17 Apps That Will Make Your Instagram Photos Look So Much Better

Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Instagram is known as much for its photo-sharing features as it is for its photo-editing tools. Think about it: Before Instagram came around, if you mentioned the word "filter," you probably thought of the thin paper sheet you put in your coffee machine.
But while the app is still known for its signature "Ludwig," "Sierra," and the perpetually unflattering "Hefe," nowadays, you're better off editing your photos elsewhere and then posting them to Instagram for all to see. That's because compared to other photo-editing apps out there — ones that cater to professionals and those looking to make their images more playful — Instagram's offerings are slim.
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And, since anyone can now zoom in on every detail in your Instagram post, you want to be sure it's edited to perfection. These 17 apps will help your posts stand out from the rest. Check out our before and afters to see what tools you'll want to add to your Instagram arsenal.
This piece originally published September 1, 2016.
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When you want to give your photo the Degas or Monet treatment, Oilist (2.99) is the way to go. Start by picking from 12 different "painting moods," from "expressive" to "wavy."
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Then, once the mood has been applied, go to work adding your own tweaks. Paint with different brush sizes and angles, and watch as the dreamy landscape or portrait comes to the life. The final result will feel museum-worthy, but can stay hung on your Instagram profile for now.
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Photo: Filterloop.
Instagram's cropping tools are limited and don't show you the precise size of your photo. To be more specific when cropping your image and make sure everything is scaled properly, use Filterloop first.
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Photo: Filterloop.
Filterloop lets you layer filters over each other and adjust the intensity of each, so that you can get the exact color you're looking for. Plus, you can add analog photo effects such as light leaks, which will give your images a vintage feel.
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Photo: Polarr.
Don't have an SLR camera at your disposal? No problem. Polarr is one of the most advanced, free editing apps available. You can adjust your landscape's blur or exposure after the photo has been taken, either on top of one of the app's many filters, or with no filter at all.
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Photo: Polarr.
While Instagram also lets you control a photo's temperature (how warm or cool you want the colors to look), it's far easier to see the impact of your adjustments within Polarr. Plus, you have more specific effect controls, including ones for fringing, which make the edges of your photo look almost hazy, and another for pixelation.
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Photo: Courtesy Google.
After its update yesterday, Google Photos may become the only photo app you want to use. The auto-enhance tool uses machine intelligence to adjust the lighting and color in your photo so it will look its best. Bonus: It only requires one tap.
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Photo: Courtesy Google.
The update also included more specific editing tools to adjust your photo's light and color. Make the sky more blue with "deep blue" or make your skin tone look more natural (filters can cause it to look saturated) with the "skin tone" function.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
If you're constantly scrolling through filters and switching from one to the other to compare their effects, Infltr (it stands for infinite filters) is the solution. You can swipe the screen in any direction to get a completely different filter. This also makes it easier to see how one filter differs from another.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
As you move your finger around your photo, you'll see the color change. The large dot indicates which part of the color spectrum you're currently in. When the image looks as moody or bright as you'd like, just lift your finger off the screen.
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Photo: Pixlr.
You can't show off cool street graffiti if the dark night sky works against you. Pixlr will solve low light problems and bring your photo to life. You can paint and remove effects in specific parts of the image so that you only alter areas that a little lift.
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Photo: Pixlr.
In addition to offering advanced brightening and sharpening tools, the app has a wide variety of color filters, including the one used here, called Hagrid. If you want a more dramatic effect you can layer images over each other, turn your photo into an ink drawing, or add font. There's also a Pixelate feature that lets you turn any part of the photo (or the whole thing) into a dizzying array of pixels.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
If you think Instagram has a lot of filters, you haven't tried Retrica. The app has over 50 filter options, all separated into themes that include "Faded," "Antique," and the very vibrant "Plexiglass." You can snap photos within the app, or upload an image from your Camera Roll.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Make your photo look extra artsy (and invoke a bit of the iPhone 7 Plus's special Portrait Mode) with the app's water drop icon, which will blur part of the image. You can choose which part of the photo you want in focus to make for a more interesting, complex image.
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Photo: 1967.
Most photo editing apps share a nearly identical, Instagram-like user experience. Not so with 1967. This app, which is comprised of 64 filters inspired by vintage photo films, has a beautiful, but very minimalist interface for filtering your photos. You'll definitely want to pay attention to the tutorial after downloading the app.
