1. Design & Illustration
  2. Adobe Photoshop

How to Create a Pixel Effect in Photoshop

Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, you'll learn how to pixelate an image in Photoshop. I'll explain everything in so much detail that everyone can create the effect, even those who have just opened Photoshop for the first time.

Don't have time and want to create this effect in seconds? Check out this 8 Bit Pixel Art Photoshop Action over on Envato Elements, where you can find thousands of creative Photoshop Actions.

8 bit pixel art photoshop action8 bit pixel art photoshop action8 bit pixel art photoshop action

What You Will Learn in This Pixel Effect Tutorial

  • How to select the subject in Photoshop
  • How to make pixel art in Photoshop
  • How to create a stroke around the subject
  • How to change a background in Photoshop
  • How to make the final adjustments

What You'll Need

To recreate the design above, you will need the following resources:

1. How to Get Started

First, open the photo that you want to work with. To open your photo, go to File > Open, choose your photo, and click Open. Now, before we get started, just check a couple of things:

  1. Your photo should be in RGB Color mode, 8 Bits/Channel. To check this, go to Image > Mode.
  2. For best results, your photo size should be 2000–4500 px wide/high. To check this, go to Image > Image Size.
  3. Your photo should be the Background layer. If it is not, go to Layer > New > Background from Layer.
checking image mode and sizechecking image mode and sizechecking image mode and size

2. How to Select the Subject in Photoshop

Step 1

In this section, we are going to make a selection of our subject and then copy the subject to a separate layer. Choose the Quick Selection Tool (W) and select the background of the photo. Use the Shift-Alt buttons on your keyboard to add or subtract areas from the selection. After you've made a perfect selection, press Control-Shift-I to invert the selection.

making selectionmaking selectionmaking selection

Step 2

Now go to Select > Modify > Smooth and set the Sample Radius to 2 px. Next, go to Select > Modify > Contract and set Contract By to 1 px. Finally, go to Select > Modify > Feather and set the Feather Radius to 1 px.

modifying selectionmodifying selectionmodifying selection

Step 3

Press Control-J to create a new layer using the selection. Name this new layer Subject.

creating new layer using selectioncreating new layer using selectioncreating new layer using selection

3. How to Make a Photo Look Pixelated

Step 1

In this section, we are going to transform our Photoshop image to pixel art.

Press Control-J on your keyboard to duplicate the current layer, and name this new layer Temp. Then, hide the Subject and Background layers, go to Select > Color Range, and set the Select to Highlights. After that, press Control-J to create a new layer using the selection, and name this new layer Highlights.

making selection using color rangemaking selection using color rangemaking selection using color range

Step 2

Now hide the Highlights layer and select the Temp layer. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and enter the settings below:

adjusting levelsadjusting levelsadjusting levels

Step 3

Go to Select > Color Range, and set Select to Shadows. After that, press Control-J to create a new layer using the selection, and name this new layer Shadows.

making selection using color rangemaking selection using color rangemaking selection using color range

Step 4

Now hide the Shadows layer and select the Temp layer. Then, go to Filter > Sketch > Photocopy and set the Detail to 10 and Darkness to 5.

adding photocopy filteradding photocopy filteradding photocopy filter

Step 5

Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and enter the settings below. Then, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask, and set the Amount to 500%, Radius to 25 px, and Threshold to 0 levels.adding unsharp mask filteradding unsharp mask filteradding unsharp mask filter

Step 6

Now change the Blending Mode of this layer to Multiply and name it Outlines. Then, show all the layers in the layers panel, select the Highlights layer and change the Blending Mode of this layer to Screen and set the Opacity to 50%. After that, select the Shadows layer, change the Blending Mode of this layer to Multiply, and set the Opacity to 50%.

changing blending mode and opacitychanging blending mode and opacitychanging blending mode and opacity

Step 7

Select the Subject layer, go to Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic, and set the Cell Size to 20 square. Then, do the same for the Outlines, Shadows, and Highlights layers.

