Storyboarding Tips: Special Effects

By Anna Warfield

Find this and other great teacher resources in our Education Blog!

I get so excited to show people all of the amazing things I do with the Storyboard Creator. I have found that the best way to create special picture effects in storyboards is to experiment. Tinkering is not an option for most people, however, so I have put together some storyboarding tips to help you make your storyboards extra special.

Be sure to check out the Storyboard Creator Help Page for tutorials and explanations of individual functions!

Jump to...

Layering | Cropping | Key Search Terms | Image Filters | Combinations

Look for Blue "Edit Scene" Buttons

Smart scenes are amazing! The SBT artists have made multiple versions of each scene so you can customize your storyboards quickly and easily. With the click of a button you can change day into night, toggle between rain and snow, include furniture or not, and more.


Imagine you are holding a stack of paper, perhaps homework assignments or worksheets. If the papers are neatly stacked on top of one another, you should only be able to see the top paper. If you take the top paper and put it at the bottom, you can no longer see that first page and can only see the second paper.

Now imagine that you drop this neat stack of papers on the floor and the different pages spread out in a heap. The papers probably get out of order and overlap each other and maybe even turn the wrong way around. Use this example as a thinly-veiled metaphor for layering images in the Storyboard Creator. Every image - be it a character, item, or even scene - occupies one layer of the cell, or in terms of the paper analogy, each image is like one of the sheets of paper. Each image is separate from the others and can be manipulated within its layer, such as rotating or resizing.

laying example storyboard software

The most recently chosen characters and images will automatically take up the front layer, like adding a paper to the top of a pile. Scenes will automatically drop to the back-most layer or "bottom of the pile". You can change the order of all the layers at any time by using the layering buttons on the image editor.

Create a Storyboard 

(This will start a 2-Week Free Trial - No Credit Card Needed)


A quick way to make your storyboard stand out is by using filters. Filters change the coloring or apparent texture of the images. In many cases, only some of the images in your storyboard will use a filter like "Canvas Bumps" and other times you might use the "Grayscale" or "Sepia" filter on ALL parts. Check out the table below for some suggestions on when to use each of the filters and a storyboard example.

Color is the standard that all images come in by default. There is no "filter" applied.

  • Typical storyboards
Grayscale turns all images into varying shades of gray.

  • Showing a flashback
  • Old photograph or picture in a newspaper
  • Drastically limiting the range of color
Sepia converts the images' colors to shades of light brown.

  • Showing a flashback
  • Old-timey photograph or document
  • Dreams
The Pencil filter makes the images look hand-drawn.

  • Sketches or in-progress work
  • Coloring Pages
  • Printing
The Pen filter is like the Pencil filter in that it makes the images look hand-drawn, but many of the lines are darker.

  • Sketches or in-progress work
  • Coloring Pages
  • Printing
Canvas Bumps
Canvas Bumps adds texture to the image without distorting it.

  • Paintings or other art
  • Making a copied item appear different than the original, even in the same color
  • Giving a rough texture to something, like a brick wall or a rock
Diffuse Light
Diffuse Light is a filter that gives a "bubble" look to characters, items, and scenes

  • Plaques
  • Mirrors and windows
  • Adding slight shadows
The Blur filter makes everything a little fuzzy.

  • Showing contrast to the focus
  • Item behind a window or other glass object
  • Foggy weather
Soft Focus
The Soft Focus filter makes everything have a soft, brighter quality.

  • Dreams
  • Ethereal or other-worldly creatures or spaces
  • Illuminating flat and/or dull objects

Cropping and Resizing

Storyboard That images are all scalable vector graphics, which means that the quality of the image doesn't change when you make them bigger. Some of the images can be stretched out or smushed together, but there are plenty that have a fixed ratio and can't be distorted. Even if you squish a scene, the quality of the image doesn't change, just the proportions.

Thus, if you crop a scene and enlarge it, it is as if you were zooming in on that one spot. If you crop a character, enlarge it, and then put that really big part of a character at the bottom of the cell, that character looks like she is in the foreground. Once you get the hang of cropping, you will be taking bits and pieces of images and putting them together in ingenious combinations!

One of our other favorite cropping techniques makes characters look like they're sitting or standing behind parts of the background. Want a barista behind the counter in your cafe scene or students at the lunch table in your cafeteria? Crop them! Simply size the character, place them where you'd like them to go, and then you can line up the crop box with the line of the counter, table, etc. and bam! They're magically "behind" the item.

