Illustration • Free Resources Free Photoshop action: VHS Effect.

Give your digital images a retro ’80s analog look.

Ohio-based digital artist Nick Kempton (also known as nickjaykdesign) is the founder of 60 Degree Studio, which creates commercial art for a broad spectrum of industries. Inspired by the analog look of old VHS tapes, he created this Adobe Photoshop action that you can use to give your images a retro look. 

(This action was tested on versions of Photoshop CC; it may not be compatible with earlier versions.)

Photo of a couple holding hands, shot from behind
Photo of a couple holding hands, shot from behind with VHS Action Effect applied.
photograph of a car
photograph of a car with VHS Effect action applied.
Photograph of a rose
photograph of a rose with VHS Effect action applied

The VHS Effect action adds several customizable layers to an image, allowing you to customize your retro look.

To use the action, follow these steps:

1. You should have downloaded two files, the actions file and a patterns file. First, install the action. Open Photoshop’s Actions panel (Window > Actions). In this panel, click on the menu icon at the top right corner, and then select Load Actions. Select the actions file from wherever you downloaded it to.

2. Now install the patterns. In CC 2020 versions of Photoshop, open the Patterns panel (Windows > Patterns). In this panel, click on the menu icon at the top right corner, select Import Patterns, and select the patterns file. (In versions of Photoshop prior to CC 2020, go to Edit > Presets > Presets Manager. In this panel, select Patterns as the Preset Type, click on Load, and select the file.)

3. Create a new document — any size will work, but the patterns that Kempton has included are sized at 1,500 by 1,500 pixels, 3,000 by 3,000 pixels, 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, and 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. (Your image and the pattern need not be the same size.) Then add an image to your canvas. 

4. Select one of the four included action effects, and then press play to run the action.

  • No Gradient Map: The colors from the image will be used, no gradient map is selected.
  • Purple: Preselected purple gradient map is used.
  • Blue: Preselected blue gradient map is used.
  • Red: Preselected red gradient map is used.


As the action runs, you’ll see two dialog boxes. The first lets you choose a pattern layer (from the drop-down menu on the left of the dialog box); the second lets you edit the angle and size of the VHS “scan line” effect. (You can simply click through these dialog boxes if you want to start with the default settings.)

5. Once you’ve run the action, there are several layers you can edit to modify the image to your liking. Kempton says, “If the colors are too bright, try editing adjustment layers in the smart object layer called MAIN (EDIT THIS) or disabling the Red Glow, Blue Glow, or Glow 1 layer. You can also edit your gradient map and make many other adjustments on the MAIN (EDIT THIS) layer…. The best way to use this action is to experiment!” 

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