How to Create Social Photo Editing Apps Like VSCO And PicsArt

by Anastasiia Diachenko

by Anastasiia Diachenko, Writer, Updated 03/10/2022

We can hardly imagine social networks without photos, and most of them are definitely edited in special apps. Whether it’s a selfie, food, sightseeing, or pet, people love editing photos and embodying their creativity this way. That’s why with the growing popularity of social media apps, photo editing applications are equally in high demand. 

Thus, if you’re thinking about building your own social photo editing app, this article is for you. We have created a concise guide on photo editing application development with the required feature set, technologies, and costs. Let’s dive in.

What’s a social photo editing app?

According to the statistics, today almost half of Americans use photo editing applications on their smartphones. The popularity of these apps is growing from year to year, thus the global photo editing market will grow by $394 million by 2024. The first and the most important thing to know before building your app is that there is a difference between simple photo editing apps and social photo editing apps. 

Applications such as Prisma, Retrica, and Snapseed help with editing photos, while social photo editing apps such as VSCO and PicsArt involve user interactions apart from editing capabilities. 

Social photo editing apps feature a social component letting users share photos, chat with each other, become friends or a part of the art lovers community. This type of photo editing app aims to gather users who have the same interests and let them interact with each other via comments, likes, views, and shares. 

Let’s look at how social photo editing apps like VSCO and PicsArt work:

Core features to create a custom social photo editing app

When creating a social photo editing app, you need to think over a clear set of features to cover users’ needs and make your app stand out from the competition. Below, our experts share mandatory features required to build an app like VSCO and PicsArt and extra features that can be added optionally.  

Login/Account creation

In most apps, users need to register or log in to an account to start using the application. Start with designing a splash screen first to attract users, then propose to them to create an account. Accounts further help personalize the user experience by managing preferences, adding tools or filters to favorites, and creating personal presets. Here is how a sign-up form looks when registering in VSCO mobile app:

Image loading and camera

The next step after registration is uploading a photo for further editing. At this stage, it’s necessary to provide permission to the device’s library to upload a photo. Also, if you want your application to work in real-time so that users can immediately take a photo and edit it, ask them for access to the camera as well.

Social networks integration

Integrating social networks in your photo editing app gives two winning advantages for your potential users at once. First, they can easily log in or register in your application using their social media accounts. This will save them from filling in personal information since they already have all the required data in social networks. Second, users will be able to share edited photos in their accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and various messengers right from the app.

Photo editing

In addition to filters and various ready-made patterns, social photo editing apps allow users to use multiple effects, layering, blurring, brightness, exposure, rotation, collage, cropping, and other correction features. 


With the settings function, users will be able to specify all preferences for the work of the social photo editing app. It allows choosing where to store and save photos, tuning the size and quality of the saved photo, and managing the subscription plan. Users are also able to contact support if necessary, read about the privacy policy or app licenses, and set up notifications.


Give users the ability to create a folder where they can save edited photos and share the album with other users. The albums can be divided by themes, dates, or any other user preferences. This feature helps users to manage all the photos conveniently and store them in the app’s cloud in case they don’t want to upload them on the phone.

Photo feed and social elements

One more must-have feature in the photo editing app is a feed of photos. When someone has edited their photos in the app, apart from sharing them on social media, they can also add these photos to the photo feed of the editing app itself. Users will be able to subscribe to interesting photo authors, get inspiration from them, and also share masterpieces with their subscribers. 

You can add a smart hashtag system and AI/ML tools to recommend your users relevant and interesting posts. To make users interact with each other, add some social elements to your app. 

For example, let them put likes on the photos in the feed, leave comments, show reactions, or share images they like.

We shared the list of must-have features above, but to make your app even more attractive and useful, here are some extra features to add.

Stickers and GIFs

Give users the opportunity to express their imagination and creativity. Make it possible for them to create colorful GIFs or stickers from their photos. This will definitely increase user engagement and give them the opportunity to have fun with your application.

