advanced photoshop

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

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Tips & Tutorials, by The Advanced Photoshop Team

Create a low-poly illustration by combining Photoshop and Illustrator for pixel-perfect results

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

Thanks go out to Mordi Levi for this Photoshop and Illustrator tutorial.

See more of his work at


Step 01: Select the right image

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

The reference image should be a high quality photo. Try to find an image with a strong colour point (like the hair in the photo above). The best kind of image for this technique is a portrait, one which has a very clear view of the eyes. You will need to zoom in so pick a high quality image.

Step 02: Adjust Contrast and Saturation

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

Drop the image into Photoshop. Adjust the Brightness and Contrast levels. You should aim for a high contrast to make the grid-creation step easier. Add more saturation to the image. Make the colours bright and saturated, but not too much. Do not change Contrast, Brightness or Saturation to higher than 30%; it needs to be sharp and bright, but not too much!

Step 03: Reduce quality

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

If the image is really high in quality, reduce it in a way that the maximum height/width will be no more than 1000PX. Later on when you will need to colour the polygons, It will make it easier to sample the colours while zooming in – you will see the actual pixels and their colour, which will make it easier to choose from and more precise.

Step 04: Work in Layers

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

At this stage you can drop the image into Illustrator. Remember to work in layers. Create one layer for the photo, above it create another layer for the background colour and above this, the polygon grid. You can add more layers later on as you wish, but this is mandetory because you will have to turn these layers on and off during the tutorial.

Step 05: Create the coloured background

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

Low-poly illustration is very busy with details so you should create a clean background with a minimal gradient effect. I have found it best to create the gradient from the image’s actual background because it effects the colouration of the skin tone, hair etc. Select two tones from the background and make a gradient. Keep it minimal! If it’s hard for you to notice the gradient, then it’s good.

Step 06: Choose the line

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

Next we will start creating the grid. Choose the Line tool from the Tools palette and change the colour to a bright yellow. This is a good colour to contrast against most other colours on almost any image, so you can see what you are doing. Change the stroke to 0.5pt width.

Step 07: Start with small areas

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

The best way is to start with the eyes. Zoom in as close as you can to the iris, and redraw it with the Line tool. This is just like using the Polygonal Lasso tool in Photoshop. There is no need to be very accurate, just draw the general shape; it will look good in the end. Keep working on the parts of the eye separately and connect them to one another. In the end this will be one big connected grid.

Step 08: Isolate the parts

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

Work one part at a time. Take the nose, and split it into dark and light parts. Work on one eye and then another. Zoom in if you need to, and try to keep the lines connected to each other as much as possible. There should not be any loose ends, the shapes should all be closed.

Step 09: Ignore unconnected lines (for now!)

Master Low-Poly Portraits, Part 1

During the process you will have a lot of lines that don’t connect. Leave them alone! Messing with them will keep you distracted from the main issue, understanding how to take an image and cut it to pieces. Later on we will go back and fix the connections.

To be continued…

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