Pixelart Pixelate Photos Tutorial: Beginner’S Guide To Pixelating Photos

Pixel art refers to digital art created through the use of software, where images are edited on the pixel level. Pixels, the smallest controllable elements of an image displayed on a screen, are arranged to create recognizable shapes, characters, and scenes.

The history of pixel art dates back to the 1970s and 1980s when computer graphics became more accessible. Early pixel art was found in video games from Atari, Nintendo and other gaming companies, who used simple pixelated graphics to depict game characters and environments given the technological limitations of the time (Source).

Today, pixel art continues to be popular among indie game developers, artists, and fans of retro video games. The constrained nature of pixel art can stimulate creativity and focus. Creating detailed artwork pixel by pixel requires patience and dedication.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll cover the basics of pixelating photos using a few common tools. You’ll learn why you may want to pixelate a photo, how to choose an appropriate image, use online converters and software like Photoshop and GIMP to pixelate photos, and techniques to take your pixelated art further. Let’s get started!

Why Pixelate Photos?

Pixelating photos serves several creative purposes. The most common reasons are:

Aesthetic reasons – the pixelated look adds an abstract, retro style. By reducing an image’s resolution, the finer details blur into square blocks of color, creating a computerized, digital appearance. This stylized effect has become popular in art, design, and photography (https://cloudinary.com/guides/image-effects/pixelate-the-ultimate-guide-to-the-pixelation-effect).

Anonymizing photos while maintaining composition. Pixelation can obscure identities in photos by removing distinguishing facial features, while still preserving the overall image. This allows the composition to remain intact while protecting privacy.

Artistic experimentation and creativity. Manipulating photos into pixel art opens up new avenues for artistic expression. The blocky, low-resolution look provides opportunities to play with shapes, patterns, colors, and abstraction in innovative ways.

How Photos are Pixelated

Photos are made up of tiny dots called pixels. Pixels contain the color and brightness information that forms the image. The more pixels in an image, the more detailed it is. Standard digital photos today contain millions of pixels.

Pixelating a photo involves increasing the size of the pixels so that each pixel covers a larger area of the image. This reduces the detail in the photo and creates a blocky, mosaic effect. There are a few different techniques for increasing pixel size:

  • Downsampling – Reducing the resolution of the image so there are fewer pixels overall.
  • Pixel Resize – Enlarging the pixels with interpolation to reduce detail.
  • Pixelate Filter – Applying a mosaic or pixelate effect to group pixels into larger blocks. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixelization)

These methods allow you to control the amount of pixelation from subtle to very pronounced based on the desired artistic effect.

Choosing a Photo to Pixelate

When selecting a photo to pixelate, you’ll get the best results by choosing photos with simple compositions that don’t have too much intricate detail. According to Pixelied, complex landscape photos with a lot of small elements don’t always translate well when pixelated. Simple compositions with clear shapes and forms are better options.

It’s also wise to avoid photos with very fine details, patterns, and textures. When a highly detailed photo gets pixelated, much of the intricacy can get lost or muddied. Opt for photos that have defined, distinguishable shapes that will come across clearly even when pixelated.

In terms of subject matter, both portraits and landscapes can work well when pixelated. With portraits, you’ll want to choose shots with clean, contrasting facial features that will read clearly when pixelated. For landscapes, go for compositions with distinct shapes and lines that will hold their form when reduced to pixels. Just avoid landscapes that are too cluttered.

The main goal is choosing photos with simple, well-defined subjects and compositions that will translate well to a lower resolution pixelated effect. Keeping the details clean and uncomplicated will help maintain the essence of the photo when pixelating.

Online Pixelation Tools

There are several free online tools you can use to pixelate your photos. Here are some top options:


Pixelied is a free online image editor with a built-in pixelate tool. Pros are that it’s easy to use with sliders to adjust pixel size and density. Cons are that you have to create an account to save pixelated images.


Pinetools also offers a free pixelate effect generator with adjustable pixel size. It’s very simple and doesn’t require an account. Downsides are limited options compared to fuller featured editors.


The Fotor online editor has filters to pixelate all or just parts of images. You can selectively pixelate faces or objects. Pros are robust features and ability to download high-res pixelated images. Cons are it requires an account and has ads.

The best choice depends on your needs. For quick and easy full image pixelation, Pinetools is ideal. For advanced control over pixelation, Fotor is recommended. Pixelied strikes a balance in the middle with decent tools but no required account.

Pixelating with Photoshop

One of the most powerful tools for pixelating photos is Adobe Photoshop. With Photoshop you have precise control over the pixelation effect.

To pixelate a photo in Photoshop, follow these steps:

  1. Open the photo you want to pixelate in Photoshop.
  2. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic. This will open the Mosaic filter options.
  3. Adjust the Cell Size slider to control the size of the pixels. The higher the number, the larger each pixel will be.
  4. Click OK to apply the pixelated effect to your photo.
  5. a pixelated portrait with the facial features blurred into squares of color

The Mosaic filter in Photoshop converts your image into squares of uniform color and size. You can create a subtle pixelated look by choosing a smaller cell size, or make it very blocky with a larger size.

