I want to take some stock art (can be of any dimension) and make it look pixelated, kind of like old Mario Brothers video games circa the 80's. Part of the image manipulation would require scaling down.

Mario Brothers video games

This is what I'm starting with.

enter image description here

Is there a filter or some Photoshop steps that I can use to make this effect?

I tried essentially using the "Pixelate" filter but that creates transitions pixels between color edges. I also just tried to reduce the size of the image to 40 x 35 pixels and this is what I see.

enter image description here

How do I get the crisp, full color pixels like the Mario Brothers icons.

  • 12
    I think part of the problem, is that video games knew beforehand the constraints of the medium. All those icons above were designed on a pixel grid of 100 x 100 or whatever it is. If you want your basket as an 8bit icon you should probably design it from scratch with illustrator on a 100x100 pixel grid.
    – maxwell
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 20:53
  • Or there might be a feature, which someone will answer below, where you take all pixels in a range of color, and force it to become the bright version of that color.
    – maxwell
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 20:54
  • I feel like I've seen this asked here before, but I can't find it. I'll keep searching.
    – Manly
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 21:20
  • 1
    @JohnManly This one: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/9391/…
    – Vincent
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 10:42
  • I would recommend restarting, but being sure to try and keep the entire image on an 8 by 8 or 16 by 16 pixel grid, scaling it up later
    – user71470
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 15:01

4 Answers 4


Here is a somewhat easy method to convert full size images to pixel graphics.

Starting image

Full Sized Image

To begin, go to Image -> Image Size. Change the Resample method to Nearest Neighbor, this will keep the hard edges. You can zoom into the preview on the left to get a good idea of what your end result will look like. You can see I'm at 500% in this example. Next set the width / height to your preferred size and hit OK.


This next step is optional

Go back to image size and increase the size of your image to your required specs. Make sure to keep Nearest Neighbor on. Press OK when done.


Here is what your final result will look like (Depending on how much you downsized the original.)


  • 2
    ProTip: There exist some specialized pixel graphics scaling (altough wikipedia mostly talks of upscaling also better downscale tools exist) tools that do a better job than nearest neighbor.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 22:23
  • 4
    Another useful approach if one is e.g. scaling by a factor of four is to first tile the image four times in each direction with a spacing that is one larger than a multiple of four. That will result in 16 slightly-different scaled-down images. In many cases, features of the original graphic may be rendered much better in some scaled-down versions than others, so being able to grab features from 16 different versions may minimize the amount of additional hand tweaking that will be required.
    – supercat
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 18:43
  • 1
    You can also reduce the color palette - another limitation of early game systems - by changing it to indexed color and reducing the number of available colors to 16, 8, or 4.
    – Rob Craig
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 17:33

When you are working with so few pixels you have to make every pixel count. I doubt an automated scaler will achieve that with satisfactory quality.

My advice would be to downscale to the size required as normal (or possibly using a nearest-neighbour option), then zoom in, turn on the grid and go over your image pixel by pixel cleaning it up. To enhance the retro look you should also work with a limited palette of strong colors.

  • 2
    This is a better way to do it. Create graphics from the start with pixel art and the limited medium and dimensions in mind.
    – Sam Weaver
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 1:39
  • 2
    Restricting the color palette is a great point. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 23:07

Before starting, look at the original graphics you're trying to emulate. You'll see the areas of colour are flat and bright because the shapes themselves - believe it or not! - are straight edged areas. The only time you get the pixellating effect is when the lines are slightly off-straight, sloping.

So you need a program that emulates this from the start - I've just done this so I know it works - you use Paint. That's right, the forgotten freebie that comes with Windows. It's in Accessories on XP, dunno where it is in other versions but it's prob. there somewhere. Even if it means doing a screen copy then cutting the basket out afterwards (if you need to do that, put a copy of the screen on the window, cut out the basket, open a new instance, paste basket in new instance.)

Then look at the picture. You'll see where the basket is SLIGHTLY pixellated. That's where you want to accentuate the effect. You do that by zooming in big (CTRL-Page Down or use View/Zoom from the menu)and using the eraser tool on smallest square mode (there's a list of squares on the left-hand side of the screen) to just take out an extra pixel here and there where the lines are vaguely pixellated already. You won't need to take out any pixels where the lines are vertical or horizontal because, if you look, you'll see there aren't any pixels missing from straight lines in the originals. You will need to nick one pixel from each corner of the square front of the basket. That's method 1.

Method 2 starts off the same (using Paint, pasting in picture) but then just saving the picture in a really bad format. The plobrem with Method 2 is EVERYTHING will look blurry and pixellated. Don't forget, why Mario works is because the uprights and colours are flat and good, it's just non-straight lines and corners. If I was doing it, I'd go with Method One. Because I just DID and it worked! I'm even happy to send you my version if anyone can tell me a way of doing it.


  • Welcome to GD.SE. While this answers the question title, it doesn't address the fact that OP wants to find an automatic method, not a manual one.
    – Luciano
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 9:30

I would use imagemagick, a free, open source command-line tool available for MacOS, Windows and of course Linux. Just download, install and use the command line in a terminal.

convert -scale 10% -scale 1000% parrot.jpg parrot-pixel.jpg

parrot original Original parrot image

parrot pixeled Pixelated parrot image

With a little experimentation, you can vary the pixel sizes. Of course, as with all of the other answers, your mileage will vary with the art and it is a good idea to go back and fix them up by hand.

FYI, without the time to download and install imagemagick, I was able to execute the pixelation in less than 5 seconds.

A simple bash script could then run through a whole folder and do this as a batch without the whole nightmare of pointy clicks.

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