Most have seen low polygon art before, because this trend has been evident everywhere and for several years. But you don’t really know how to describe it – a bunch of similarly colored triangles or rectangles that come together in a complicated geometric shape that somehow manages to be abstract but still shows a clear figure in some form? What is this magical style and how did it come about?
Very rough, somehow bizarre and yet clear. Low poly.
What is low polygon?
You may not be familiar with the term, but you have probably already seen the style. Simple geometric shapes placed side by side to create angular, often minimalistic compositions. The word polygon comes from ancient Greek and means “polygon”, a two-dimensional shape made up of straight lines and angles.
You don’t have to be an expert in Illustrator or Photoshop to follow this tutorial. All you need is a good eye and a good dose of patience.
How did Low Polygon come about?
The low-poly art dates back to the early days of 3D animation. Mimicking 3D scenes with a low polygonal resolution helped reduce render times , which significantly accelerated the development process of video games and animated films. Technology has come a long way, but even today it is becoming low polyused to shorten the render time. In fact, the low polygon look has become something of a design trend. Video games, 3D artists and even illustrators use simple polygons in their compositions to convey texture and depth without sacrificing minimalist aesthetics. Below are some great examples of low polygon art that span a number of different design styles, as well as tutorials for creating your own low polygon artwork.
Polygons play a central role, especially in the video game sector. (@Sunday Sundae | Pinterest)
Low polygon tutorial
In this tutorial you will learn step by step how to create a stylish low polygon portrait in Illustrator and Photoshop.
The secret of creating works in this style is a good reference picture. First, we’ll tell you how to do one. Then I show how to edit it in Photoshop and then create a vector version from it in Illustrator.
- Select reference image
First you need a good reference picture. We used a stock photo for this tutorial , but of course for your personal work of art I recommend you make one yourself.
It is important that you use an open aperture to create some depth of field. You also need a good variation of light and shadow and you should make sure that your model gets some sharp edges, be it through glasses, a collar or other jewelry. These accessories then contrast with the soft skin or clothing.
If you have several good photos, you can choose the best parts from the individual pictures and then combine them into one picture. To do this, cut out the individual parts of the image with Photoshop and combine them into a new image. In this phase you can be choosy, it’s worth it!
This is my starting picture. I particularly like the rich colors here.
- Select image section
You don’t necessarily have to reproduce the picture realistically, it should simply be a good reference picture. If you don’t like something about your picture, you can simply change it. For example, if part of your hair doesn’t fit, you just cut it away.
- More dynamic!
When you have a complete picture, you can change the contrast, color balance, levels, and all the other values to create a more dynamic picture.
I shouldn’t say that, but I often find Photoshop’s Auto Contrast, Auto Color and Auto Tint functions (in the Image menu) very useful here if I don’t want to manually correct my composition.
Edit the reference image so that it corresponds to your ideas.
- Adjust the color
You don’t like the color of your reference photo or isn’t it interesting enough? To bring it closer to your ideas, you can experiment with an additional color layer. In this example, I added a Purple layer in the “Multiply Negative” transition mode.
You are completely free in the image design, so add a little more color if you feel like it!
- The triangular network
Our photo equipment
Are you wondering what equipment we take photos with? You can find our equipment here.
Now we come to the time-consuming part of the process: the triangular network. There is no secret trick – you have to do it by hand. But why? Because your brain can determine the contours of your face better than any script or automated process.
However, here are some small aids. Small parts require small triangles. Never make squares for your low polygon, it just looks wrong. Stick to the triangles. It’s easier if your subject has a straight nose like this one. Rounded noses are tricky. For me personally, it usually helps to start with the particularly striking spots, in this example glasses, earrings and possibly the lips. Once you have these detailed parts, it is easy to connect them with other polygons afterwards.
Use the Brush tool to create the mesh on an empty layer above the reference image. Use a light color that contrasts with the portrait. I prefer blue or green because the person in the picture may not have these colors on their faces (unless they have appropriate tattoos).
This is a very rough network. You need a lot more polygons, especially for the detailed areas!
- Fine tuning
When you’ve come this far, you can pat yourself on the shoulder, because most of the hard work is now behind you – but not all.