After applying the filter, you can go back and tweak the cell size to get the exact effect you want. Lower cell sizes result in more pixelation. Most pixel art uses a cell size between 10-30 pixels.

Using the Mosaic filter in Photoshop gives you precise control when pixelating a photo. You can create a range of different pixelated styles and looks. For a full Photoshop pixel art tutorial, check out this playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAS4DaL1hAUM75FHf4dKg7BNYrSM_MIuR

Pixelating with GIMP

One of the easiest ways to pixelate a photo is by using the free, open-source image editor GIMP. GIMP has a built-in Pixelize filter that allows you to quickly convert images into pixel art.

Here is a step-by-step GIMP tutorial for pixelating photos:

  1. Open the image you want to pixelate in GIMP.
  2. Go to Filters > Blur > Pixelize.
  3. In the Pixelize dialog box, adjust the “Pixel Width and Height” value to control the size of the pixels. The higher the value, the larger each pixel will be.
  4. Click OK to apply the pixelization effect to your photo.

That’s it! The Pixelize filter will divide your image up into blocks of uniform color and size based on the pixel width and height you defined. You can go back and tweak the settings to get your desired pixelated look.

The key things to keep in mind when using the Pixelize filter in GIMP are:

  • Use larger pixel sizes for a more drastic, blocky pixelation effect.
  • Use smaller pixel sizes for a more subtle, mosaic-like effect.
  • Adjust the pixel size based on the resolution of your image to control the level of detail.

With just a couple clicks, you can easily turn any photo or image into retro-style pixel art using GIMP’s user-friendly Pixelize filter.

Going Further with Pixel Art

Once you’ve mastered the basics of pixelating photos, you may want to take your skills to the next level by creating full original pixel artworks from scratch. This allows for more creativity and full control over the final pixelated image.

To convert a photo into a complete pixel art piece, start with your pixelated image and use it as a reference. Then redraw every pixel by hand using a pixel art program like Aseprite or Piskel. Carefully match the placement and colors of the pixels to recreate the reference photo in a pixel art style. Pay close attention to clean contours, banding effects, and color palettes. It takes time and patience, but the result is a full pixel art image made entirely by you.

For original pixel creations, sketch your idea first to plan out the composition. Determine the size canvas you need based on the level of detail desired. Many pixel artists start with small canvases like 32×32 or 64×64 pixels. Use a limited color palette of around 16 colors or less. Then patiently draw each pixel of your artwork, applying principles like contours, highlights, shadows, and visual interest. Study pixel art by master artists to learn techniques. With practice, you can create amazing original pixel art.

Pixel art also lends itself well to animation. Start with a simple subject like a character sprite or object. Design multiple frames of animation by incrementally adjusting arm or leg positions, or having props like swords move. When cycled rapidly, this creates the illusion of motion. Game engines like Unity can then import the pixel art sprites and play the animation. There are many possibilities for moving pixel art and games. For inspiration, study classics like Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery.

For more advanced pixel art techniques, check out this in-depth tutorial.

Sharing and Selling Pixelated Photos

Once you’ve created a pixelated version of a photo, you’ll likely want to share it with others. Social media is a great platform for showing off your pixel art creations. Post your photos on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or TikTok. Use relevant hashtags like #pixelart, #pixelatedphoto and #8bit to help others find your work.

In addition to sharing online, you can print your pixelated photos to hang on your wall or even put them on merchandise. Many online print shops like Redbubble allow you to upload designs and create pixel art prints, t-shirts, mugs and more. Just keep in mind that most sites have rules against copyright infringement, so make sure you have the rights to the original photo before selling any merchandise with it.

Speaking of copyright, it’s important to understand intellectual property laws if you want to sell or distribute your pixelated creations. While manipulating a photo by pixelating it does create a derivative work, you still need permission from the original photographer to profit from their content. The safest option is to only pixelate photos you’ve taken yourself. There are also many copyright-free image banks online that allow commercial use.

Overall, sharing pixel art on social media is a great way to showcase your skills and get feedback from a community of fellow artists. Just be mindful of copyrights and give credit when using others’ photos as inspiration for your work.

Final Thoughts

In this guide, we covered the basics of pixel art and pixelating photos. To recap, we discussed:

  • The appeal and history of pixel art
  • Choosing suitable photos to pixelate
  • Using online tools like Photopea for easy pixelation
  • More advanced pixelation with Photoshop and GIMP
  • Sharing and even selling your pixelated creations

For those looking to further develop their skills, check out these additional resources:

Don’t be afraid to experiment and find your own pixel art style. Pixelating photos is a fun way to dip your toes into the pixel art world. With practice, you’ll be creating amazing game-ready sprites and artwork in no time. Happy pixelating!