How to Use Snapchat: From Setup to Each Crazy New Feature

If you’re trying to figure out how to use Snapchat, it seems safe to guess that you’ve probably downloaded the app, and perhaps sent a photo or two to the friend who convinced you it was a good idea to sign up. But you probably stopped short of figuring out how the app actually works, or decided that you just didn’t have the time or attention span to figure out what a Snap is, what a Chat is, and what all the emojis and icons are supposed to indicate, or where they came from in the first place.

The good news is that figuring out how to use Snapchat is actually pretty easy, particularly if you have a guide to help you out. We’ll step you through everything you need to know about Snapchat. If you haven’t set up your account, you can start at the beginning. If you already have an account, and perhaps a few friends, you can skip ahead to learn how everybody’s adding stickers to their Snaps or where they’re finding those fun filters. The only prerequisite? A Snapchat-compatible smartphone and the willingness to have a little fun with what may turn out to be the most addictive app you’ve tried yet.

How to get started on Snapchat

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Trying to figure out how to use Snapchat? Start at the beginning by downloading the app and creating an account | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Once you’ve downloaded the Snapchat app for iOS or Android, you’ll need to create an account to use Snapchat. On the welcome screen, tap Sign Up, and enter your email address and desired password. Your password needs to be at least eight characters, and as with other passwords, you should avoid using your name, username, phone number, birthday, or any other personal information, and try to use a mix of numbers, symbols, and capital and lowercase letters.

Next, you’ll need to choose your username, which will be your identity on Snapchat. You won’t be able to change your username once you set it, and if you delete your account, your username will no longer be available. Finally, you have the option of verifying your phone number, which isn’t mandatory, but makes it easier to reset your password if you ever forget it. All set? Read on to learn how to find your bearings and start using Snapchat like a pro!

How to find friends on Snapchat

friends drinking beer together

The next step is to start finding your friends on Snapchat | Source: iStock

There are a couple of ways to find and add friends on Snapchat. To add someone from your Contacts, tap the ghost icon at the top of the Camera screen, and tap “Add Friends” from your profile screen. Then, choose “Add from Address Book” and tap the + sign next to someone’s name to add him as a friend or invite him to create a Snapchat account. When someone else has added you on Snapchat, the ghost icon at the top of the Camera screen will turn yellow. Tap the icon to go to your Profile, tap “Added Me,” and then tap the + to add the person back.

Snapchat’s Add Nearby feature enables you to add a new group of friends on Snapchat. To access the feature, tap the ghost icon at the top of the Camera screen, tap “Add Friends,” then tap “Add Nearby.” You’ll need to tap “OK” to allow Snapchat to use your location to find nearby Snapchatters. Ask your friend, or friends, to open Add Nearby, and then tap the + sign next to your friend’s name.

Snapchat will display Friend Emojis that denote how you interact with your friends. Some show you who you send the most Snaps to, and which of your friends sends most of their Snaps to you, while others indicate that you and a friend have Snapped each other for a few days running. You can even customize Friend Emojis. If you’re curious, you can find all the details on the Snapchat website.

You can also use a Snapcode, which is a scannable code that makes it easier to add new Snapchat friends. Yours is located in the center of your Profile screen. You can even personalize it by adding an animated selfie. To scan someone else’s Snapcode, just point your Snapchat camera at a Snapcode, and press and hold on the screen.

How to create and send Snaps

Source: iStock

You aren’t really using Snapchat until you’ve sent a Snap | Source: iStock

Snaps are photo or video messages that you can take and then share with your friends on Snapchat in real time. Snaps can be viewed for up to 10 seconds, depending on the amount of time that that the sender chooses. If you miss it, you can choose to replay. By default, Snaps will disappear from the screen once they’re viewed, but Snapchat can’t stop someone from capturing with a screenshot or a separate camera.

To create and send a photo Snap, tap the circular capture button once. To record a video Snap, press and hold the button. To delete your Snap, tap the X in the top left corner of the screen. If you want to draw on your Snap, tap the pencil icon in the top right corner, and if you want to add a caption, tap the middle of the screen and enter your text. Tap anywhere (or press done) to exit the caption interface. To set the timer for a photo Snap, tap the timer icon in the bottom left corner and select the amount of time you want the Snap to appear.

How to add stickers to Snaps

If you’ve been experimenting with photo and video Snaps, but are trying to figure out how people add stickers to their Snaps, don’t worry — it’s pretty straightforward once you know where to look. After you’ve taken your photo or video, tap the sticker icon that’s at the top right corner of the Snap preview screen. (It looks like a little square sticker, or Post-It note, with the corner lifted.) Tap the sticker that you want to add. If you want to remove a sticker, just press and hold on the sticker and drag it to the trash can icon.

