This post was originally published in 2013
The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.

The traditional methods of creating pixel art one pixel at a time no doubt yields the best results, but it’s an extremely time consuming specialist craft. Today I’m going to show you how to cheat and make use of Illustrator’s Object Mosaic feature to create cool 16-bit style pixel art the easy way, allowing you to quickly produce retro style sprite graphics for your designs and artworks.

Rather than draw our artwork from scratch we’ll use a photograph as the base for our pixel art. Begin in Photoshop and make any necessary contrast and colour adjustments before clipping out the subject with the Pen tool.

The clipping path around your subject can be pretty rough, don’t worry too much about creating perfect lines as most of the detail will be lost when the image is pixelated.

Copy and Paste your clipped image into Adobe Illustrator then head to Object > Create Object Mosaic.

The main option to play with is the Number of Tiles. This number will determine how much detail is retained within your art, the higher the number the more detailed the image. Be sure to click the Use Ratio button to equally adjust the number of tiles between the Width and Height to create perfectly square pixels. Finally select the Delete Raster checkbox to remove the original picture after the conversion.

Right click and select Ungroup multiple times until each individual pixel shape can be selected individually.

Pick one of the white squares from the background of the image and head to Select > Same > Fill Color. Hit delete to remove all the white background pixels to clip out the main subject.

Tidy up any unwanted pixels to neaten up your graphic. Don’t worry about the fine white hairline gaps between the pixels, this is just a rendering fault within Illustrator. You’ll notice they don’t appear when you export your artwork or paste the graphic back into Photoshop.

Pixel Art Ferrari F40

Illustrator’s Object Mosaic feature can be used to easily create cool 16-bit style pixel art with no tedious tracing or painting, making it a great technique to keep in mind for any fun retro video game related projects.

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  1. Wow, Chris. I feel giddy. I just tried this on a picture my wife took of an old 1930s car. The results look just the old video games from my childhood. :)

  2. I enjoyed every little bit part of it and I will be waiting for the new updates. I am very much pleased with the contents you have mentioned.

  3. I had no idea that you could do this in Illustrator….I guess it’s time for me to make a new avatar of myself LOL

    So far, I hadn’t thought of it til I saw Art Bam’s comment. How come you used the Pen Tool in Photoshop instead of Illustrator? Unless it’s just one of those steps that don’t matter too much – you did say that we shouldn’t worry about clipping it out perfectly anyway, for this particular job.

  4. I think this is a great tutorial. There is a much better way to trace your image – by starting in Illustrator. Use the pen tool in Illustrator to trace a white line around your image. This gives you MUCH more control and allows you to define the curves of the path. Just before you anchor your last point with your first one, make sure that you do not join them but instead create a white shape which leaves a gap showing a small snippet of your background. Cover the resulting gap you have with a separate white shape, as you see fit. Now export your image into Photoshop on a transparent background. Finally, use the magic wand tool to delete the white space. This is the best way to do image tracing and it works wonders! :)

  5. I appreciate what you’ve done, but it is so much simpler to use and resize using nearest neighbor using a 320 x 224 resolution (retro graphics) and using posterize (retro 16 bit colors). It’s way faster than the steps here!

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