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How to Add Grain in Photoshop (Realistic Look)

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 5 min read
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There are many ways to add grain in Photoshop, and in this tutorial, we will show you three of the best methods. We will also give you a few tips on how to get the most out of each method.

How to Add Grain in Photoshop: What Is Film Grain?

Film grain is a texture that comes from film photography. Grain is caused by small metallic silver particles used to capture a photograph.
Different ISO films have various sizes of grain. Lower ISO numbers have smaller grain. And higher ISO numbers have more prominent and noticeable grain.
As a rule of thumb, the less film grain, the better in film photography. This is because film grain sacrifices image quality.
Photography is an art form, though. And the film grain aesthetic has a unique and vintage feel. This is why many photographers choose to shoot with a grainy aesthetic.
Film grain is similar to digital noise. As digital noise is computer-made, its aesthetic is too “digital” to add a new quality to your photograph.
Film grain is organic and often springs to mind classic point-and-shoot photographs we would have seen of our parents.
Grainy and dusty image of a path in black and white

Differences Between Film Grain and Noise

To make the difference between grain and noise clearer, I will describe it simply. Grain is in the texture of the film. You will see inconsistent patterns when looking at the film closely.
Noise occurs in digital photography when a sensor doesn’t have enough information to fill particular areas. This will then lead the camera to add visual artifacts to these areas.
So this tells us that grain is inherent in film photography. In contrast, noise comes from a deficiency of something (usually light).
Grainy Image of a child in black and white

Why Add Film Grain to a Digital Image?

Adding film grain to a digital photo is almost going against the progression of photography.
It’s incredible how technology has progressed so far. Yet aesthetics from the technology’s weaknesses are still sought after.
The organic texture of grain adds sentimental value to images. I think this is because we see old photographs with a similar aesthetic. Therefore, film grain adds a timeless feel to your pictures.
A film grain effect also makes the image seem more texturedAsctile. As a viewer, you can almost imagine holding the print in your hand as the film grain is similar to the texture of the paper.


How to Add Film Grain in Photoshop

Now I will take you through a step-by-step method of adding grain to your digital photographs.

Step 1: Prepare Your Image

First of all, open up your image in Photoshop. For this example, I took a picture from the stock photo website Unsplash.
screenshot of a portrait image used to show how to add film grain in photoshop
As always, make sure to duplicate your background layer.
creating a background copy in the layers panel of photoshop
Now, let’s go to the top toolbar in Photoshop. Go to Layer > New > Layer.
screenshot of the layer drop-down menu in photoshop
You should now see the same dialog box as the one below. Rename your new layer to “film grain” so it’s easily distinguishable from the others.
Now go to the Mode dropbox and select Overlay. Underneath, click the box that says Fill with Overlay neutral color.
selecting overlay mode in the new layer dialog box in photoshop
This is now how your layers panel will look.
selecting the film grain layer in the layers panel
You have the menu button on the top right of your layers panel.
selecting the menu icon in the top right of the layers panel
Click this, and you will get a dropdown menu. Here, click on Convert To Smart Object. We are converting this to a smart object layer to edit any adjustments after they have been set.
selecting convert to smart object in photoshop
To be sure your Film Grain layer is a smart object, it will have this little icon over the thumbnail.
smart object icon on a film grain layer

Step 2 – Adding the Grain Effect

With the Film Grain layer selected, go to the top toolbar and find Filter. In Filter, go to Noise > Add Noise.
adding film grain in photoshop using the add noise filter in photoshop
Now you will get a dialog box like the one below that comes up. It is up to you how much grain you want in your image.
I have gone quite extreme as an example. Make sure you select the Gaussian box instead of Uniform.
selecting gaussian blur to add grain to your image in photoshop
After applying this filter, this is how your image should look.
the final image after you add film grain in photoshop
Next, we will add Blur to the Noise. Again, go to the top toolbar and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
selecting gaussian blur to add blur to the image
Now you will be faced with this simple dialog box. I would suggest having a radius between 0.5 and 1 pixel wide.
inputting the radius of the pixel size in photoshop gaussian blur
With the Blur and Noise filter applied, this is how your image should look.
final image with noise added and blur applied to create a realistic film grain texture in photoshop

Step 3: Refining Your Edit

As we have made the Film Grain layer a smart object, we can go back and adjust each of the filters. There is too much grain. So I will double-click on the Noise filter.
opening the filters on the film grain layer in photoshop
This will bring up the dialog box again, where I can reduce the noise in the image.
the photoshop dialog box that shows how much noise is in your photo
After applying this, I am happy with my edit and the subtle film grain effect.
the final image with the final edits applied to the photo: the realistic film grain is ready

Conclusion: How to Add Grain in Photoshop

Now you know how to add grain in Photoshop! Follow these instructions, and it should take under five minutes to do it for the first time. The process will quickly become second nature the more you do it. So get practicing.
If you want to refine your film grain further, study old film negatives and the visual effect they produce. Then, go back into your file on Photoshop and edit your Noise and Blur filters to see how close you can get to the same effect.
If you want to experiment with other effects to add to your photos, check out our The Preset Collection!