8 Minute Read

Design 101: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Create Breathtaking Low Poly Art

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If you’re a graphic designer, or even if you’re not, you’ve likely seen this type of artwork around. It’s called low poly art. Low poly art refers to minimalist geometric compositions, consisting of polygons (closed, straight edged shapes). In other words, they’re basically digital polygonal mosaics. If you’re wondering why you might be interested in making one of these if you’re not an artist, then you’re missing out on strengthening your skill set. Keep reading if you want to improve your design skills and hone in on mastering the pen tool, selection tools and gaining a better understanding of how color and shapes work together to create forms that appear to exist in an environment with light and shadow.


How do you create awesome low poly art with Illustrator? Find out! #GraphicDesign Click To Tweet


Take a Portrait Shot of Yourself… Yes, a Selfie is Okay

A good place to start with low poly art is to recreate a portrait. This will give you an understanding of how these polygons and colors work together to create beautiful pieces of art. If you don’t have a nice camera, it’s fine to take a selfie. Try to get a good shot from at least the shoulders up. Next, take the photo into Photoshop and touch it up — bringing out good vibrancies and contrasts to make it as natural, bright and colorful as possible so you can get a good finished product. When you’re finished, crop your photo to your likings, though I prefer more of a poster-style layout (see my photo above, post-editing).

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Pen Tool for Days

Though you can do this in Photoshop, I feel that it’s much easier to make your low poly art in Illustrator. Take your photo into Illustrator and fit your artboard to the size of your photo. Lock your photo or put it on a separate layer and lock it so it won’t budge, then grab the Pen Tool. Turn off any colors for the stroke, and choose a bright color like pink, red or cyan for the fill color. This will allow you to easily see your polygons when you create them.

This next part is going to be the most tedious thing you’ll feel like you’ve done in days, weeks or maybe even months… but I promise you, it’s worth it. You’re going to have you draw out triangles over your photo — using few and larger triangles for low-detailed areas, and many little and smaller triangles for high-detailed areas. The reason I’m having you use triangles is that it will take you less time and they will give you a good end result without much complication. As you draw these out, you might not have perfect triangles and might have to throw in some 4-5 sided polygons in here and there to fill in space, and that’s okay, as long as the majority is made up of triangles (see my photo above for reference).

Tip: When deciding where to draw triangles, make sure to draw them in solid colored areas. For example, on my face you can see that the peach-like skin color above my glasses starts out lighter and gradually darkens as it goes right because of the light angle. Try making triangles for lighter and darker color areas.

Finally, as you’re drawing your triangles, make sure ALL of them rest on each other. A good way to do this is to make sure Smart Guides are enabled, and after you draw a triangle; lock it with the shortcut (Command + 2). The reason you’re locking the triangle is that the Pen Tool will want to add anchor points on your previous triangle when you’re trying creating a new one. Since you’ve locked your previous triangle, you’ll be able to “intersect” or rest the triangles on each other without messing up or distorting them. As you’re going through, you can also use the Direct Selection Tool to touch up anchor points to make sure they rest on neighboring triangle paths.

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The Eyedropper Will Make the Magic Happen

Yup, now that you’ve covered up your whole face we’re going to use the Eyedropper Tool to make it come to life. Select all of your triangles and flip your fill color to outlines so you can see the photo underneath to get started. Now that you can see the photo, start filling in your triangles with the Eyedropper Tool. It might take a few tries for each triangle to find the color you want, but try to pick the most dominant colors within the space of each triangle and make sure the color looks natural/believable. For example, there might be some kind of gray that I could grab from the Eyedropper Tool on my face where there’s shadow, but instead, I tried again and grabbed a darker shade of my skin color. The colors might feel weird or not seem right when you’re going through this process but don’t over think it and keep trying to find the right color for each individual triangle. Trust me… don’t take too much time for each triangle because after you’re done, it will feel like magic as the end result will blow you away. Now, simply remove your background photo and enjoy the paid off work!


Karate Kid


Advancing your skillsets can be done in many different ways. Just like the Karate Kid, you may think that what you’re doing doesn’t seem like it’s teaching you anything but in reality, you’re honing many different skills in this exercise. You’ve just experienced working with Smart Guides and the Pen & Selection Tools, making your design eye more precise by watching closely to make sure each triangle’s path intersects and even gained a better understanding of how colors and shapes can work together to give the illusion of 3D forms with light and shadow. I’d say you’ve just learned a knockout kick that will help you with your future projects. Did you love making low poly art? Check out other low poly art possibilities here!