How to Make a VHS Effect in Photoshop
Anyone who remembers watching movies on VHS videotapes will recognize its distinctive look anywhere. Many of the characteristics that make old VHS videos look the way they do actually come from the imperfections and eventual degradation of the footage over time.
Interestingly, these same imperfections are now being recreated digitally and are actually being added to photos and footage to give them a nostalgic or retro vibe. When it’s done right, the results can be stunning. So how exactly can you recreate this look yourself? Let’s explore some options.
Quick Example of the VHS look — from dannehr.
First, let’s understand what gave VHS tapes their recognizable imperfections. These all came because the data was stored magnetically onto the tape, meaning that over time the charge could be lost. External factors such as humidity, improper storage, and overuse often lead to more digital artifacts or visible damage during playback.
What this meant was that you had footage skipping frames, flickering, or jumping around the screen while other things such as film grain or fuzz, glitching, banding, light-leaks, or rainbows could also creep in. Another limitation with the format was in the resolution VHS was captured in; mostly, it sat around the 333×480 pixel mark, which is incredibly low by today’s standards and this, of course, meant that a lot of detail was missing in any VHS footage.
How to Quickly Make a VHS Effect in Photoshop Using Templates
Now that we understand what caused the artifacts and imperfections with VHS footage, we can find a tasteful way to recreate this effect in Photoshop. The easiest way to achieve this look is to use a pre-built template to do the heavy lifting for you. You can find many VHS Templates that touch on this same style here in the Creative Market marketplace. For the purpose of this tutorial, I have used this VHS Tape – Animated PSD Effects Pack by Creative Supplies Co. as it gives us a great final result for still photos and it also comes with an animated option.
Edit Contents & Place Image
This particular template uses a placeholder layer, so in theory, all you have to do is to open the template, find the placeholder image, and replace it with your own photo. For anyone who has used Photoshop templates, this is a straightforward and common process, but if you’re new to this idea, then here’s a convenient guide that shows you how I applied this VHS tape effect to an image in just a few clicks.
As you can see, it really is a very simple process once you’ve got a template at hand. You simply open your template, find the layers panel, right-click on the placeholder layer, select ‘Edit Contents,’ place your own image in and save the .PSB file, and you are done. Because the specific template that I used is animated, you can also use the Timeline window to scroll through different frames of the effect to see how it impacts the final result of the photo, or you have the option to render out an animated video of the same effect in action.
Think of this template like an advanced ‘filter’: essentially, the heavy lifting of the effect is already done for you. When you place your image into the placeholder layer and save it, the main template updates and magically applies the grain, fuzz, light leaks, etc., to your image for you.
Once your effect is done, it’s always a good idea to alter your layers’ opacity, specifically the effect layer and of the color correction layers to better control the strength of the look. With most templates, the good news is you can usually go back and make changes to your photo layer at any time or even swap it out with another photo whenever you want.
Creating a ‘VHS Effect’ From Scratch
The VHS style can essentially be broken down into different distortion levels stacked and combined correctly. If you are looking to add a vintage VSH vibe to your next project from scratch, you simply have to find creative ways of combining some of the following elements together…
Horizontal scan lines are associated with the look of old CRT TV sets. Some simple horizontal line patterns could do the trick, or you can find unique scan line graphics packs like this one from seller freeject.net called 30 Scan lines Glitch Background.
Film Grain, Noise & TV Static
When emulating any vintage style film or camera equipment, it’s always a good idea to add a bit of film grain, noise, or dust to help complete the look. This simple pack of Subtle Noise Textures from Hogwash Studio would work great if you want a hint of noise, but if you want to go all-in on the effect, perhaps some stronger TV Static Textures would be better to use.
Light-leaks & Rainbows
Another common form of distortion that we sometimes see in VHS footage is light and color leaks. Emulating this effect can be as simple as finding some light leak overlays to add on top of your work — or even better, some rainbow light leaks. Here’s a wonderful example from the Prism & Rainbow Light Leaks pack.
Glitch & Displace
Glitching refers to some kind of digital distortion that you might see when something goes wrong on an image or video, creating distortions or errors on the image in an ‘unintended’ way. Flipping this on its head and intentionally adding some form of glitching or pixelation to your project is a great way to build the VHS style. Obviously, glitches can present themselves in various ways, so this leaves some scope for creative expression, but commonly some type of displacement, chromatic aberration, or RBG shifting effects should work nicely, but essentially you want certain strips of the image to appear shifted and discolored. This set of VHS Glitch Effects for Photoshop by Designdell serves as a great example.
