Low Poly Art in Photoshop




About: Hi! I'm a high school student who likes making all kinds of things, using anything from Photoshop to polymer clay.

Low poly style art has been pretty popular around the web recently, and for good reason: it can look pretty damn awesome. Originally it was a technique for 3D modelling, but here we'll learn how to imitate this style from a photo, using Photoshop. I'll be demonstrating with the picture of the bird. No fancy 3D software or skills required, only a lot and a lot of patience (and a very basic familiarity with Photoshop).

I'm using Adobe Photoshop CC, although this should still work with most other versions.

The general idea will be to select a triangle using the polygonal lasso tool and getting Photoshop to find the average colour. And then repeat this ad nauseam. The end result is worth it though. I promise.

Step 1: Find a Photo

In this Instructable, I used this photo of a bird that I found, although you could use nearly anything you want. Photos of animals, particularly birds, work well in this style.

Open it in Photoshop (command/control + O).

Step 2: Enable Grids

To prevent gaps from forming between polygons, we will enable snapping to the grid.

To enable this:

Go to View -> Show -> Grid (command/control + ') and then View -> Snap. Make sure Grid is checked under Snap To.

Then adjust it to our needs:

Go to Photoshop -> Preferences -> Guides, Grid & Slices. Set it to Gridline Every: 10 pixels, and Subdivisions to 2.

Step 3: Create an Action

For each triangle you would have to:

  1. Select a triangle with the polygonal lasso too.
  2. Duplicate that onto a new layer.
  3. Select that layer.
  4. Average the selection colour.

That's ok, until you have to do it hundreds of times for every single triangle.

Thankfully, we can minimise this to two quick steps, by setting up an action that does all this with the press of a button.

First open Window -> Actions.

Then create a new action. Name it something like 'Create polygon'. Set a function key to it, and click record.

However, since each polygon is in a different location, we cannot record the selection itself. So stop the recording (click the square), and make a random selection using the Polygonal Lasso Tool. Make sure you have selected a layer (it will be highlighted) other than the the background layer. You may have to temporarily create a new layer (command/control + Shift + N). Then start the recording again by clicking the circle (it should turn red).

Follow these steps exactly:

  1. Select the background layer.
  2. Duplicate the layer by going to Layer -> Duplicate Layer (command/control + J).
  3. Select the contents of the new layer (command/control + click, on layer thumbnail).
  4. Go to Filter -> Blur -> Average.
  5. Deselect the layer (command/control + D).
  6. Then stop the recording by pressing the square.

Now these steps will be repeated every time you press whatever function key you assigned it to.

You can now delete all layers except the background.

Step 4: Triangles... Endless Triangles...

This is the time consuming part.

This is the part where we create each individual triangle. All six hundred or so. *cries*

Some general things to remember:

  • Stick to triangles; it looks better.
  • Match up each side and corners, unless absolutely necessary.
  • Try and keep each selection to an area of similar colours.
  • The more triangles, the more detailed it becomes. This is not necessary, as a limited number of triangles can achieve a great minimalistic look, and has the added bonus of letting you retain your sanity. Personally, I like to give facial features such as eyes more polygons, so they are clearer, and areas that don't have much going on less polygons. After all, the point of low poly is that some details can be left out!

Of course, this is a creative exercise, and if you think something looks better, feel free to ignore the above.

Zoom ininto a small area. I like to start at the edges and work in, but you can do whatever feels easiest. Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (make sure Anti-Aliasing is turned off), make a selection. Then, press the function key you assigned the action to in the last step. Done! One whole triangle. Now do this for the rest of the picture. Have fun.

It's also a good idea to group layers (command/control + G)as you go as it is less overwhelming. Group sections: for example, make a group for the head, body etc.

Step 5: Clean Up

Zoom outof the picture, turn off the grid (command/control + ') and hide the original picture (click the eye next to the layer).

Now we look for mistakes. In particular, empty spaces where you forgot to fill in, or edges where the triangles don't meet up properly. Also fix up areas where you don't feel like the triangles go the right way.

