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How to create a ‘Pixel sorting’ cry effect using Photoshop in 9 easy steps

Anirudh Singh

In Glitchart, Tutorial Posted

The Pixel sorting effect is really common these days in pop culture and design industry. Several brands, especially clothing lines have their social medias filled with portraits like these.

You can get this same look for your portraits, and it’s really easy to do. Here I am going to show you how you can get a neo-Japanese pop look using this effect and some basic photoshop techniques. Here’s the original stock image so that you can follow along .

If you follow me on Instagram, this was the #017 artwork of my daily art series. Some of you requested me to give a lowdown on how I made this, so here it is:

Step 1

Choose an image you’d like to add this pixel sorting effect to. There’s no specific requirement here, but your job would become a lot easier if the subject is clearly differentiated from the background and has good lighting.

Step 2

Duplicate the image layer, we will use this second copy in some time. Now on the original image layer, use any tool of your choice (magnetic lasso tool, pen tool or even the old fashioned eraser 😛) to separate your subject from the background. This will allow us to change the background according to whichever theme we wish to go with, in this case the Japanese pop look.

Step 3

On a layer under our recently edited image, add any solid color or gradient. Following our theme, I’ll go ahead and use a pink color. Note that you can also use an image as the background here.

Step 4

Now that our stage is set, we will finally start the pixel sorting (sorry to keep you waiting for this long, but in the end it’s gonna be worth it).

Remember the duplicate we made of the original image? We use that now. Bring that layer to the top and rotate it by 90˚. It isn’t necessary here that you use the same image. You can use any busy image that has a lot of colors (basically any image that has many different pixels, so that they look different when they’re sorted). But for the sake of convenience, I’ve used the same image here.

Step 5

Now with your duplicate image selected, go to the “Filters” menu, on to “stylize” and select “Wind”. In the Wind effect dialog box, check “Blast” and select whichever direction you want the sorting to happen in. Click “OK”.

Now you might have to repeat this process a LOT more times to get satisfactory results. So to do that quickly, just hit ALT + CTRL + F. This will select your recently used filter.

PRO TIP: The higher the image resolution, the more will be the number of pixels, and hence the more number of times you’ll have to repeat this step. To make this step more efficient, use a low resolution image for the pixel sorting.

Step 6

Using the “Rectangular marquee” tool, crop out two long rectangles from this pixel sorted image. These will form the tears of our subject, so try to make them about the same width as her eyes. Align them with her eyes.

Step 7

Create a mask over these two rectangles, and with the black color selected on the brush tool, mask out the top of these rectangles to make them rounded. The roundness should be similar to that of her eyes.

Step 8

We don’t want these rectangles to stretch all the way to the bottom, so we will use the same mask layer again to remove their bottom parts. The best way to do this is to look for a pattern in the sorted pixels and then mask along them.

The pixel sorting cry effect is now done. You can export this image as it is, but the background looks a bit too bland to me, so I will go one step further.

Step 9

We want to give the background a pop look. Colored basic shapes work best for it. This step is totally experimental, so you can use any shape and any color, but I really liked the two triangles here, and the yellow really goes well with our pink background.

Depending on your artwork, you can go ahead and do some color corrections to bind all the elements together. I like to use the “Color Lookup” tool on top, set to about 10–15% opacity.


I post design tips and daily arts like these on my Instagram, go follow me here.

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