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.
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 20 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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If you've used Portrait Mode on iOS, you know how powerful a bit of bokeh — the background blur in an image — can be. So-so photos suddenly look as if they were taken with a high-quality DSLR lens. HD editing app Tadaa is one of the best for controlling the effect.
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To take artistic control of your photo, try the PicsArt Color Paint app. The app lets you mix colors on the color wheel to create a custom hue. Once you find the color you like, choose from various brush strokes to "paint" over section of your photo. You can also add text with one of the 11 font options offered.
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True to its name, Arty is an app for anyone looking to lend an artistic touch to their photos. A helpful timer lets you see how much time you've spent editing the photo (if you have many to touch up, you may want to keep yourself on schedule), as well as options to touch up individual colors and the photo's brightness, contrast, and saturation.
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While some of the filters, such as graphite and sepia, are expected, others, including Pointillism, Sketch, and Posterize (shown here), stand out. The best part of the effects is you can adjust how strong they are. If, for example, you want your photo to look more natural, keep your filter on one of the lower levels. If you want to exaggerate the effects, amp the filter up to level 12.
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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"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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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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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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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.