Now Corbin isn’t just selling sonic facial brushes and cold-pressed body wash on Instagram—she’s selling the aesthetic that makes selling all that other stuff easy. Her preset packages go for between $25 and $200, and once a preset is created and uploaded to a marketplace such as FilterGrade, it can generate ongoing income with little to no additional work. This passive income can be a lifeline for influencers as they negotiate more lucrative brand deals that don’t always pay out immediately.
To use a preset, customers buy it from an online store, a download link is sent to their email, and they open the file, copy it into Lightroom, and voilà. They now have the custom filter that their favorite Instagram star applies to her own photos.
But while presets may seem easy to produce and sell online, there’s a lot more to the process than just creating a filter and slapping it on your Instagram story. One big bottleneck, according to Mike Moloney, a founder of FilterGrade: setting up an e-commerce site. “You have to build it, market it, then sell it, and also maintain support,” he said. FilterGrade streamlines that process by acting as the middleman between Instagram stars and consumers, intercepting customer-service queries and taking 30 percent of the profits from sales.
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Business is good. Presets are “about the people selling the filters rather than the filters themselves,” Moloney said. “People used to buy and use filters on their photos just because they looked cool. Now they buy filters because someone they like made them.”
Like wearing a top from your favorite YouTuber’s custom–T-shirt line, using a preset can help you feel like you’re living your idol’s lifestyle. Your photos inherently look more like hers, and it makes you feel like you’re part of a larger fan group. Fans who use influencer presets will often hashtag their photos with the influencer’s name.
“Presets are a really great way to connect personally with people on Instagram, especially younger girls who are interested in the industry,” Corbin said. Most influencers just starting out are still honing their own aesthetic; cribbing the style of a popular influencer by using his presets is an easy way to get started.
Hashtags also serve as quality control. As the market for presets expands, low-quality options abound. By perusing a hashtag, customers can see exactly how well a social-media star’s presets work on regular photos, without additional editing. Rachelle Swannie, who has nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram and sells packs of two presets for $25, said she regularly checks her preset hashtag to see how people are using her filters and how their photos are turning out.
Victoria Yore, a travel influencer with 67,000 Instagram followers, said working with her partner, Terrence Drysdale, a professional photographer, was key. “There are a lot of not-so-great presets out there. The person who shares a before and after may have also done a lot of editing on their photo,” she said. “We wanted to give an honest preset. We tried it on every photo out there so it would work for the maximum amount of people.”