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Create Cool 8-Bit Style Pixel Art from Ordinary Images

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I have to be honest. I love the look of pixelated graphics! If you’re also a fan of jaggies or old school video game graphics, here is a simple trick to relive a little bit of that low pixel-depth goodness in any version of Photoshop.

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I start with an iconic image, but use any you prefer. Lisa will be recognizable in any pixel depth, so she’s a good candidate.

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Press ctrl L to open levels. You’ll want to ensure you have strong contrast if your image is close in value like this photograph of Lisa. I darken some of my darks but also lighten my midtones and highlights. You can copy my values (14, 1.51, 181) if you like, or skip this step if you feel your image is already up to par.

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Lisa has more highlights and we can see a lot more of the detail in the dark areas. This can help our final result be more recognizable.

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Resizing causes Photoshop to anti-alias your image. We set our Image to “Indexed Color” in Image > Mode > Indexed Color to counteract that. You can use my values here or play with the settings and pick your own. Each will give you a slightly different result. Any Index color setting will give you the correct final product, so feel free to play with the settings.

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Press ctrl alt I to bring up Image Size. From here, we will size it down from the high resolution file to something tiny.

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I size mine down to a width of 75 pixels.  That’s roughly 2% of the original image size.

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As you can see, it’s a pretty huge change!

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From there, change the pull-down tab that reads “Pixels” to “Percent.” I blow up my image to 400% of it’s new size. You’ll get better results if you use multiples, like 200% (2x) or 1000% (10x).

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Voila, we’ve created simple, blocky goodness from an ordinary graphic!

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You can scale this up to any size you want and it will keep this look, as long as you resize in multiples, ie. you don’t blow it up to 133%, but rather 200%, 400%, etc. (You want to preserve the grid you created when you shrunk it in the first place.)

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Here are some other examples of this process.

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I think I need a poster or maybe a T-Shirt of this one!

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They’re simple to create and have a lot of possibilities outside the world of public domain fine artworks. Use your imagination and have fun with it!

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 09/27/10

Comments (21)

  1. Mohammad Akram

    You can also use Filter->Pixelate->Mosaic.

  2. Eric Z Goodnight

    That is true. But I feel this method is more robust. I can make these images billboard sized with no additional effort or loss of quality. This method actually turns them into small, pixelated images. The Pixelate > Mosaic filter creates large blocky areas of pixels. It’s sort of a simulation.

    They both look really great, however.

  3. thenonhacker

    That makes sense, Eric. I’d like to try this instead of Mosaic, because resizing preserved the eyes of Mona Lisa — made me initially think the 8-bit Mona Lisa was made pixel by pixel.

  4. Eric Z Goodnight

    That’s the benefit. And it is a cinch to use the Pencil tool to paint in pixels at smaller sizes. You can really get a great look with it if you’re willing to experiment.

  5. JM

    while you’re at it, also bring back “pong” from ATARI as the only gaming console
    and 2-bit color gaming.

    imho blurring/pixalating is only good for “hiding” details, doing it like this is just imho a waste of resolution ;)

  6. Eric Z Goodnight

    I respectfully disagree, JM. Sure, low pixel depth is an aesthetic like anything else. It has it’s audience, probably retro-gaming obsessed people like me. So I get that you may not care for the look.

    But this technique has been helpful for me more than once professionally. There’s a printing technique called “Indexing” that uses a variant on this method to lay down square dots instead of halftones. It’s a different look than normal halftone blends and can be very useful to have in your Photoshop bag of tricks.

    And I loved my ATARI!

  7. Deschi

    Great work! But I don’t have PhotoShop. Is there a detailed how to for gimp or any other free alternative tool, too?

  8. Eric Z Goodnight

    Deschi, one of my goals here at HTG will be to show ways to do things with freeware graphics programs and not just Photoshop. I’m a big believer in freeware and open source software.

    This technique should work similarly in the GIMP, as GIMP supports color modes other than RGB. Simply put your image in Indexed color and reduce the size. You should get similar results, although GIMP may render it differently than Photoshop, causing the image to look bad. This is speculation. I’ve never tried it in GIMP.

  9. krhainos

    For true 8-bit images (and not 8-bit “style”), you’d choose 256 colors rather then 20. 20 colors is somewhere between 4 and 5-bit color.

    Granted, I realize it’s a style — but perhaps add a portion where users can pick their color depth so they can create authentic 8-bit graphics. I also realize that 8-bit sort of became a defacto title for anything representing that era too :-/…

  10. Eric Z Goodnight

    Well, “8-Bit” as it were, is more of a keyword for the title, something that gets the idea across quickly. You’re right, of course, that these aren’t necessarily 8-bit images and I’m glad you’re pointing it out. But the more limited color gave me the best result over and over. It’s more 8-bit “style” than anything, like you say.

  11. krhainos

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_video_game_console_palettes has a list of palettes used in many consoles. 8-bit really refers to the architecture, not the color depth if you really want to nitpick on semantics. But, what I wanted mention was you can adjust the number of colors used (apparently a total of 56 colors for the original NES) and make images that are authentic-to-the-T.

    Fun regardless :D

  12. Eric Z Goodnight

    That’s a really sweet link. I may incorporate that into another version of this tutorial. I’m betting I can make a CLUT based on these colors and make it available as a downloadable file.

  13. Tim

    Another way to stop the anti-aliasing is when resizing to choose “Nearest neighbor (preserve hard edges)” on the Image Resize window bottom instead of indexing the color.

  14. What is THAT?

    http://www.howtogeek.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/sshot180.png
    Is that some famous painting I’m not aware of?

  15. Eric Z Goodnight

    That’s Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.”

  16. anon

    Groovy man – thank you – nice nice (: – Keep up da groovy nerdy ideas!

  17. Mdesigns

    This can came handy, thanks a lot

  18. Andrea

    This is epic.

    Sadly, I don’t have Photoshop. I have gimp.

    I dunno where to even begin looking to try and figure out how to do something similar in that program (or if its even possible lol)

    BUT thanks for the tutorial! :)

  19. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Andrea: It’s totally possible. GIMP does pretty much everything you need Photoshop for. Just convert to an Indexed color image, then resize, as I’ve shown.

  20. jayme

    I didn’t realise this article was using Photoshop, until I read the comments. I followed these instructions using Gimp without any problem.

    Thanks for this article, I have an interest in images that look like this

  21. Marco

    Thanks for the tutorial. By the way, I did a photograph of myself, starting out with a jpg. I hit posterize (in GIMP) to reduce the color quantity — making it more 8-bit. Just an FYI.

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