You can use the Lensa AI app to turn your photos into artistic portraits

Although these AI portraits have gone viral, the price tag and results might not be worth the hype.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Lensa AI app results
Image: Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

When scrolling through Instagram this weekend, I noticed an unusual trend throughout my feed – artistic renditions of my friends' selfies. The credit for these masterpieces is the Lensa AI app, and here is how you can use it to get your own portraits. 

Lensa AI is a free-to-download, photo-editing app that launched in 2018 and is available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store

In late November, the app launched a "magic avatar," which skyrocketed the app's popularity, placing it at #1 in the Apple App Store charts for both the free app category and the photo and video category. 

The "magic avatar" converts 10 to 20 selfies you upload into artistic portraits of you – as an anime, fantasy or cosmic character, among other renditions – using stable diffusion. So how do you make your own?

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While the app is free to download, you will still need to pay to get your photos rendered. As soon as you open the app after downloading, you are greeted with subscription options. To access all of the AI-editing tools and create your "magic avatar," you need to subscribe to one of those options. 

Luckily, an option for a seven-day free-trial is available, but just remember to cancel it before the seven days are up, or else you'll be charged $39.99 for the entire year. 

Once you get past that and attempt to make your magic avatar, you will be brought to another paywall where you can pick which pack of photos you are interested in buying. I chose the 50-photo pack for $3.99. 

People are taking to social media to share their disbelief that Lensa AI users are paying to have these images rendered. According to Lensa AI, there is a fee for these images because "Magic Avatars consume tremendous computation power to create amazing avatars."

Once you have made your payment, you are prompted to submit 10 to 20 selfies with the warning that there is no guarantee that all of the renderings will be good. The app advises you to submit as many selfies as you can to eliminate as much error as possible. 

In the privacy agreement you sign before using the app (you know, the long contracts with tiny print, which we read so you don't have to), Lensa says that the photos you upload are used to train its AI but are then deleted after 24 hours. 

However, in the terms and conditions, you are agreeing to give Lensa the right to "perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable, sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, distribute, create derivative works of your User Content, without any additional compensation to you," according to Lensa.

Also: I tested out an AI art generator and here's what I learned

While using a photo-editing app probably doesn't represent any more of a risk than general social media use, it's worth considering the company's policies, given the past history of some apps. A few years ago, the popular FaceApp was even flagged by the FBI as a "counterintelligence threat."

After you submit your photos, you have to wait around 20 minutes to get your results, and you can select to be notified when your AI artist is done with your painting.

The renderings I received were really fun, and I only had about two complete duds in which the photo was disfigured in some way. However, my problem was that most of the photos, although beautiful, did not really look like me. As seen below, the people in the pictures don't even look like each other. 

Lensa AI app results
Image: Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

If you are purchasing these images with a specific purpose, such as getting a fun new profile picture, then this might be worth it as you will be able to find at least one cool photo. However, if you just do it for fun like myself, you are stuck with some photos you will never use and are out $4. My suggestion: go grab a cup of coffee instead. 

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