Should you pay for custom Instagram filters?

Grace Sweeney


Here’s another way that influencers aren’t #justlikeus: they never use the filters that come with Instagram. How utterly pedestrian.

instagram sunset

It’s a well-known fact that Instagram’s toolkit doesn’t always cut it when you’re trying to stand out in a sea of other digital content creators who have access to the same exact Valencias and Clarendons.

As such, influencers, marketers, and regulars have flocked to apps like VCSO that allow for a bit more customization.

Then there are tools like Snapseed and Lightroom that allow users to customize on the fly — and make those little tweaks that somehow make Instagram feel like a legit catalog.

What’s more, these customizations have become a new way for influencers to monetize their platforms. Here’s a little background on the wild world of “presets.”

Are custom Instagram filters worth the cost?

What is a Custom Filter? How Does it Work?

The Atlantic recently published a great piece looking at the business of influencers. And, it’s not what you think. While you may think of #sponcon like those waist training belts or laxatives rebranded as a wellness cleanse, or affiliate deals as the income drivers in the IG space, there’s another way to monetize: filters.

Influencer Maddy Corbin told The Atlantic that she developed her own set of presets based on months of playing around inside Adobe’s Lightroom app. Corbin says that it took her months to develop a style that represented her aesthetic (a pastel pink-tinged look) that she now presents on the platform as #MADDYCORBINPRESETS.


It’s essentially like selling merchandise on your platform — and Corbin says it helps her connect with her followers.

To use a preset, customers purchase it through an online store and they’ll receive a downloadable link. From there, they open the file and copy it into their Lightroom account and can start editing photos just like their favorite influencers.

The benefit is, buying presets allows you to sidestep the creative experimentation phase and get to editing photos the way you want them to look. The downside, at least for fans, is that the filter doesn’t exactly become available inside the Instagram app.

On the seller side, selling custom presets requires setting up an e-commerce store and promoting your digital assets in the same way you might sell your T-shirts, or whatever else you sell.

Additionally, it’s not just influencers like Corbin behind this new business model, there are companies that sell filters to influencers. Take, for example, FilterGrade. They’re a company that sells packs of preset filters that you can buy directly—or they’ll put together custom filters for you that you can then resell on your site.

Career photographers — people who aren’t necessarily influencers, but have a mastery of photo editing — are also getting in on the game.

We came across countless blog posts documenting how to use these filters as a way to drum up some passive income.

Popular Science provides a step-by-step guide to DIYing your own preset filters in Lightroom, which, in all honesty, isn’t especially difficult.

Lightroom is a super intuitive platform, ideal for photographers at every level. So the idea that you’d buy settings from another person seems like a waste of cash.

If you want to get into this, there’s another thing to consider: how your customers use the filters. Rachelle Swannie, an influencer who sells packs of two presets for $25 says she routinely checks her presets in action by searching with the associated hashtag.

The thing is, if pictures aren’t looking so good, people won’t be inclined to buy them — it’s like using a model to sell something — you’re getting the ideal, whereas when real people post that shirt in action, you’ll get a sense of how it might look on you.

Why buy presets?

The market is clearly flooding. According to the photo blog, Fstoppers, buying presets is, well, a waste of money.

The short story is — you’ll get to copy a look from Instagram and that’s about it. Photographer James Popsys says, if you’re buying presets, you’re eliminating the creating process and you skip the part where you learn to create your own look by playing around and editing.

It seems that the reason for buying them is more what Corbin told The Atlantic: preset filters are perfect for creating a connection between the influencer and their fans.

This crowd might not be the demographic who feels compelled to learn digital photography best practices but wants to make their Instagram look more professional.

Is the preset economy going to stick around?

That’s the big question. Clearly, buying presets is frowned upon in the art community, which makes sense. Not that there is a shortage of teens that may want to gram like their favorite digital stars, but their time may be better spend leveling up their own skills. But, there’s also the chance that these purchases could lead to a desire to make their own.

We found that outside of Instagram, there are a ton of Etsy users selling themed presets in their shops. Prices range considerably, but most are cheaper than what Rachelle Swannie charges for two presets.

Instagram presets sold on Etsy

It’s hard to begrudge anyone who uses their own skill set to make some extra cash online — it’s all about those revenue streams, man.

However, it’s the followers that have us wondering — why not try it yourself? Creating your own IG aesthetic may be more challenging, but it’s also a great way to get new followers who like what you’ve got to offer.

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