Vintage Color Grading
To help capture some of that ‘retro vibe’ that comes with watching VSH footage, you could use some color grading actions to your advantage. Again, there are a lot of different ways this can be done, but emulating retro film styles around the era that VHS was popular would be the best way to go; try keeping the sharpness and contrast quite soft, crush those shadows, so they appear a little more faded or matte and keep the tones warm. This set of 90s Style Photo Effects for Photoshop by PhotoSpirit is a fine example of the kinds of colors you are looking to emulate in your grading.
Digital / Pixel Fonts
Using a digital display font or pixel font for your text could be one final element to help tie the VHS look together. Shop owner Francisco Beltrán has a number of these fonts available, and this particular one called 1980 stands out.
Stacking All Elements Together
Now that we know what elements combine nicely to make a VSH effect, let’s go through and re-create this look ourselves by simply stacking various effects layers together on top of an example source image. We’ll start with this image and then apply each element individually to build up the VHS effect. Here’s an animation that shows the impact that each element has on the final result.
Tips for Adding Noise & Static
Most of these elements that I used were pre-existing graphic elements just layered together, but there are some handy filters and tools inside Photoshop, which can help you generate some of these layers yourself. For adding some soft noise, you can simply duplicate your layer then go to “Filter > Noise > Add Noise” OR step the distortion up a notch by using the “Grain” feature under “Filter > Filter Gallery > Texture > Grain” — once you are in this Grain Tool you will be able to add more extreme noise and grain effects to your layer. I found that Horizontal Grain was especially good for creating TV-style static or imperfections, but there are several options here which can give you some great noise and grain distortions. For the best results, make a copy of your original image, and apply these grain effects to the new layer, which is now placed above, then simply adjust the opacity to soften the impact of the effect as desired.
Tips for Creating a Glitched Effect
To add a digital glitch style into the mix, we could look at shifting some of the color channels and then adding a wave distortion, which we will then remove or mask certain sections of. To do this, duplicate your layer, then go to “Filter > Distort > Wave” and then edit the tool parameters to distort the image any way you like.
Then we want to play with the RGB channels; I found disabling the red channel worked great, so head to your new wavy layer in the layers panel and right-click the layer then select “Layer Style”, then look for the “Advanced Blending” section and turn off the “R” or “Red” channel. To better blend this with your original image on the layer below, head to the “Blend If” and move some of the sliders around while holding shift to see how it impacts your final result and then settle on the desired values that work best for you.
To further create a glitched look, we can add a layer mask, then with this layer selected and active set the background to black and draw on some horizontal white rectangles in a ‘random’ fashion. This will make it so that your color-shifting effect is only visible on those parts of the layer with the white box on their layer mask, so parts of the effect will be active and others will be hidden; this works to give a digital glitch appearance. You can have some real fun with the masks here to alter how the glitch effect ultimately ends up looking.
Tips for Creating Scan Lines
Scan lines or pixelation can be used to re-create a digital screen effect; these can both be achieved a few different ways, but one very easy trick I used to create the appearance of horizontal scan lines was to use the Halftone lines option under “Filter > Filter Gallery > Sketch > Halftone.” Once loaded, change the halftone type to Line. To best use this, duplicate your original image, then apply this halftone line effect and play with the values until you find something that looks vaguely looks like old TV lines, then change your blend mode to “Overlay” and move the sliders in the “Blend If” section of your “Layer Styles” menu until you find a blend result that looks good with your image.
Explore More VHS Style Resources
So there we have it, some techniques for you to try if you want to re-create a VHS style in Photoshop. I hope you can have as much fun as I did with this effect, whether you decide to go down the route of stacking various layers together, re-making these elements from scratch, or taking the time-saving route of using a pre-made template. In researching for this article, I came across a lot of fantastic resources that directly relate to this style, I put them all together in a VHS Effect Collection if you wish to explore this style more, and I’ll keep adding new products to this collection as I find them, or search VHS style resources on Creative Market. If you have any suggestion tips or resources that fit this style, please share them with us below.
We get it. Sometimes technical terms can make DSLR cameras seem too complicated. Download this cheatsheet and card to start your journey to better photos.Download them here