How to turn a Picture into Pixel Art using Photoshop

In this Photoshop tutorial you will learn how to turn your own photos and images into pixel art on Windows and macOS so that you can use them in your games and projects!

For an intro to making pixel art in Photoshop check out Pixel Art Tutorial for Beginners using Photoshop.

Are you ready to turn a picture into a pixel art image? When making pixel art, sometimes it's faster and easier to convert an existing image into a pixel art sprite instead of starting from scratch. Fortunately, Photoshop has some amazing tools that can convert a traditional photo or vector graphic into a sprite made of pixels, that you can then edit or export from inside of Adobe Photoshop.

How to turn a Picture into Pixel Art

These are the basic steps on how to turn a photo into a pixel art image:
  1. Install Adobe Photoshop for macOS or Windows
  2. Open your image file inside of Photoshop
  3. Increase the contrast of the colors in your picture
  4. Reduce the colors in your image using Indexed Color
  5. Pixelate your image by resizing it using the Image Size command
  6. Export your image using Nearest Neighbor Resampling

Now that you have a basic understanding of the process of how to convert a photo into pixel art we will dive into the specific steps.

Getting Started

Before we begin there are a few things to understand about the making pixel art from an image. First, Photoshop works with image files. This includes .JPG and .PNG images. With the latest update they have also added some more advanced image formats, but we found the using the traditional image file formats works best. Also you will need a copy of Adobe Photoshop. Lets get started!
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Open your Picture in Photoshop

In this tutorial we will be changing our photo of a real skatepark into a pixel art image using Adobe Photoshop. To begin make sure you have the latest version of Photoshop installed. Launch the application on your computer. When the Welcome screen loads go ahead and click on the Open button on the left side of the window.

Depending on your operating system you will either see a Finder window for macOS or and Explorer window for Windows. Navigate to where you have your photo located in your file system. When ready, click the Open button.

After a few seconds your photo should open up inside of Photoshop. Here is what our image looks like inside of the main editor window.

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Add Contrast to the Picture

Pixel art by nature is very sharp and crisp. On the other hand, realistic photos and vector images like the nature background we have are very high resolution and usually have large amount of blurred colors and anti-aliasing. To fix this we will increase the Contrast of our photo so that we can make as many elements in our picture as sharp as possible. To do this navigate to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.

Once you click that a small window called Brightness/Contrast will appear that allows you to adjust the Contrast of your image. For ours we settled on using 25. Feel free to adjust this as much as you like. When you're done click OK.

Our image now has some sharper edges and the anti-aliasing should have gone down quite a bit. Repeat this step until you are happy with the result. We settled on the image below.

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Reduce the Colors in the Picture

An important rule of pixel art is that the number of colors used is limited. This was a result of machines with limited resources back in the day. Because of this pixel art has a distinct style with a usually small color palette. Again, photos tend to have millions of colors, so we will have to reduce that amount. To do this navigate to Image > Mode > Indexed Color

After you press that another small window will appear called Indexed Color. The most important option here is the Colors value. This tells Photoshop how the max amount of colors you want in your image. After you set the color amount you want be sure to follow the rest of the settings in the red. Click OK when you are finished.

Now this is starting to look really cool. If you look at the image closely you'll start to see some of that bunching of pixels that you see inside of pixel art images. This is because our image is now using only 15 colors.

Pixelate the Image by Resizing it

Our image is taking shape, but to really emphasize that this is actually pixel art we will have to make the pixels stand out more. This can be achieved by scaling down and image and then scaling it up again. 

To start, let's begin by resizing our image to a smaller size so that we reduce the amount of pixels in our image. To do this navigate to Image > Image Size.

When you click this another small pop-up window will appear called Image Size. This highlighted space is where you want to focus your attention. We will reduce the height of our image to 132 pixels tall. Keep in mind this is where you need to test this. It can be larger or smaller depending on what you think looks best. We chose this because we think it is a good starting point. This will make the pixels appear much larger. Next we will resample our image using Nearest Neighbor (hard edges). This prevents anti-aliasing and keeps are pixels sharp and clean. When finished press OK.

When you click OK you'll notice that are image is now 132 pixels tall and 217 pixels wide. Also it should appear noticeably smaller inside Photoshop.

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If you zoom in, you can tell it is starting to look like pixel art. However there is one small problem. The image is so small that if you shared it with someone they would have to zoom in to see it. To fix this let's scale it back up again.

To scale up our image go back into the Image Size menu located inside of Image. Enter 400% for the width and height. Make sure Nearest Neighbor is set inside of the Resample option.

Nice! Now our image is back to its original size except not it is completely pixelated like a pixel art image.

Wrap Up

Congratulations! You have now learned to how to turn a picture into pixel art using Photoshop. If you have any questions feel free to let us know. Also if you found this tutorial helpful please consider sharing it. Thank you!


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