Cropping is my favorite. I crop stuff all the time. Cropping and resizing images will change everything for you. Play with point of view, show greater distances, continue action on the borders of your scenes, and re-purpose items!

Add Your Own Special Effects  

Add Your Own Special Effects  

Key Search Terms

Some of the best effects and customizations come from items through Search. Here are some of my favorite search terms to use. Most items are colorable, and all items can be cropped, resized, and given a filter.

  • Glow
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Smoke
  • Cloud
  • Magic
  • Shadow
  • Effect
  • Blood
  • Glass
  • Hole
  • Rain
  • Snow
  • Wind
  • Dirt
  • Window
  • Face

Special Effects Combinations

In the storyboard example below, I edited the scene on the left to be at night, snowing, and changed the filter to Blur. On top of that, I placed a mostly transparent overlay. My goal here was to set the scene: a winter evening, dreary and lonely during a snowstorm. It was very simple and very quick.

The scene on the right is a bit more complicated. In this scene, I really took advantage of cropping, sizing, and layering. Right up front we see large bright cards and a solitary coin. Because of the first person point of view, it seems as if the viewer is actually holding the cards! These cards and coin are the focus of the scene - the most important part of the story.

Jump to the back. The background scene is a wallpapered room at night time. The next layers on top of the background are shadows, the characters behind the table with their cards. Then comes the cropped tabletop (actually a 3D hemisphere from the Shapes category) with the money and deck of cards. My goal was to show a big difference between the items in the foreground and the rest of the scene. To emphasize the contrast even more, I added in an overlay to slightly darken everything behind the hands.

To get a better sense of what I did, make a copy of this storyboard and play with it yourself!

Add Your Own Special Effects  

Find colorable overlays under Scenes > Patterns.

Examples of Search Results

Add Your Own Special Effects  

Help Share Storyboard That!

Read More of Our Blog

Teacher Favorites

Get the most out of Storyboard That with these great features!

Classroom Features

During your 14-Day free trial, you and your students will have full access to all the classroom features.

  • Unlimited Storyboards with up to 100 cells
  • Personal Teacher Dashboard
  • Support for Google Sign On

Photos for Class

Easily find that perfect photo thanks to integration with Photos for Class.

  • Millions of Creative Commons photos
  • Automatically cited when used
  • Makes storyboards POP

Powerful Export

After your storyboard is created easily export it to high resolution storyboard cells, PDF or PowerPoint File.

  • Add a storyboard into a larger presentation
  • Upload to your blog, wiki or email
  • Create classroom posters

Presentation Ready

Quickly turn any storyboard into a presentation to receive immediate feedback!

  • One Click Live Slide Shows
  • Export to PowerPoint (Keynote, and Google Slides compatible)
  • Create a new presentation just as easily after edits
Start My Free Teacher Trial
© 2018 - Clever Prototypes, LLC - All rights reserved.
Start My Free Trial
Explore Our Articles and Examples

Try Our Other Websites!

Photos for Class   •   Quick Rubric   •   abcBABYart   •   Storyboard That's TPT Store
Prefer a different language?

•   (English) Special Effects   •   (Español) Efectos Especiales   •   (Français) Effets Spéciaux   •   (Deutsch) Spezialeffekte   •   (Italiana) Effetti Speciali   •   (Nederlands) Speciale Effecten   •   (Português) Efeitos Especiais   •   (עברית) אפקטים מיוחדים   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) مؤثرات خاصة   •   (हिन्दी) विशेष प्रभाव   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Специальные Эффекты   •   (Dansk) Specielle Effekter   •   (Svenska) Specialeffekter   •   (Suomi) Erikoistehosteet   •   (Norsk) Spesialeffekter   •   (Türkçe) Özel Efektler   •   (Polski) Efekty Specjalne   •   (Româna) Efecte Speciale   •   (Ceština) Zvláštní Efekty   •   (Slovenský) Zvláštne Efekty   •   (Magyar) Különleges Hatások   •   (Hrvatski) Specijalni Efekti   •   (български) Специални Ефекти   •   (Lietuvos) Specialieji Efektai   •   (Slovenščina) Posebni Učinki   •   (Latvijas) Specefekti   •   (eesti) Eriefektid