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Photo: 1967.
While the initial download is free, you will need to upgrade the app for 99 cents to get access to all of the app's fabulously vintage vibes. But even without paying, you get access to a handful of options including Fader, pictured here. You can adjust the intensity of the filter (here it's at 90%) by sliding your finger right or left on the bottom portion of the screen.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
The bird's-eye perspective makes this photo interesting, but the bland white lighting leaves much to be desired. That's where Snapseed comes in. The app gives you professional photo-editing tools for free. You can "brush" effects onto a specific part of a photo (rather than the whole image), choose from a wide range of filters, and enhance certain details of your shot.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Here, the Retrolux filter made the image look warmer and gave it a vintage feel. Sliding your finger from left to right adjusts the brightness and contrast so you can change the filter to your liking.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Instagram's Clarendon filter could brighten up the water and flag in this photo, but wouldn't add much of interest beyond that. Try posting the photo after editing it in Mextures ($1.99). The app is known for its layering effects, which allow you to blend different filters together.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
You can get an almost holographic effect by playing with what's available. Here, layering textures from "vintage gradients" and "radiance" made the ocean look much more vibrant than it did before.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
When you have a photo that's already beautiful, but not necessarily unique, try Prisma. The free app uses art techniques such as gothic and mosaic, to turn your image into anything but ordinary. These bright Turkish squash go from standard farmers' market fare to…
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Mononoke-style squash. Plus, a diagonally split screen keeps some reality in the image and shows off the effect.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
A selfie might earn you lots of Likes, but having an entire Instagram grid full of selfies gets old fast. If you're feeling playful, try out the face-morphing filters offered by Photo Lab. While many of the effects, like "old photo book" and "dark cloud" are so fake they verge on cheesy, the app is strangely addictive.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
For animal lovers, the "half-human, half-cat" lens is a must. Photo Lab isn't the highest-quality editing app we tried, so don't use it if you're looking for a professional experience. The ads and the inability to adjust lighting, contrast, and sharpness can get in the way of its fun. But, as a gimmick, it's worth it.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Gorgeous landscapes are all over Instagram, so making your mountains brighter and more unique than the rest isn't easy. Personalize yours with Rookie Cam. In addition to letting you add stickers and text, the app has a nice variety of filters — everything from "vintage classic" to "urban romantic."
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
If you're feeling creative, try the "art color filter." You can add the Obama campaign poster-inspired "hope" coloring, orange citrus tones, or, our personal favorite, "cartoon" (shown here). Unlike Photo Lab, Rookie Cam allows you to adjust parts of the photo, including saturation, brightness, and temperature after you've added the filter.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
"Florals…for spring. Groundbreaking." Miranda Priestly had one thing right. Yes, these flowers are pretty, but even with an Instagram filter, they aren't anything special. Enlight ($3.99) can change that in seconds. The app lets you apply multiple filters to a single image, letting you pinpoint exactly where you want the effects to fall.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Our favorite part is the "Painting" effect that's listed under "Artistic" tools. Your photo becomes a work of art, no brush skills required.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
These vintage forks are so dark that even an Instagram filter can't save them. Instead, try adjusting the lighting in VSCO. The app, a favorite of many influencers and photographers, lets you shoot using advanced camera tools (the same that you might find on a pro DSLR camera) and fix photos you've taken with the iPhone camera app.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Adding a gradient with cool blue tones lightens this image, and increasing the exposure and contrast ever so slightly makes it easier to make out the intricacies of the utensils.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Unless you're going for a still life look, this orange is…just an orange. Add some perspective to the photo with PIP Camera. The app's filters create a picture within a picture, replicating the scene within a drop of water, a locket, and other creative objects, such as…
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
…a glass of water. This isn't the most believable-looking photo, but the play on perspective is definitely more fun than a stand-alone orange.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Instagram has no stickers like those offered by Snapchat. If you want to add something subtle to your photo, try Instazz. You can add emoji, a patterned background, and app-specific stickers.
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Photo: Madeline Buxton.
When you add a sticker, like this old school camera, you can change the coloring and positioning so that it works with the rest of the photo. Our only complaint with Instazz is that it could quit unexpectedly, which isn't ideal when you're in the middle of editing a photo.
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