How to Make a Push Pin Portrait




About: There's really not much to say.

We are going to make photorealistic push pin portraits.

We will be guided in our pin placement by a low resolution indexed color gif image we will create in Photoshop. The .gif will use a limited palette restricted only to those colors in which the plastic push pins come.

This tutorial assumes you have some access to and basic understanding of Adobe Photoshop.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Select a Photograph

Using Photoshop, adjust your image so that it contains a nice range of colors and values, with no large areas of pure black or white or any other color. This will give you a dappled variety of push pin colors across the finished artwork, rather than large, boring expanses of a single hue.

I'm using a photo I took of a woman who sells her hats and headdresses on the internet.

Step 2: Decide the Final Dimensions of Your Work in Inches

I'd like my final artwork to by 45" wide by 60" tall. My push pins are 0.5" in diameter, so I'll need to shrink my photo to 90 pixels x 120 pixels where each pixel will ultimately represent a push pin. That means I'll have 90 x 120 = 10,800 pins total.

Step 3: Convert the Photo to a .gif of Limited Colors

First determine the colors you intend to use. I have chosen black, white, red, yellow, and blue, for a total of 5 colors. I have omitted green from my artwork, even though push pins often come in green Notice my photo contains regions that appear green. Those regions will appear green in the finished artwork as well, even without the use of green pins, thanks to the color mixing that occurs in a dithered .gif

I've prepared a video that demonstrates in detail the process of producing a push pin palette .gif image.

Step 4: Count Pixels of Each Color So You Can Buy Pins Accordingly

Your histogram can count the number of pixels selected.

Using your magic wand tool set to non-contiguous regions, tolerance = 0, visit your tiny 90 x 120 .gif and select each color in turn.

Record the count reported by the histogram for each color, That's ho wmany push pins of that color you'll need.

Step 5: Enlarge Your Guide Enough to See It. Maybe Even Go 1:1

To make your tiny .gif image into a guide large enough to see, enlarge it in Photoshop by a power of two. In other words, double its size, quadruple it, increase it by 8 or 16 times. If you choose another enlargement number you may get squares of uneven size after the blowup. Here's the process:

1. Convert your indexed color .gif back into a simple rgb image
2. Set image size to 1600% (my usual choice) and use the Nearest Neighbor (preserve hard edges) option in lieu of the usual Bicubic choice. In our 90 x 120 example a 1600% blowup will produce an image that is 1440 x 1920.

You can stop there, but if you want a giant 1:1 guide (and you have access to a large format printer or know how to use a program like Rasterbator to print the artwork in smaller pieces, then...

3. Leave your artwork at its original enlarged resolution (in our case we are now at 1440 x 1920 after a 1600% blowup of our tiny 90 x 120 .gif) but set your width to 45" (as we had originally decided back in step 2), set your height to 60", and set your resolution to 32 pixels/inch, which is 1440 / 45, or 1920 / 60 (both equal 32 pixels/inch)

Step 6:

Begin placing pins according to your enlarged .gif guide.

Step 7:


Make It Real Challenge

Participated in the
Make It Real Challenge

3 People Made This Project!


  • Book Character Costume Challenge

    Book Character Costume Challenge
  • Made with Math Contest

    Made with Math Contest
  • Multi-Discipline Contest

    Multi-Discipline Contest

52 Discussions


Reply 6 months ago

can you help me out with how to do step 5, i'm lost


6 months ago

Can you please make a video of how to do step 5. I am having trouble on that step and it would help a lot

Baila Bixi

Question 11 months ago on Step 2

what size should i set my pixels to be if my bulltien board is 45 inches tall and 79 inches wide?


3 years ago

hi, iam trying to do push pins work but the problem is that i need to use a lot of different colors for my work. Can you guide how to start and how to do it please?

this is kind of the picture that iam using


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

I haven't thought about it too carefully, but my initial reaction is you could shift every other line 0.5 pushpins to one side, do the process, and shift the resulting large pixels back into their original position. That should create a brick pattern. I talk a bit about that here:

You might also look at making a hexagonal mosaic before using the indexed color to limit the palette. I talk a bit about hexagonal mosaics here:


5 years ago on Introduction

Hello DigitalArtForm,

I followed through your whole tutorial but I'm having problems with step 5.

See, I'm trying to have an A1 sized pushpin art.

After blowing up the image size by 1600% ( am I supposed to change the pixel dimensions or the document size? ) , what do I do next?

I can't seem to follow your 1:1 guide after that cause when I change the document size to my desired height and width, the pixel dimensions will automatically start to change the value too.

I would like to ask how can I make sure that my image is my required size and that the pushpin pixels are the right size to the pushpins when printed out.

Please help me out by making clear if I am supposed to firstly, change the image size or the canvas size, and in the image size option, am i supposed to change the pixel dimensions or the document size.

For your information, my pushpin diameter is 0.31 inches.


6 years ago on Introduction

Hello digitalArtform,

Im working on trying to make my own pushpin portrait of freddie mercury, but am struggling with the fact that I don't want the final result to be as big as yours. Im from Europe so we use CM for sizes here. I want to have a final result of 60 CM x 90 CM, but don't know if the visual aspect of the final result will be as good as yours, as its a smaller size. Is there a minimum size to at least get to still make it look good?
Also I am struggling to understand step 5 of your tutorial. Is it necessary to convert the image back to a RGB image? I just made the width and length of the document size the same amount as my pinboard will be. Or is this not a good manner of working?

Please help me out because I really can't wait to get started.

Thanks in advance,

Greets from Syben from The Netherlands.

P.S. Where did you buy your pushpins and how much did you pay for them all if I may know?

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

60 cm x 90 cm is about 2 feet x 3 feet. Pushpins over here are about 0.5 inches, so you'd end up with 48 pins across x 72 pins high, more or less. That might be enogh detail if you tune the vlaues and hues of your input image to optimize your result. (in other words: make it look good)

You can preview the result by blowing it up in photoshop. Nearest neighbor setting. You will need to go back to RGB mode. Good catch.

This is mainly a tutorial on how to make a color guide. I never actually made a finished pushpin portrait. I illustrated it with CG. If you scroll through the comments you'll find where I posted the wireframe.


6 years ago on Step 3

where is good, cheap place to bulk push pins?


6 years ago on Introduction

Hi digital,
Thank you so much for your instructions. I am attaching a photo of the final work. It's a picture of my daughter.


6 years ago on Step 2

Hello, can you please talk me through this step. I am having trouble figuring out how to shrink my photo. Where do I go in photoshop to do this?

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Step 2

In the top bar you'll find an entry called "Image." Under that, select "Image Size..." and in the option box that appears enter your desired height and width in pixels.


6 years ago on Introduction

wow, this is amazing!! Do you happen to know how to arrange the pins in a staggered fashion instead of in a row. Looks like the resolution would improve if you do that.

Here is a link of artist Eric Daigh doing that.