Inspiration section

Inspiration boards give users an example of how beautifully editing can be done, discover new features or tools of the app, and encourage them to learn more about using your app. VSCO is an awesome example of how inspiration features work. They created a section called Discover, where any user can admire other users’ beautiful photos and get inspired by fresh ideas.

Chatting in messages

Adding a chat feature for communication between app users can increase the loyalty of your customers. Let them share edited photos or favorite filters and presets with each other in messages. The opportunity to share impressions with like-minded people will encourage users to actively use your program.


Transform the photo editing process into an exciting game for your users. Gamification in a social photo editing app can engage your users and lead to closer interaction. For example, many of these apps allow users to share their edited photos and enter a “competition of the day” game where other users rate the other’s photos or get votes.

Required tech stack to build a social photo editing app

And now let’s talk about the technical side of social photo editing app development. To help you with the required stack of technologies, our specialists gathered all details in the following table. We divided the list of technologies according to the type of app: iOS, Android, or hybrid.

How much does it cost to develop a social photo editing app?

Calculating the exact amount of money for building any app is difficult since it depends on various factors. Here are the most important ones that influence the overall mobile app development cost:

  • The app complexity and its feature set
  • The platform you choose for the app (iOS or Android)
  • Thea pp development type (native, hybrid, or web app)
  • The tools, languages, frameworks, libraries you choose
  • Cooperation model (in-house, outsource, or freelance)
  • The size of the team (the number of developers, project managers, business analysts, designers, QAs, DevOps, and other specialists required)
  • The location of your development team (the developers’ rates vary depending on the country)

We asked our specialists to give an approximate estimation in hours for each photo editing app development process, and here is what we have:

Read also: How much does mobile app design cost?

To calculate the total cost of building a social photo editing app, we also need to consider the development rates of the country you choose. These rates may differ greatly in the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

And one more factor to take into account when building these types of apps is team size. For this type of app, you’ll need:

  • 1 Project manager
  • 2 Backend developers
  • 2 Android developers
  • 2 iOS developers
  • 1 QA engineer
  • 1 UI/UX designer

And finally, when we know the hours, rates, and team size, the approximate sum for social photo editing app MVP is not less than $90 000. 

But please note that this estimation isn’t detailed since we don’t know the specifics of your project. To get an exact estimation for your photo editing app, you’re always welcome to contact our specialists and get an exact calculation of your future app.

Our recommendations for developing a successful social photo editing app

Analyze competitors’ products

The social photo editing apps market is highly competitive. Thus, a competitor analysis is the first mandatory step in developing a product marketing strategy. A correct assessment of the company’s competitive environment allows you to create a sustainable competitive advantage for the product, choose the right communication channels, and reduce operational risks. Before proceeding with a competitive analysis itself, carry out a number of preliminary works:

  • Clearly define your competitors. List a complete list of companies your buyer can choose between to meet their needs or solve their problem. From the resulting list, select key competitors – companies whose actions can significantly affect your sales.
  • Define the objectives of the competitive analysis. 
  • If possible, conduct a consumer survey to understand the perceptions of the market your target audience already has.

When you’re done with preliminary tasks, compile a brief SWOT analysis for each competitor. There is no need to do a detailed analysis. It’s enough to indicate 1-2 theses for each item of the SWOT analysis.

When the SWOT analysis is ready, evaluate the competitive advantage of your company and the main competitors. Then, make a list of evaluation parameters. Write the key competitive advantages of your product and competitors’ products. Assess the competitive advantage of the apps. The assessment is usually carried out on a 3-point scale, where:

  • 1 point – the parameter is not fully reflected in the competitive advantage of the product;
  • 2 points – the parameter is not fully reflected in the competitive advantage of the product;
  • 3 points – the parameter is fully reflected in the competitive advantage of the product.

After you complete your SWOT analysis, make an improvement plan. Draw up an action plan to improve the company’s competitive advantage for those items that scored less than 3 points.