Now it’s time to refine the triangle mesh. It is best to hide the reference image, because now you only have to concentrate on the network. Clean it up and check if you forgot to place a few triangles somewhere – you can never have enough of them, believe me!
As soon as you have revised the network, you save it as a JPG (without reference image). If you need more contrast to the dark background, you can change the color of the mesh beforehand. Then you can start Illustrator!
- Switch to Illustrator
Open the JPG file in Illustrator, place your polygon mesh on the drawing area and lock the layer. Now select the pen tool and use it to trace your mesh so that a new polygon mesh is created from vector meshes. Again, it’s best to use a color that you can see well – for example, light purple.
This step will also take some time – so run your favorite playlist and have a good cup of coffee to start the journey. Here are a few tips to speed up the process.
You don’t necessarily have to close the triangles, just mark all three sides of the respective polygon with the pencil tool. That may sound strange, but with hundreds of triangles it will save you a lot of time.
- Pause and save
You don’t have to be very precise either, because we’ll use a nifty trick afterwards to put the polygons together. So that was a lot of work. Take a breather. And please always remember to save in between.
- Align endpoints
Now I’m going to show you a trick on how to align all endpoints perfectly in the right place. It is a simple procedure, but of course you have to repeat it as many times as you have triangles.
- Use the direct selection tool to select a group of points that should be in the same place.
- Open the Align panel (Window -> Align) and click on «Align horizontally».
These two points do not touch and do not form beautiful triangles, so you have to bring them together.
Then click on “Align vertically” and all your points will slide to exactly the same place. Voila!
You have now put the points together and have nice triangles.
If necessary, you can now move the points to correct their position. Now you repeat this step for all of your cornerstones.
- Check that nothing has been forgotten
Hide the polygon mesh created in Photoshop. Check your new mesh again for missing triangles (I always forget at least ten polygons per portrait). The easiest way to check this is to select all vectors (Ctrl-A or Cmd-A) and then reverse the fill by pressing Shift + X.
If a polygon is missing somewhere, set the fill back to normal (Shift + X again), add it and then check the mesh structure again until it is complete.
- Align reference photo
Place your reference photo on a level under the vector network of polygons and align it exactly with it. So you can now choose the right fill colors so that the net becomes a recognizable portrait. First you lock the layer with the reference image.
Align the original image exactly with the polygon mesh so that you can assign the correct fill color to each triangle.
- Now it’s getting colorful!
Now comes the funniest part – let’s bring color into play. Select each triangle in turn, take the eyedropper tool (I), and then select the color in the center of each triangle as the fill. In order to alternate between the selection tool and the pipette, you need the “V” and “I” keys.
Now you can give each polygon a color fill – I started with the glasses.
It will take a while, but in the end the whole thing will look something like the picture below and you have your own low polygon portrait. I personally like it when the picture is not too detailed and looks a bit abstract, but it’s an artistic decision that everyone has to make themselves.
Without the mesh of polygons, the end result looks much better.
General low polygon tips
Choose the right source material. Doing something out of nothing is not impossible, but it is quite difficult. So do yourself a favor and make sure your picture is of high quality and has a solid structure that you can work with.
One thing that these geometric works mostly have in common is straight lines. There are also those that contain circles and curves, but it is these polygonal, multi-faceted shapes that make us think of geometry.
That being said, part of what determines your style within these limited options is the often chosen triangle. It is simply the simplest. You can also use a variety of uneven, intersecting polygons. Each of these options has a different effect on your work, so you should make this decision first.
An important component of your work is symmetry . Are you going to create a piece in which one side reflects the other? Or will you play with the more abstract concept of creating a picture full of nodes that meet in all sorts of different places?
Do you work in 2D or 3D space? The creations are made in the former, but they are quite dependent on the illusion that they create a 3D space. But they achieve this effect at different levels.
Although a large part of the low polygon style comes from the field of illustration, it is now used for all types of graphic design after it has traveled the path from digital art to logos, printed matter and more. The artistry of this type of geometric trend can be blended with more natural, detailed images, such as photographs, to create a fantastic contrast effect.
More low polygon inspiration
You are now a low polygon expert! Take a look at how others are using this trend and find your own creative method to do the same. You can find some examples under the Instagram hashtag #lowpoly .