If you’re adding a sticker to a video Snap, you can press and hold on the sticker to pin it to something in the video. That way, the sticker (or stickers) will move, rotate, and scale along with the person, pet, or object in the video, which opens up lots of creative possibilities for the videos you send to your friends.

How to view Snaps

Source: iStock

Figured out how to send a Snap? Next step: figure out how to view one | Source: iStock

Now that you’ve figured out how to create and send snaps, you should also make sure that you know how to view snaps. To view a Snap, just tap once. If a friend has sent you multiple Snaps, Snapchat will show them to you as a “stacked flipbook” of moments, similar to Stories (which we’ll cover soon). You can tap once to skip to the next Snap, or swipe down to exit the current Snap. If you want to view the Snaps individually, you can swipe right on your friend’s name to jump into Chat, and tap on an individual Snap to view it.

When you’re viewing a snap, a small circle will represent how much time is left in the Snap. The ring will disappear as you view the Snap, in order to indicate how much time you have left to view it. As Snapchat’s website explains, there are plenty of icons to get used to when you’re sending and viewing snaps, including sent icons, opened icons, received icons, viewed icons, screenshot icons, and replay icons. A solid arrow indicates a Snap has been sent; an outlined arrow denotes a Snap that’s been opened. Received Snaps are indicated by solid squares, and viewed Snaps show an outlined square. There are also icons that indicate when a screenshot has been taken of your Snap, or when it’s been replayed.

How to create a Story on Snapchat

Stories are compilations of Snaps, assembled to create a narrative of sorts. Snaps appear in chronological order, with a beginning, middle, and end, and, by default, only your friends can view your Story. Adding a Snap to your Story enables other Snapchat users to view the Snap an unlimited number of times for 24 hours. To add a Snap to your Story, take the Snap and tap the add icon at the bottom of the screen. If it’s your first time creating a Story, tap Add again to confirm that you want to post to your Story.

To save a Story, so that it doesn’t disappear after 24 hours, go to the Stories screen, tap the icon with three vertical dots to the right of “My Story,” and tap the save icon to save the entire Story. If you only want to save one Snap on your Story, you’ll just need to tap the circular icon of the Snap you want to save, then tap the save icon at the bottom of the screen to save the Snap. To view your own Story, tap My Story or the circular icon of a Snap to the left of My Story.

To delete a Snap from your Story, tap the icon with three vertical dots, tap the Snap, and tap the trash can icon at the bottom of the screen. There’s not a way to delete all of the Snaps in your Story at once, so if you want to erase them all, you’ll need to delete them individually.

How to view other people’s Stories

Source: iStock

The next step in figuring out Snapchat is learning how to view other people’s Stories | Source: iStock

Viewing other people’s Stories is a great way to stay up to date on what your friends are doing. To see what your friends are up to, swipe left on the Camera screen to see the Stories screen. Then, scroll down to Recent Updates and tap a user’s name to view his or her Story. When you finish viewing one Story, another will begin automatically. If you don’t want to view a Story, just swipe down to exit.

Additionally, featured Live stories will appear in the Live section of your Stories screen until the event is over. Live Stories are compilations of Snaps from users at specific events and locations, and are curated by the Snapchat team. If you’re in the location of a Live Story, you can submit a Snap (one that you’re OK to have published and viewable by anyone on Snapchat).

You can reply to a friend’s Story by swiping up as you’re viewing the Story. You’ll be able to send a quick Chat, and your friend will be able to see your message as well as the Snap you’re talking about. If you’re curious about who has viewed your Story, you can tap the icon with three vertical dots next to My Story, tap a Snap, and then swipe up on the screen to see who has viewed or screenshotted your Snap. You can swipe down to exit when you’re finished.

How to chat and video chat on Snapchat

Did you know that you can do more on Snapchat than just send photos and videos? You can also chat or video chat with your friends. Swipe right on a friend’s name in your Snapchat feed to start chatting; if you see a blue dot at the bottom of the chat screen, that indicates that your friend is available in Chat. You can add stickers to your message, or type a keyword and then press the sticker icon to see relevant stickers. When you leave the Chat screen, your messages will be automatically cleared, but you can press and hold to save a message, like ones with an address or a to-do list.

When you’re looking at the Chat screen, you tap the telephone icon or the video camera icon to call or video chat with your friend. (Or, if you want to send a Snap instead, just tap the circle icon.) If your friend is available for a video chat, he’ll select Watch or Join. If he chooses Watch, he’ll be able to see and hear you, but you won’t be able to see him. If he chooses Join, you’ll both be able to see and hear each other. If your friend wasn’t available, you can opt to send a video note by pressing and holding the video camera icon. The same goes for voice calls; your friend can choose to Listen or Join, and you can choose to leave a voice note if he wasn’t available for a call.

