects and can share them on Instagram illustrates that AR has come a long way.

Face filters and effects are nothing new for social media users – Snapchat released its face filter feature in 2015 calling it “a whole new way to see yourself(ie)”. Ever since Snapchat introduced this new feature, other platforms have copied it and it rapidly became part of the ‘selfie culture’ (Schipper). Platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram provide their users with several different effects that range from beautification, to face swaps and animal-like masks. They can be seen as “an interplay between affordances, audiences and aesthetics that define the practice of selfie creation, and promise new ways to control our self-presentation” (Schipper).

Figure 1

What is however new is the Spark AR Studio (figure 1) – a tool that allows you to create custom face filters and effects that can be used on Instagram (Blackmon). This program was first announced in May 2018 as a tool for brands, celebrities and public figures to create their own face filters. In order to be able to use the Spark AR Studio, users would have to enter the closed beta via Facebook with a linked Instagram (Peterson). Recently things have changed as Facebook has opened up the tool to the Instagrammable public (Fisher). Since August 2019, anyone is able to use the Spark AR tool. It has become a new public beta where people can create their own AR effects and filters (Peterson). So while before this tool was only available for Facebook and beta testers, it has now become available for all users, enabling them to be part of their own creation of a form of augmented reality.

“Whether you want to add a new layer of fun to an event like a wedding, birthday party or graduation with a custom filter or you’re a professional who wants to continue to hone their craft, Spark AR Studio has everything you need to get started”

Instagram, 2019

Augmented reality can be defined as enhancing the look of real world environments and objects by adding graphical computer-generated content (Egri). In the context of face filters and effects on Instagram, it means that representations of real life through video of photo are supplemented by an overlay of animations and digital effects. Face filters and effects are thus based on augmented reality. It works through a face detection software that identifies a face via the camera of a smartphone, after which a real-time virtual layer is added on top of it (Schipper).

Figure 2

The process of creating the augmented reality filters for Instagram is easy, according to Facebook. It has a drag-and-drop function and the filters are easily shareable (Fisher). Users who decide to create filters themselves using the Spark AR tool are thus able to share their creations with their followers. There are different ways for finding the user-created filters and effects on Instagram. The first way Is via the ‘browse effects’ button that can be found by scrolling to the end of the filter tray when opening the Instagram Stories camera (Peterson). This will open the ‘effect gallery’ where you can find all different user-generated filters from different creators (figure 2). Another way of finding the augmented reality filters is simply by following creators. This gives instant access to all of the filters that the person has created. So when following accounts on Instagram that create these augmented reality filters and effects, their creations will automatically be added to your own filter tray on Instagram stories for the use of your own stories or posts (Pettit). Lastly, the user-generated filters can also be found by viewing other people’s Instagram stories who use the augmented reality filters. This is due to the fact that the original creators get full credit each time someone uses their filter, via a tag that appears on the top of the Instagram story (Fisher). By clicking on this tag, other users can try out the filter too and save it to their filter tray.

Figure 3

Even though face filters seem like an innocent and harmless feature that is often just used for a bit of fun, the ability to now create your own augmented reality filters for Instagram has already given rise to some complications and debates. This is due to the fact that ever since Facebook opened the Spark AR tool to the Instagrammable public, there has been an increase in the creation and use of ‘beautifying’ filters. These filters are stereotypical feminine, as they make the skin look softer, chins appear smaller, eyes bigger and eyelashes longer (Schipper). Moreover, there has been a rise of filters that depict or promote cosmetic surgery, as illustrated by Figure 3. This is where the issues about augmented reality filters arises, as we are constantly given new ways to hide the traits that make us who we are. These face-changing filters can make people feel more insecure about their real-life looks. This has led to Instagram banning these ‘cosmetic surgery’ filters. As stated by Instagram “we-re re-evaluating our policies – we want our filters to be a positive experience for people”.

The new ability to create your own augmented reality face filters and effects for Instagram illustrates that AR technology is becoming more and more notable in popular apps and software. On the one hand it can be seen as a liberating feature that is fun and offers more opportunities for users on the app. On the other hand, there have already been some complications regarding the influence of the filters and effects on people’s mental health. User-generated AR filters thus bring along some paradoxical implications. What will this mean for the future? A future wherein augmented reality will most likely play an increasing role in the everyday uses of social media. Google has already confirmed it wants to introduce augmented reality tools to support the navigation in the Maps app (Pettit). This increasing use of AR in our everyday lives raises the question of blurring lines between the digital and reality. At the same time, the ability to now be part of the creation of AR may also blur the lines between consumers and producers even further.


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Figure 3. Source link:

Blackmon, Grayston. “How to make and share your own Instagram face filters.” The Verge, 2019. < >

DeGeurin, Mark. “Instagram is banning filters that promote cosmetic surgery as it battles mental health concerns.” Insider, 2019. < >

Egri, Ozi et al. “Augmented Reality Object.” 26 Apr. 2018: n. Pag. Print.

Fisher, Christine. “Prepare yourselves for a deluge of new AR filters on Instagram.” Engadget, 2019. <>

Peterson, Jake. “Get unique face filters by following AR creators on Instagram.” Gadget Hacks, 2019. < >

Pettit, Harry. “Face Off: New Instagram app lets you make your own 3D face filters – here’s how.” The Sun, 2019. <>

Schipper, Meike. A whole new way to see yourself(ie): Exploring how face filters transform the practice of selfie creation. Diss. (Master’s Thesis). Utrecht University, 2018.

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