adding mosaic filteradding mosaic filteradding mosaic filter

4. How to Create a Stroke Around the Subject

Step 1

In this section, we are going to create a stroke around the subject. Go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Stroke.

creating new layercreating new layercreating new layer

Step 2

Now Control-click on the Subject layer to make a selection of this layer. Then, go to Edit > Stroke, and enter the settings below. After that, press Control-D to deselect the selection.

adding strokeadding strokeadding stroke

5. How to Change the Background in Photoshop

Step 1

In this section, we are going to change the background. Select the Background layer, go to File > Place Embedded, select the second stock photo, and click Place. Then, set the Width and Height to 85.95%, and position the photo as shown below. Name this layer Background Photo.

placing stock photoplacing stock photoplacing stock photo

Step 2

Now go to Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic and set the Cell Size to 40 square.

adding mosaic filteradding mosaic filteradding mosaic filter

6. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

In this section, we are going to make the final adjustments to the pixel effect. Select the Stroke layer, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance to create a new vibrance adjustment layer, and name it Overall Vibrance/Saturation.

creating new vibrance adjustment layercreating new vibrance adjustment layercreating new vibrance adjustment layer

Step 2

Now Double-click on this layer thumbnail and, in the Properties panel, set the Vibrance to +50 and the Saturation to +25.

adjusting vibrance and saturationadjusting vibrance and saturationadjusting vibrance and saturation

Step 3

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels to create a new levels adjustment layer, and name it Overall Brightness.

creating new levels adjustment layercreating new levels adjustment layercreating new levels adjustment layer

Step 4

Now Double-click on this layer thumbnail and, in the Properties panel, enter the settings below:

adjusting levelsadjusting levelsadjusting levels

You Made It!

Congratulations, you have succeeded! You've learned how to turn a picture into pixel art in Photoshop. Here is our final result:

final resultfinal resultfinal result

5 Best Photoshop Image to Pixel Art Actions

Want to see some of the best Photoshop pixelate filter actions? Check out this list of pixel effect Photoshop actions from Envato Elements.

8 Bit Pixel Art Photoshop Action (ATN)

8 bit pixel art photoshop action8 bit pixel art photoshop action8 bit pixel art photoshop action

Convert a photo to an 8-bit pixel art Photoshop effect in no time! Open your photo, brush over your subject, and just play the action! The action will do all the work for you, leaving you fully layered and customizable results that you can further modify. You can choose from the three pixel sizes included (small, medium, and large), and you can change the background with a single click using the actions included.

Pixelated Photoshop Action (ATN)

pixelated photoshop actionpixelated photoshop actionpixelated photoshop action

If you are a fan of dispersion effects, you've got to love this pixel effect Photoshop action. You simply brush over your photo where you want to pixelate it, and play the action! The action comes with a video tutorial demonstrating how to set up your file before using the action, and it also covers customization techniques in detail.

Pixelum: Digital Pixelation Photoshop Action (PSD)

pixelum digital pixelation photoshop actionpixelum digital pixelation photoshop actionpixelum digital pixelation photoshop action

Here's another interesting pixel image Photoshop action. There are four actions included with different directions (up, left, right, and down). All you have to do is to brush the area that you want, choose the direction, and click play. It's a one-click Photoshop action.

Pixel Poster Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)

pixels poster photoshop actionpixels poster photoshop actionpixels poster photoshop action

With this Photoshop pixelate filter, you can create a professional pixel effect with not only pixels, but also geometric and abstract style elements. The result includes fully editable layers, colors, and elements.

Pixel Artist: Photoshop Action (ATN, TXT)

pixel artist photoshop actionpixel artist photoshop actionpixel artist photoshop action

Using this pixel image Photoshop action you can turn your images into their pixeled version in just a few clicks! The way that the action works is you just open the your image, and click play. The action will create 25 different pixeled versions that you can choose from. Once you choose the version that you like the most, you can customize the result to achieve 8-bit retro effects!

Did you like how to make pixel art in Photoshop tutorial? Then you may also like:

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