Exploring Six Types of AR Experiences – Which One’s Right For Your Project?

by First Descent AR • 25 November 2022

Creating an AR experience for the first time can be intimidating. It seems like across the Metaverse, there is something new popping up every week, around Extended Reality or Web3. In an ever-evolving ecosystem, just figuring out where to start can be a barrier to entry.

Never fear. If you’re looking to create a killer AR experience for your company or your client, the vast majority AR experiences can be categorized under one of six approaches, each with their own advantages (and usually with one BIG advantage in common – more on that below). Read on to learn about these six key types of AR experiences (and what they’re best used for), and you’ll come out looking like an expert.

Six of the most popular types of AR experiences

Facial Tracking

What it is: Facial Tracking – more commonly known as Face Filters – use overlays on a subject’s on-screen face to add different elements to the photo or video. If you’ve ever ‘wanted to know what you’d look like when you’re older’ (or ‘as a baby’... or with dog ears... – we digress), you’re familiar with the concept. Social AR software platforms such as Facebook and Instagram’s Spark AR Studio have been leveraging facial tracking for some time now. The quality of the skins and overlays, as well as the ability to track a subject’s face and its contours, continue to get better and better.

Best way to use it: It doesn’t get more personal than your own face. Use facial tracking to translate elements from your campaign or brand into a personalized interaction with your audience. A tip: make the experience shareable to encourage a bit of buzz on social media.

Image Tracking

What it is: Image tracking leverages an AR experience from a physical or printed piece. The experience is launched off of an image, which is used as the marker to trigger the AR component via the camera of your smart device. Once you move the camera of your device away from the image/marker, the experience is no longer seen on the screen. As an example of AR evolving fast, this approach used to rely almost exclusively on a QR code as the trigger – today the technology can recognize entire images (even if the QR code’s experiencing a comeback). An image-base AR trigger can be used on virtually any physical item – from an Annual Report that triggers a short video message from the President, to a concert poster that triggers a clip of the band’s latest video. The possibilities are endless.

Best way to use it: There are limits to how much information you can share on any physical item. Using image tracking, you can share an additional, related depth of content with your audiences. A couple tips: make that additional content relatively brief – since they’re anchored to an image, you’re asking the user to keep their screen (and themselves) relatively static – which gets old, fast. And, make that additional content rewarding (even entertaining) for users. Avoid non-sequitors and dense copy. These are not rewards.

Surface Detection

What it is: With a Surface Detection AR experience, users are instructed to scan the area for a flat surface. Their smartphone camera will detect the plain of that surface and place an object onto it. The experience is similar to an image tracker (in that you’re anchored – this time to a flat surface – and the experience ends if you move your camera away). But with Surface Detection, you don’t need a specific marker to place the object onto. Which means the experience can take place almost anywhere.

Best way to use it: Take it on the road. Without the need for a specific image marker, Surface Detection lets you bring an AR experience with you, in your pocket. That’s why you see Surface Detection used a lot with product demos. The flexibility of being able to drop a product into a user’s space for them to experience in their own environment creates a lasting impression.

World Effects

Some AR executions need a bigger canvas – that’s where World Effects shine. When you’re able to extend the user’s sightlines to 360°, it increases your canvas allowing you to tell your story 'in the round’ (to use a theatre term). With World Effects, audiences aren’t anchored to a marker as they are with Image Tracking. Once the experience is launched, a user can move their camera/screen around, and find themselves immersed with an 360° AR experience. That vastly expands your storytelling abilities.

Best way to use it: The ‘wow factor’ of transforming the world around your user (at least, through their device screen) often leads to more time spent in-experience. Which makes World Effects a great way to share additional information in a memorable, fluid way – or to encourage time spent with your brand by creating a game/activity that users can explore.

Broadcast AR

Broadcast AR allows an experience to be built around users without the need for those users to carry any hardware or trigger any animation – they just need to step in front of a camera you’ve set up. Scanning the users, or knowing where they will be in a given space, allows developers to build AR assets around them. Not only does the user get to step into the experience, but surrounding spectators get to experience vicariously as they watch it on screen.

Best way to use it: Because Broadcast AR relies on some fixed hardware and a place-specific setup, it’s ideally suited for events that attract crowds. The experience itself should be a bit of a spectacle – something that’s engaging for users to take part in, and for spectators to watch.


AR portals can take a user into an entirely new space without the need of Virtual Reality (VR) glasses. This experience can be built entirely with 3D models, though in some cases a mixed reality experience is the more cost-effective way to go. Using a 3D doorway placed onto a surface using surface detection, the user has an actual ‘door’ into the portal. Once the user proceeds through the door, they’re surrounded in a 360° video environment – immersing them in the location no matter where they might be.

Best way to use it: The ability to layer in additional information and content makes this a powerful means of transporting people to a location they otherwise might not be able to get to or aspire to visit. It’s also a great, often tactile way to convey complex information in a more digestible visual format.

Data Collection – The unsung hero of AR

One of the distinct advantages of using AR is the valuable data collection marketers gather from a user’s experiences and decision-making processes. Almost all aspects of the user’s AR journey are trackable – similar to tracking engagement on a web site. The data will help you make better informed decisions, and the tech will allow you to make adjustments if they are needed.

While the type and volume of data you’re able to collect will vary depending on the experience, you’re well served to identify your KPIs at the concept stage. That allows you to design your experience according to the information you want to get out of a user’s interaction.

Want to see how your brand can use AR? Contact Brian Dusselier, our AR Specialist, to get the ball rolling on an AR project that will wow your audience.