Instagram Stories AR Filters: What Are They and How Are Brands Using Them?

To many, AR is still an acronym from the future. Augmented Reality (AR) is here already, though, and exists in your humble Instagram Stories. All those filters you see in Instagram Stories that merge images with reality, to create a new (augmented) image – part fictional, part fact.

Instagram Stories is one of the big social success stories of the last few years, particularly with the young. One of the favorite features is the filters that allow you to alter an image in some way in your Instagram Story. Some come with Instagram, but many more are created privately. Brands have discovered the advantages of creating custom filters, particularly those involving augmented reality.

Instagram Stories AR Filters: What Are They and How Are Brands Using Them?:

What is an Instagram Stories AR Filter?

Augmented Reality (AR) is not really as futuristic as you would think. Movie directors have been doing so for years (sorry, if you believed the dragons and dire wolves in Game of Thrones were real).

Technology has taken its normal course and accelerated through the last few years. What was a work of wonder back in the late 1990s /early 2000s (think of some of the virtual catalog in Fight Club for instance) has now reached your everyday smartphone. When Pokémon Go came out on the Nintendo 3DS, you had a wide range of people chasing around the world after this imaginary yellow figure.

An Instagram Stories AR Filter is just superimposing virtual computer-generated and/or video effects on top of a real-world image, creating a combined image.

The most common use for these on Instagram has been as face filters in Instagram Stories. You can add numerous types of filters onto your photos and videos.

Instagram added face filters to Instagram in 2017. They immediately became a hit. People love the chance to modify their photos and videos, usually in a funny way.

To be honest, Instagram can’t claim credit for face filters. They are a near replication of Snapchat’s Lenses. Until recently, however, face filters were created and controlled by Instagram.

In May 2018, however, Instagram set up a closed beta, allowing brands, public figures, celebrities, and other popular creators to make original face filters for their audience via Facebook's Spark AR Studio platform. There are around 20,000 users in the Spark AR Community, so there are likely many custom filters that most people don’t yet know about.

Brands have found this to be an excellent way to build support because people need to follow the brand (or at least visit their profile) to gain access to the filter.

How Can You Access Custom Instagram Stories AR Filters?

The most straightforward way of accessing a custom Instagram Stories AR filter is to view and/or follow the account that first created the filter. Be aware that this is not always obvious. Many Instagram accounts don’t reference their custom filters on their profile page, and you often only find filters because you already know they exist – or you find them by accident.

When you next go into Instagram Stories, swipe and go to the Stories camera. At the bottom, you will see a face icon. If you have any new filters installed, you will see a blue dot by this face. Click on the icon, and you will see any filters created by that new account appearing in your list of filters (with a blue dot indicating new filters).

Be aware that some filters only work on one of your two cameras (front facing and back facing) so if you can’t find the filter you’re looking for, change to your other camera.

Another way you can gain access to a Custom Instagram Stories AR Filter is if one of your Instagram friends sends you a Story that uses the filter. You will see “Try It” at the top left corner. If you click on those words, you now also have access to that filter.

Of course, if you are really interested in keeping up to date with the effects on Instagram (Facebook and Snapchat), you can go to Lenslist. This includes collections of Augmented Reality, such as Movies/TV, Holidays, Video Games, and many other categories.

Examples of Custom Instagram Stories AR Filters

1. Johanna Jaskowska – Multiple Filters Including Beauty 3000

The first filter created by Johanna Jaskowska © Facebook

Johanna Jaskowska loves making Instagram filters. Indeed, her Instagram catchphrase is “There is no filter without you.”

Most photos she shares include some form of custom filter. Vogue has even profiled her on the subject (you will need to use Google Translate if you want to read it in English).

She is a French artist, who works at the Antoni Garage GmbH (Mercedes-Benz advertising agency) and is a great lover of photography and sci-fi cinema. She believes that augmented reality “is the last of the visual arts to be able to express and enhance the maximum human beauty.”

One of Johanna’s better-known filters is Beauty3000. It gives the face a plastic look (along with various light effects).

Johanna’s designs tend to be overlays for the face, that add features to the face without hiding the face itself.

She usefully includes a Story that shows how to use her filters in your Story.

2. George Kedenburg III – Battery Life and Desktop 96

Images by Tommy Palladino/Next Reality

George Kedenburg III takes a more retro look with his AR Instagram filters. If you go to his Instagram page, click on his Story, IG Effects. This Story demonstrates George’s two filters. One places a battery life indicator above the head of the main person in an image/video. The Desktop 96 filter is even more quirky, putting the user into the world of Windows 95.

3. Disney – Mickey and Minnie

Disney has seen the opportunity offered by custom AR filters, with their Mickey and Minnie AR filter. When you click on this filter, the subject of your Instagram Story sprouts mouse ears and heart-shaped eyes.

You can change the effect to other mouse-related variations by tapping on the screen until you have one that fits your mood.

4. Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande can definitely be considered an Instagram influencer with 157 million followers to date. However, she was also one of the first “names” to release a Custom Instagram Stories AR Filter, with her No Tears Left to Cry filter. This is very reminiscent of an old-style kaleidoscope, although with pastel colors.

5. Adidas Originals

The AdidasOriginals custom filter is quite different. Indeed, it’s almost addictive. Your first impression is that it merely “ages” your image/video, lowering its overall quality, and looking like film used to in “the old days.” But the fun begins if you are taking a selfie and raise your eyebrows.

Each time you raise your eyebrows, the image/video reacts in some way. It may “skip.” It might send the Adidas symbol floating around the screen. Or perhaps the whole screen might roll.

I’m not sure whether the filter gives a VHS look to your video, or whether it takes us right back to the days of 8mm film. It certainly brings back these days of distant past (wearing your Adidas gear).

6. Gucci Beauty


Gucci Beauty offers another fun filter. If you are taking a selfie (or at least have a face in your image/video you will find that you’ve suddenly developed a beautiful head of hair, and possibly a beard or mustache to go with it. If you tap your screen, you can change to two other looks (just as outlandish).

Of course, you will suddenly have Gucci accessories to go with your new-old look.

Can You Create Your Own Custom Instagram Stories AR Filters?

Unfortunately, most of us mere mortals can’t yet create our own Instagram Stories AR Filters. However, it won’t be long before we can do so.

At the moment, you need to apply to Instagram’s closed beta program. It’s not impossible for developers to be accepted. According to the instructions: “We're looking for individual developers to participate in this phase of our closed beta, but we plan to open the platform to partners and brands shortly. Partners, agencies, and brands are encouraged to apply to be notified when we open the platform further.”

This is all part of the Spark AR Hub. You can download the Spark AR Studio to help get you started. AR is surprisingly popular. “since last year's F8, over one billion people have used AR experiences powered by Spark AR. Hundreds of millions of people use these experiences monthly across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and Portal.”

In late April, Facebook announced the expansion of the community. They also stated that this Summer they will be coming out of closed beta, opening Instagram to the entire Spark AR creator and developer ecosystem.

If you’re interested in learning how to create effects with Spark AR Studio, there is a huge quantity of information available at Spark’s Learning Center

Currently, there are only a few brands that have been brave enough to create Custom Instagram Stories AR Filters, but as the system opens up, and people widen the types of filters they create, you can expect to see many more brands using these to stand out from their opposition.

About the Author
With over 15 years in content marketing, Werner founded Influencer Marketing Hub in 2016. He successfully grew the platform to attract 5 million monthly visitors, making it a key site for brand marketers globally. His efforts led to the company's acquisition in 2020. Additionally, Werner's expertise has been recognized by major marketing and tech publications, including Forbes, TechCrunch, BBC and Wired.