To easily find the layer something is on, use the move tool, check Auto-Select, and simply click on the triangle. This should select the appropriate layer. This does however require you to ungroup the layers (command/control + Shift + G).

Step 6: Finishing Up

There! You've done it. :D

Now you can choose to either remove the original image (delete/hide layers) and isolate the low poly, or place it on top of whatever background you want (delete original photo, replace with background on layer at the bottom). Leaving it over the original image and using that as a background is also a nice effect.

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29 Discussions

Mveenema_The Redstoner

Reply 1 year ago

Me Neither, and tried everything to get it. But it wont help??


1 year ago

Try this for your action... (after you have created a triangle with the Polygon Lasso Tool)
Select the Background Layer.
Duplicate the layer by going to Layer>Duplicate Layer.
Go to Filter>Blur>Average.
Go to Select>Inverse.
Press the Delete Key.
Deselect the layer’s selected area(Command Key + D).


2 years ago

That's wonderfull


3 years ago

Great tutorial! One suggestion, add deselect and click back to background layer to the action. Also, make note that for mac users, they must use the "fn" button to make the action work with the designated function key.


3 years ago

Hey, Im doing step 4 and when i create the triangle, then press the action key, i can see it made a new layer but the triangle dissapears even though its layer is there, then it ony show up in a dotted white border when i cntrl+d the layer. Any thing im doing wrong? thanks


3 years ago

Step 3 will literally not work for me. I have been debugging for an hour now, and it won't work. It either ends up copying the entire background with the polygon, as the new layer, or the same thing but instead the polygon is white. I hit my command key I chose, and it doesn't do what you show - create a layer with just the polygon, not the background. Idk what to do anymore. I am familiar with photoshop, im not some computer noob, so I know how to follow your directions.

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

Make sure to only select the poly (triangle) instead of the whole layer,

I had the same problem


3 years ago

Persistence pays off I guess, cause I think I got it working.


3 years ago on Step 3

This is great but also a little confusing I didn't understand the last part in step 3, i did what it said and it just made a white triangle on the picture? Is that right?

2 replies

If you selected an area that was all white, it should make a white triangle. The point of this step is to create something that lets you average out the colour of the selected area. Photoshop lets you record you doing it once, and then all those steps can be repeated again and again but with the press of a key.

Try making a selection on the Background layer, making sure there is some variation in colour in that area, and pressing the key you assigned to the action. If it creates a triangle that looks like its the average colour of this section, it should be right.

Sorry for being unclear, if you need any more clarification just ask! :D


3 years ago on Introduction

I love the look of this, but the process seems extremely tedious, therefore my suggestion is this:

1. Open the photo in Illustrator.
2. Use pen tool to draw triangles - this way you can easily arrange new triangles to the existing ones since the anchor points snap to each other.
3. Color in Illustrator.
4. Export as you wish to Photoshop and apply any other filters you might want.

Done, no bleeding eyes while looking at the pixels/fine grid, no extra trickery with actions and such. :)

And you of course know there's Filter->Crystallize, but that's for the lazy ones. :D

3 replies

Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

That would probably be a lot easier, but I don't have Illustrator, so I have to put up with Photoshop and the accompanying bleeding eyes D:

Also, I don't think Illustrator allows you to easily find the average colour, which is something that I find really helpful, since I can be pretty terrible with colours.

Thanks for the feedback though!


Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

I believe you could use the color picker and pock something from the image, but that may as well not be the case in Illustrator.

The pen tool is also available in Photoshop, I haven't checked, but could you maybe make the anchors snap there too? That way it would make it much easier. Maybe one more action to use for converting path to selection/shape and it's perfect. :)


Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

Hmmm, I tried but I couldn't get the points to snap to the anchors. I googled it and unfortunately this doesn't seem possible! D: Its also starting to sound just as, or even more, complicated than my original method though... :D

Thanks for the idea though!


3 years ago on Introduction

These look great!

I'm a huge fan of low poly and animals, so this is a winner in my book.


3 years ago

The frog is awesome! Thanks for sharing! (And good tio Raitis)


3 years ago

Really cool effect. Have been wanting to do something like this for a while. Will try it out!