Add gamification to your app

The process of gamification doesn’t mean turning products into games. Rather, it’s a mechanism by which designers and developers mimic aspects of games and use them in non-game products or services. Consequently, the integration of gamified elements influences human emotions and motivation, so users have a more enjoyable experience. 

Gamification can help your app in all areas, but especially in marketing, sales, and customer service. The most successful gamification techniques can even change user habits to the point where they strive to perform well on a task that was once tedious. Using gamification in social photo editing apps can improve the following metrics:

  • involvement
  • satisfaction
  • productivity
  • usability
  • sales
  • retention

Motivation will depend on the type of user and their goals. We recommend conducting a UX research prior to designing to provide solid information for choosing the best gamification solutions for your users. Knowing your users and their personal goals will also help you set your own goals for the “game”. When your users succeed in achieving these goals, it creates a sense of accomplishment, a powerful factor in enjoyment. 

For example, you can add some gamified elements to your social photo editing app to help your users learn how the product works faster. Or you can create a photo contest to encourage users to share their best pics on a particular topic. 

Come up with an effective monetization strategy

It’s vital to think over the monetization strategy before the development of the application to organically fit it into the UX and provide opportunities for further development. Here are the best monetization strategies our experts advise for social photo editing apps.

1. In-app advertising. This is the most popular mobile app monetization model since users love to download free apps. Publishers make money by displaying ads in the app. The main thing in such a strategy is to make it precisely directed and useful. To do this, you need to collect user data: location and behavior in the application. But keep in mind that frequent and intrusive ads annoy users; you need to find a balance between the quality and quantity of ad impressions.

2. Freemium. It allows users to use basic functionality for free. But if the user wants to get advanced features, they need to pay for them. The success of this strategy depends on the number of loyal users in the application who are willing to pay for the next-level features.

3. Subscription. It’s the most widespread way of monetization that is actively promoted by Apple and Google today. In general, it’s similar to freemium, but money is debited from users on a regular basis. The application has some free functionality, while the premium or advanced features are available only for a monthly fee.

Closing thoughts

When it comes to creating a social photo editing app, the good news is that this type of app is extra popular and demanded today among users. But it’s also very competitive and dynamic, making it hard for startups to prosper and thrive. Hence, you need to find your unique value proposition or your app’s killer feature to build a truly competitive product. We hope this guide will help you start your journey correctly and launch a new successful app on the market. 

If you need professional technical support along the way, we’re here to become your proven technical partner and share our valuable experience in this sphere. Just drop us a line, and we’ll contact you to discuss all details. We are looking forward to building the best social photo editing app with you!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do editing apps differ from social photo editing apps?

These two applications are similar in nature but have a slightly different purpose. Editing applications allow users to carry out any kind of photo editing manipulation. After saving, users can use this photo for any purpose. The purpose of the social photo editing app is to share edited photos on social media and promote them online. With social photo editing apps, users can improve their visuals and interact with other users inside the app. 

  • How to earn money with social photo editing apps? 

As for monetization in social photo editing apps, there are several ways to earn money. You can introduce in-app advertising, paid features (for example, paid filters, exclusive frames, and backgrounds), or paid accounts (user buys a subscription for a month, six months, or a year and gets an unlimited number of filters and functions in the application).

  • What are the benefits of social photo editing apps?

The main advantages that these applications give to users are:

  • Automation of editing process (users can create their own photo editing presets and apply them to all subsequent photos;)
  • Ability to share photos directly to the social networks accounts;
  • Become a part of a community of like-minded people;
  • Interacting, chatting, participating in contests with other users.
  • What are the most popular social photo editing apps?

Among the most famous social photo editing apps, we would highlight:

  • VSCO
  • PicsArt
  • Pixlr
  • Simple Camera
  • Aviary
  • Picmix
  • Afterlight

Content created by our partner, Onix-systems.


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