Despite Snapchat's rapid rise into the social media mainstream, it’s always been a little unintuitive. The social network occasionally updates the layout to make things simpler to use, but for those of us already confused by the app, it simply heightens the learning curve. But fear not: we're here to walk you through the basics of how to use Snapchat.

Setting up Snapchat

Snapchat is a free download from Google Play or the App Store. Once you've installed the app you'll be prompted to sign up for a free account using your email address and DOB, and will be asked to choose a username. Choose this wisely, since you can't change it later.

Snapchat will then request access to your contacts in order to find your friends who are already using the service. This is the recommended option, though you can do so manually if you prefer.

Taking your first Snap

When you launch Snapchat you'll be presented with the view from your phone's front-facing camera. You could hit the big circle icon at the bottom of the screen to take a photo, or you could tap and hold to take a video. But that would be to ignore the great many Lenses and filters that make Snapchat so popular with the younger generation...

Adding 'Lenses', filters and effects to Snaps

With your face in view, tap and hold on your face. You'll see a white grid appear, then some new circular icons will appear to the right of the shutter button. You can scroll through these 'Lenses' to add various filters and effects. Those on offer are regularly updated.

Adding Snapchat filters

Some filters will instruct you to open your mouth or raise your eyebrows to get the full effect. Some can also change your voice, for which you'll want to record a video rather than a Snap.

Try it out, but remember your surroundings if you're in public or you'll get some odd looks!

Face Swapping

Toward the end of the available lenses are some that show two faces. This is Face Swap, and one of Snapchat's most popular features. You can face swap with a physical person standing next to you, or using photos in your phone's photo gallery (which has led to some very interesting swaps. Find out more about how to use Face Swap here.

Snapchat Face Swap

Editing your Snap

Having taken a Snap you'll see new icons appear on the right edge of the screen. These let you add text, draw doodles and add stickers.

Editing Snaps

You'll also find an option for add a second filter, and these are different options to what you will have seen the first time around.

Adding more filters  

The bottom option lets you set a time limit for how long your friends will be able to view your Snap. The beauty of Snapchat is that the image self-destructs after they've viewed it - unless they screenshot it, of course. 

Set a Snapchat time limit

Do note, though, that when taking a screenshot of someone else's Snap they will get a notification. There are ways to get around this.

Sending your Snap

Once you've taken a Snap you like, the idea is to share it with your friends. Tap the blue arrow icon to Send. Also at the bottom of the window are options to download the photo (so you can get an image that doesn't have all the icons at the edge) or add it to your Story. We'll come on to that later.

Send Snap

Having hit the Send button you need to select a contact to send the Snap to. Pick a contact(s) from the list, or choose to add it to My Story, Our story or an existing group using the icons at the top. Now hit the blue send arrow again.

Communicating with Snapchat friends

Snapchat is actually not just about sending your friends hilarious photos and videos. It can also be used as a messaging platform, and for making video calls (even group video calls).

Launch the app and swipe in from the left to see your friends. You can tap on any contact here to start a conversation, within which you'll find options simply to text as well as send pictures and make calls.

Snapchat friends

At the top of your friends list, you'll see some have 'Added to story'. These are Snaps they've not sent directly to you, but you can watch them all the same. You'll also regularly see messages from Team Snapchat here. Just tap to view.

Be sure to avoid these Snapchat scams.

Snapchat Discover

Snapchat can be fun even for people who don't like taking selfies. Swipe in from the right of the main screen and you'll find Discover, which lists Snapchat Stories from your friends alongside big brands, magazines, newspapers and other popular Snapchatters. Just tap to view any that interest you.

Snap Map

You'll find in-depth instructions on how to use Snap Map here, but in essence, you just pinch the screen to open the Map. You can view Snaps of breaking news and events or featured Snaps here, or add your own. To add a Snap to the Map make sure you send it to Our Story rather than My Story.

Snap Map

For some users, though, Snap Map is potentially a bit too creepy. If you're concerned but have already added the feature, follow our instructions to disable Snap Map.

Snapchat Trophies

Tap the profile icon in the top left corner of the main screen to bring up a page that contains your personal Snapchat code (see how to use Snapcodes). You'll see a trophy icon below this. Tap this to see what trophies you've managed to unlock - they're basically achievements like you get on computer games.

Snapchat Trophies

Using Snapchat on a computer

Snapchat is a mobile app so you are no doubt using it on your smartphone or perhaps a tablet. However, you can use it on PC or laptop so find out how.

Deleting Snapchat

If having been through all that you're still confused, maybe Snapchat isn't for you. We show you how to delete your Snapchat account here. You can also read our guide that discusses whether Snapchat is safe for kids.