Pixelated Papers

I find it’s always useful to have a stock of decorative papers to use for creative projects of all kinds, and of course for gift-wrapping. There are some beautiful papers out there, but it can be difficult to justify the expense of buying them sometimes. Having your own unique papers is always very satisfying, and there’s the added enjoyment of creating them. They don’t have to be complicated, you don’t have to have any artistic skill in painting and drawing, and if you are mess averse it doesn’t even have to involve paint! They are fun to produce for both kids and adults alike, and anyone can join in.

This particular project is another of those really simple ideas with huge potential that I love – I don’t tend to enjoy anything overly complicated, as I get anxious and focus too much on the things that could go wrong, which really affects my ability to be creative. All that is required for this project is a printer and an image editing app or programme of some kind, so if you know your way around basic image editing on a computer, you can do this quite easily. I used Photoshop for this, but you can also achieve the same kind of effect with other cheaper or even free software.

You start off with a colourful photo – any image from your personal photograph collection will do – so long as it’s colourful! I found that the best effects came from fairly close in shots that filled the frame with lots of colour throughout the image. Pictures of flowers, gardens etc. work well for this reason. Alternatively you can set up your own colourful still life to get ‘bespoke’ colours of your choice, or even scan some colourful paper scraps to create your base image. Depending upon what you scan, this can achieve some unexpected results – for example the pencil crayons scanned below, once pixelated resulted in a wonderful colourfully striped paper!



If you want your paper to be really bright and colourful, increase the saturation of the colours of your image. You can do this yourself manually, or some image editors will offer different filter choices which will really brighten the colours of your image for you.



The above image shows the photographs before & after the pixelation filter was applied – if you were using the papers for giftwrap you could also print off a small image of the original photo onto card as a matching tag…

The next stage if your image editing software allows it, is to apply a pixelating filter to your image. In Photoshop this can be found under Filter – Pixelate – Mosaic (Alternatively if you want something a little more irregular, the ‘Crystallize‘ option also creates rather beautiful papers too – see framed example below). You can choose the size of the pixels you want to end up with, and it’s worth experimenting with this as the finished result can look very different. I chose a size that allowed for lots of colour, but also resulted in an image which was almost entirely abstract in appearance. Incidentally this is a great way to create DIY abstract art for your walls very easily!



If your software doesn’t have a filter of this kind, then you can create a very similar effect by enlarging the image. For this a fairly low quality image in terms of its resolution is ideal, though any image can be used. To achieve the pixelated effect, simply keep on enlarging the image until you have the size of pixels you want, then choose your favourite part of the image and crop it to the size you want.  With better quality images you will need to focus on a small colourful area of the image to achieve the colour variation you need. Overall this tends to create more subtle papers with more gradual gradations of colour, which are equally beautiful in a different way.

As a last step you can adjust the saturation of the image again if necessary.

And finally – once ready to print, make sure you select high quality printing to get the best out of your pixelated paper!