You can also use chat to send photos and videos that are saved to your Camera Roll on iOS. You can send a photo from inside a Chat by tapping the picture icon, selecting a photo or video, and then editing and sending it. Or, you can send a photo via a Chat directly from the Photos app, where you can tap the share icon, tap More, toggle Snapchat on, and tap the Snapchat icon.

How to block people on Snapchat

Man In Bed Woken By Alarm On Mobile Phone

Occasionally, it may be useful to know how to block someone on Snapchat | Source: iStock

If you need to block a friend, tap “My Friends” on the Profile screen, tap on the person’s name, and tap the settings symbol below their name. Finally, tap Block to prevent them from sending you Snaps or Chats, or viewing your story. To block someone who’s sent you a Chat, swipe left on the user’s name, tap the hamburger button, and tap Block. To block someone who’s added you, tap “Added Me” on the Profile screen, tap their name, tap the settings icon, and press block.

Conversely, if you want to unblock someone, tap the ghost icon at the top of the Camera screen, tap the settings button, scroll down to “Account Actions,” and tap “Blocked.” To unblock someone, just tap the X next to his or her name. Depending on your privacy settings, you may both need to re-add each other as friends to send Snaps and Chats back and forth.

How to use Lenses in Snapchat

One of the most fun (and visible) features of Snapchat is the selection of “Lenses,” or real-time special effects and sounds, that it enable you to add to your photos and videos. To use Lenses, go to the Camera screen and press and hold on a face. Lens options will appear, and you can swipe left to select the Lens you want to use. Then, follow any instructions the app gives you, and use the capture button to take a Snap or record a video.

How to use Snapchat filters

David Ramos/Getty Images

Learn how to use Lenses and Filters to make your Snaps more fun | David Ramos/Getty Images

To add filters to your photos or videos, you’ll need to enable Additional Services by tapping the Settings icon in the upper right corner of the Profile screen. Then, tap Manage under Additional Services, and toggle on the features that you’d like to start using.

Once you’ve turned on filters, you’ll be able to see a number of different kinds of filters. Geofilters are specific to a given place, like a city, a university, a park, or a landmark. To use them, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve enabled location services for Snapchat on your device. You can swipe left on the Snap preview screen to see which filters are available. You can add colored filters, the current time, local weather, speed overlays, or Geofilters. You’ll sometimes see Data filters, which can add things like an icon to signify whether your smartphone battery is low or high.

How to use Snapchat Discover

Discover is a feature that enables you to explore Snaps from different editorial organizations. Discover includes channels from publishers that are refreshed everyday. You can find Discover by navigating to the Stories screen and tapping the icon of the channel that you’d like to explore. Many Snaps in Discover include an article to read or a video to watch, and you can swipe up on a Snap you’re interested in to learn more. When you’re finished, you can pull down to exit a channel.

If you’re not sure which channel to check out first, you can just press and hold a channel’s icon to preview what it has to offer. To see more channels, you can swipe the row of channels in the Discover section, or tap the purple circle icon in the top right corner of the Stories screen. If you find something interesting while browsing a Discover channel, you can press and hold the screen to Snap what you’re reading or watching to a friend, or tap the save icon at the bottom of the screen to save it to your phone’s photo library.

How to use Snapcash


Pay your friends with Snapcash instead of cash | Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images

Snapcash enables you to exchange money with your Snapchat friends via the Chat feature. Once you link your debit card in the app, you can send a friend money for your half of dinner or the concert ticket he snagged for you. All payments that are sent through Snapcash are processed by Square. You can sign up for Snapcash within the Chat interface by swiping right on a friend’s name in the feed, typing a $ sign and amount, and tapping on the Snapcash button when it appears. (You can also sign up in the settings section by tapping Snapcash.)

Once you’ve signed up, you can send Snapcash by swiping on a friend’s name the same way you would to use the Chat feature, but typing a $ sign and amount and tapping Send to transfer that amount to your friend. To receive cash, you’ll need to enter your debit card details if it isn’t linked yet; if it already is, you’ll just see a chat notifying you of how much your friend sent you.

How to edit your settings

You can customize your device’s Snapchat settings and permissions by going to Settings in the app, then tapping Manage and Permissions. You can enable or disable push notifications, or edit the app’s permissions to access your location, camera, microphone, photos, or contacts. Also from your Snapchat settings, you can turn on two-factor authentication, add your name to Snapchat, change your privacy settings, edit your birthday settings, opt out of Find Friends, or even clear your conversations or delete your account.

More from Gear & Style Cheat Sheet: