There’s something wholesome about vanilla Minecraft, with its fat, happy blocks and Tetris clouds. But if you fancy adding wafting grasses, reflective seas, and more lens flare than even JJ Abrams is comfortable with, shaders are a simple way of altering how your game looks.
How to install Minecraft shaders
Before you start downloading, you need to tweak Minecraft. Simply install Optifine, an optimisation and appearance tool that makes Minecraft look nicer and run better. The only caveat here is that Optifine isn’t yet optimised for 1.14, the Village and Pillage update, so to get the best and broadest selection of shaders you’ll need to launch version 1.13 of Minecraft. It’s not a biggie—it just means no volumetrically-lit pandas.
After that, just drop the unzipped shader pack in the correct folder—you can find yours here: C:\Users\[Yourname]\AppData\Roaming\.minecraft\shaderpacks. If you’ve done it correctly, the shader will immediately appear in the video options screen. If you want a complete overhaul looks you’ll also want to consider installing a texture pack, but in the meantime, these shaders will quickly change your game, some more comprehensively than others.
1. Sonic Ethers’ Unbelievable Shaders
Sonic Ethers’ Unbelievable Shaders was always going to be here. It’s the Ryu of handsome lighting overhauls. When you write a list of Minecraft shaders, if you don’t include SEUS on your list the Shaderman appears in the raytraced shadows and transports you to the Dark Place. It’s that essential.
Aside from that, it’s easy to see why this pack has endured. The soft rain, sharp shadows, and stirring skies make Minecraft look lovely without it feeling flashy or vulgar. It changes how the game looks without changing how it feels, a balancing act that other shader packs don’t always manage.
2. Sildur’s Vibrant Shaders
Sildur’s Vibrant Shaders is the Ken to SEUS’s Ryu, and I promise that’s the last Street Fighter analogy in this list. It’s an extension of the GLSL shader that completely changes Minecraft’s lighting system. The performance is great and it looks clean and uplifting, like breathing a lungful of fresh pine air. Aaaaah!
There are other things going for it. It’s regularly updated, with support for version 1.14 of Minecraft. And you can download various versions, too, some of which are specced to run on older PCs, meaning you can enjoy reflections, shadows, and godrays even if you’re playing Minecraft on a shoe.
3. Lagless Shaders
If your rig isn’t up to the task of ludicrous render distances and specular reflections, Lagless is the way to go. This is a simple, easy way of upgrading Minecraft that won’t make you feel like you’re watching a slideshow, and there’s an honest simplicity to this pack that’s rather endearing. Yes, there are other packs with fancier websites and brighter colours. But lagless shaders only care about you getting your optimum Minecraft experience. The faithful, scruffy mutt of shader packs.
4. Naelego's Cel Shaders
Most of the shaders on this list are quite sensible. If this was a cocktail bar, they would be Dry Martinis, Old Fashioneds, and Manhattans. Naelego's Cel Shaders, by comparison, is big and fruity, luminous, and comes served with a sparkler.
If you want Minecraft to feel like it’s been chemically fused with Borderlands, this is the shader for you, with its bold colours and distinct black outlines. It’s cool seeing a shader that’s a genuine visual overhaul, and it speaks to the enduring versatility of Minecraft.
5. BSL Shaders
This elegant, professional-looking shader gives everything the feel of a bright morning before the sun breaks through and it gets too hot. It’s like going on a pleasant camping holiday inside Minecraft—a bright, breezy, uplifting tweak, with saturation levels that give it an almost cel shaded look. It’s inspired by Chocapic13’s shaders—we’ll come to them in a bit—but it’s different enough that it’s worth including both. Extra points scored for a functioning, updated website.
6. Too Many Effects
Subtlety be damned. We don’t want performance upgrades or gentle amendments to water reflections. We want our lens flare to have lens flare. We want to kill our FPS and leave the body buried in a shallow grave, two blocks down. And Crankerman’s Too Many Effects shader is going to give it to us.
This one, then, is marketed as the moon-on-a-stick shader pack, with everything crammed into one resource-hungry package. Experience entire forests of waving trees as your frame rate slows to sluglike speeds. (In truth, it didn’t seem too bad on my rig—but don’t try running it on a laptop.)
7. Continuum Shaders
When you’ve seen a lot of shaderpacks, they tend to blend with each other. Even the best of us can get our Chocapics confused with our Cyboxes. But Continuum Shaders stands out even when you’re beginning to go shader-blind. It adds every triple-A lighting effect imaginable to Minecraft, and has to be seen to be fully appreciated: wafting plants, rippling waters, sun reflecting off waves. In terms of changes applied by a single shaderpack, Continuum feels comprehensive. It’s also slightly more professional than some of the other shaders on this list, with a website that will make you do a ‘wait, is this really for Minecraft?’ double take.
8. Cybox Shaders
If it’s striking shadows you’re after, Cybox is here for you. This pack even accounts for the spaces between leaves on Minecraft’s trees, so the light actually passes through in the same way it would with real foliage. Real, square, voxel-based, foliage. It’s the sort of shader you can pop on, then sit back and relax as you watch the sun cast mesmerising shadows over the mountains. Also: Cybox sounds a little like a Mortal Kombat character, which is pleasing. (At least it’s not another Street Fighter analogy.)
9. Chocapic13’s Shaders
Another classic in the shader holy trinity alongside SEUS and Sildur, Chocapic’s Shaders provides the golden ratio of performance to aesthetics. Which is another way of saying it looks good and runs well. Like many of the other shaders on this list, it also comes in a selection of resource-based varieties: lite for older machines, right up to extreme if you’ve got the GPU for it. And you probably have: you’ll get a smooth 60fps on the highest setting, even with an ageing rig.
10. KUDA Shaders
KUDA Shaders are a nice middle ground for anyone who wants a bold visual upgrade to Minecraft in a nicely optimised package. You can expect better shadows, godrays, fog blur, and more, without any of the overtly flashy elements that put some people off using shader packs. It’s the visual equivalent of going for pizza because everyone wants something different. Not too exotic or challenging; but solid, satisfying, and understandably well-loved.