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I wish to decimate only a selected portion of my mesh.

The decimate modifier http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Doc:2.6/Manual/Modifiers/Generate/Decimate doesn't work in edit mode.

And if I switch to object mode, it works but it decimates the entire mesh!

How can I get it to only decimate the selection?

Using delete -> dissolve is no good, as this creates n-gons; I require triangles / quads.

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    $\begingroup$ You can use the Vertex group setting to restrain the influencable areas, Please pay more attention to the first image that I demostrated here when anwering you former question. And Decimate modifier does not support in Edit Mode. $\endgroup$ – Leon Cheung Dec 15 '13 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ You can dissolve to ngons then triangulate faces followed by tris to quads if you don't want to manually cut the ngons. $\endgroup$ – sambler Dec 15 '13 at 6:35
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Note that the decimate modifier is a Modifier, which non-destructively affects the entire mesh (unless a vertex group is defined). From the wiki:

Modifiers are automatic operations that affect an object in a non-destructive way. With modifiers, you can perform many effects automatically that would otherwise be tedious to do manually (such as subdivision surfaces) and without affecting the base topology of your object.

Because of this, a modifier which works in edit mode wouldn't really make sense because edit mode is for editing the base topology.

Note that some modifiers (such as Subsurf) support being viewed in edit mode, however this will not do what you want.

Vertex Groups:

You can however specify a part of the mesh for the modifier to affect by creating a vertex group and assigning that to the modifier.

  1. Create a vertex group by by pressing the + button in Object Data > Vertex Groups

  2. Assign geometry to it by selecting the geometry you want to decimate in edit mode and clicking Assign in Object Data > Vertex Groups:

    enter image description here

  3. Pick the vertex group in the modifier:

    enter image description here

Sculpting:

Another option is to use Dynamic topology sculpting. This allows you to paint the areas for decimation. See my answer here for more detail.

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