Create a Pixelated Background in Photoshop

Recently while browsing a stock photography site, I came across a cool pixelated background image, and thought that it would make an awesome tutorial. I immediately dove in and began to figure out a method for how to crate a pixelated background in Photoshop. The process is actually pretty easy and it can be done with just about any photo to create a different effect each time. Enjoy!

Tutorial Assets

  • A colorful image
  • Photoshop CC

Step 1 – Create a Smart Object

Choosing to turn your photo into a Smart Object ensures that you’re being non-destructive and also gives you the flexibility to change up your settings down the road if you’re not happy with the final results.

  • Select your photo layer
  • Go to Filter > Convert for Smart Filters


Step 2 – Pixelate Your Image

In order to create those chunky pixels we’re going to use the Mosaic filter. My settings are listed below, but you should adjust this to fit your needs.

  • Go to Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic
  • Set your cell size to the desired level. (I used 80 for this image)
  • Click Ok



Step 3 – Add Clarity

Now we’re going to add a little bit of contrast to the image to give it more of a 3-dimensional feel. We’ll use Camera Raw’s Clarity slider to do this.

  • Go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter
  • Take the Clarity Slider to +100
  • Click Ok



Step 4 – Sharpen Your Image

Now we’re going to give our tiles a more chiseled appearance by over-sharpening the image using Unsharp Mask. This will help create more distinct edges in between each tile.

  • Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask
  • Take the amount up to 120%
  • Set the radius to be between 5-10 pixels
  • Click Ok



Step 5 – Adjust the Vibrance (optional)

Your image may look a little washed out at this point. To compensate for that and bring back some of the color, we’ll add a vibrance adjustment using Camera Raw again.

  • Double click “Camera Raw Filter” in the Layers panel
  • In the ACR dialog box adjust the Vibrance slider to taste (I used +100)
  • Click Ok



Step 6 – Add a Vignette

Now it’s time to darken the edges of our image. There are many ways to do this, but we’ll stay with our Smart Filter approach by using the Lens Correction filter.

  • Go to Filter > Lens Correction
  • Click the Custom Tab
  • Take the Vignette Slider to -100
  • Click Ok



Step 7 – Colorize Your Image (optional)

You’re pixelated background is pretty much complete. In fact, if you’re happy with the color as-is, you’re done! If you want to unify the colors as I did in my final image, just add a Hue & Saturation Adjustment Layer.

  • Click the Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers Panel
  • Choose Hue/Saturation
  • Click the Colorize checkbox
  • Adjust the Hue to your desired color (I chose 198)
  • Set your Saturation to your desired level (I chose 52)
  • Collapse the Properties panel




As you can see, this tutorial is relatively simple, but it generates a really cool final image (see below). Hopefully this sparks your creativity and gets you creating your own pixel backgrounds in Photoshop. If you come up with one be sure to send me the link via Facebook or Twitter and I’ll share it with my community. If you have any questions or comments about how to create a pixelated background in Photoshop, please leave me a comment or reach out via my contact form. Thanks for reading!


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2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Create a Pixelated Background in Photoshop”

  1. Neringa says:

    how to make the same or similar pixelated background effect for example in photoshop cs5 without camera raw filter, but using another filter?
    thank you

    • Justin Seeley says:

      If you want to do this in CS5, open the image in Camera Raw first, then open it as a smart object from camera raw. Then you can apply all of the effects just as I did in the video. Camera raw’s settings are still applied non-destructively to the original image and you can access them by double clicking the smart object in the layers panel. Thanks for watching!

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