How to Create a Retro Grainy Film Effect in Photoshop

Learn how to create a retro grainy film effect in Photoshop for your photos!

Using Photoshop you can create some pretty incredible photo effects. From natural pastels and soft edits to dark/moody edits, there are a lot of options depending on your style.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to create a retro grainy film effect in Photoshop. Retro effects are popular in a variety of advertisements, social media posts, and more.

Follow along with this simple tutorial to add vintage effects to your photos. You can find more advanced film effects for Photoshop here.

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1. Add Noise/Grain

The first step of this tutorial is to add noise and grain to your image. Start by duplicating your background layer. You can rename it something like ‘Noise Effect’ so you remember.

Then once you have a duplicate layer, navigate to the top of your screen and click Filter > Noise > Add Noise

add noise filter photoshop cc

After clicking ‘Add Noise . . .’ you will see a box that looks like this. You can decide how intense you want the noise to look. For this tutorial I am going with Amount: 4 and a gaussian distribution. You can also choose between monochromatic (black and white) noise or colored (RGB) noise.

noise grainy film effect photoshop

2. Curves Adjustment

The next aspect of the grainy film effect is to adjust the Curves of your photo. Click the half filled circle icon at the bottom of your layers panel and select ‘Curves’ to add the adjustment layer.

curves adjustment

Once added, try to replicate the curve seen below. You basically want to create a smooth S curve with 4 points.

The top most right point should be brought down slightly (or more if you prefer). This brings the whites to grey and fades the highlights in your photo. The next point to the left should be brought up just a bit to emphasize the highlights.

The bottom most left point should be brought up slightly (or more if you prefer). This brings the blacks to grey and fades the shadows in your image. The next point to the right should be brought down a bit to emphasize the shadows.

curves settings photoshop

3. Add a Photo Filter

Now that the noise and curves are complete, you can add another adjustment layer to your layers. This time a ‘Photo Filter’ effect.

photo filter adjustment layer

Click the Filter drop-down and select Magenta, then reduce the density to 9%. You can increase the density for a more intense pink effect, but it looks best between 7-14%.

magenta photo filter

4. Add a Gradient Map

The next step is to add a Gradient Map adjustment layer to your image.

gradient map adjustment layer

Once you’ve added the adjustment layer click the gradient shown with the drop-down box in ‘Properties’. It will bring up another pop-up that looks like this.

gradient editor photoshop

Select the gradient preset with purple, green, and orange. This is the top right most preset in the screenshot above.

Once selected, click ‘OK’ and then you’ll return to your Photoshop document. Double click the ‘Gradient Map 1’ layer and change the Blend Mode to Screen. Then adjust the opacity to around 24% to apply the effect. You can make it higher or lower depending on your preferences, but this gradient map effect looks best at between 20%-40%.

You can adjust the colors in your gradient map to emulate different film types with this effect depending on if you want a warm or cool look.

gradient effect photoshop

5. Adjust Vibrance Settings

The last step, which is totally optional, is to add a ‘Vibrance’ adjustment layer.

Based on your preferences you can reduce or increase the vibrance/saturation. I personally enjoy reducing the saturation to add the vintage analog look while bumping up the vibrance to retain the sharpness of the colors.

vibrance adjustment layer photoshop cc


This completes the retro grainy film effect tutorial for Photoshop. You can view a before/after graphic of the effect below.

Struggling with a step? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to help you out!

grainy film effect tutorial for photoshop

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