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From the point of view of a beginner in Blender, the vast majority of learning resources & tutorials seem to focus on low poly objects/scenes. Many questions here on blender.SE echo that focus. Perhaps this may deal with difficulty level or style preference but suspect there are other factors at play.

What are the differences I should keep in mind when creating something in low vs high poly?

How can I determine what is the appropriate level of detail?

What is "the line" that defines low poly from high poly?

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    $\begingroup$ For me, I like to go as high-poly as is necessary to model in all the details. Whether that's 2000 faces or 20M, it's irrelevant. Modelled-in details beats normal mapping every time (in terms of quality). However for those who like to export to game engines, there are only so many polygons a computer can handle in realtime, hence the focus on keeping everything as low as possible and using normal mapping everywhere. $\endgroup$ – Greg Zaal May 13 '15 at 11:31
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Highpoly is important to achieve superb surface detail. The problem is how you control such enormous amount of vertices:

  • with brushes (sculpting)
  • through control low-poly cages (subdivision surfaces)
  • through curve or nurbs surfaces
  • generated by some simulation, 3D scanning, etc.

Lowpoly is important for:

  • game-engines
  • subdivision modelling
  • low-polygon proxy geometries of high-poly ones - for rigging and animating
  • low-poly style and such..

Problem with low-poly is topology, which has to follow some rules, so the shading looks righ, the subdivision surfaces are right or the sculpts will be right. That's why you see so much about low-poly - with knowledge about low-poly topology the high-poly comes along.

  • You convert low-poly to high-poly through sculpting, or catmull-clark subdivision
  • You convert high-poly to low-poly through retopology, or decimation. The details from high-poly can be baked into texture maps.

What is considered low-poly and high-poly changes with time and computer power, it's safe to say that low-poly is everything that can be displayed on target hardware in real-time. That means that for mobile phone this is different than for workstation.

Appropriate level of detail depends on how small the object will be on screen - basically how much pixels it will cover on screen:

  • for textures on lowpoly you want them 2x larger than a texture that has same size pixels on a model as a pixels on screen. This is because texture filtering. Or how the target hardware GPU memory lets you use.
    • For game models this is usually from 1024x1024 to 4096x4096 or more for next-gen.
    • For mobile-phones aroung 256x256 to 512x512.
  • for lowpoly polycounts:
    • around 10k for character or more for next-gen. Depends on the object size, hardware, if it is in background or not etc.
  • for highpoly you want the polygons small enough that the surface detail will be well defined, this is usually smaller than screen pixel size or even smaller than that. Polycounts in millions.
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    $\begingroup$ Note that most modern computers can actively render about 1.5m faces in a game engine, so it depends largely for games on how many entities are in it: if you only have one, it can be really high poly, however most games have more than one aspect and usually thousands of objects, each only consisting of a few hundred or thousand. $\endgroup$ – Scalia May 13 '15 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ This is interesting topic for me,because I'm a psychology student and I've been trained to look up compromises. So,I don't like the extreme situations such as the low poly or the dense meshes. So,does it make sense to create a medium poly mesh ? $\endgroup$ – Marietto Nov 29 '17 at 11:57

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