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How to Create a Mosaic Portrait from a Photograph

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This is a fun way to turn a photograph into an interesting vector portrait. Get sophisticated results with just a few easy steps, then modify it using a wide range of Illustrator's live effects. Let's get started!

Final Image Preview

Below is the final image we will be working towards. Want access to the full Vector Source files and downloadable copies of every tutorial, including this one? Join Vector Plus for just 9$ a month.

Step 1

Create a new document 400 pixels square. It can be RGB or CMYK.

Place a photo into the document. For this illustration, I'm using a tightly-cropped square portrait. Uncheck the Link button, in the Place dialog, so the photo will be embedded. If you forget this step, simply go to the Links panel and embed the image.

Step 2

Make sure the photo is 400 pixels by 400 pixels. If necessary, you can resize it in the Control Panel. The beauty of this technique is that you can start with a less-than-perfect photo and get a nice result.

Step 3

With the image selected, go to Object > Create Object Mosaic.

Step 4

Enter one tenth the size of the full image in the Number Of Tiles section. Since the image is 400 pixels by 400 pixels, the number of tiles will be 40 and 40. Check Delete Raster in the Options section.

Step 5

The resulting mosaic will look like the image below.

Step 6

Ungroup the mosaic. You should be able to select individual squares. Now go to Effect > Convert to Shape and choose Ellipse...

Step 7

In the Shape Options dialog, enter 10 pixels for the Width and Height (400 pixels by 400 pixels, divided by 40 rows and columns). That's it, you're done!

Step 8

For a finishing touch, I like to place a black square behind the mosaic. Choose the Rectangle Tool (M), and click once on the artboard. Enter 400 pixels by 400 pixels for the size, fill it with black, and send it behind the mosaic. The final image is below, but for some variations carry on with this tutorial.


1. Effects

You can apply additional effects to the circles, such as Roughen, Tweak and Scribble. You can even apply a 3D effect (but be prepared to wait a while for it to render)!

Apply different effects and use the Appearance panel to turn them on and off and experiment with different combinations.

2. Offset Path

For additional texture, first expand the ellipses by going to Object > Expand Appearance. Next, with the objects still selected, go to Object > Offset Path. Enter a negative value (I used -2 pixels).

With the smaller circles still selected, change the blending mode to Overlay. Try applying a Roughen effect to the offset circles, which will look like daubs of paint on top of the original circles. Again, experiment and have fun!


Have fun applying these techniques with your own images!

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