What kind of artwork do you create

How To Create Pixel Art: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide

Pixel art is a form of digital art that arose out of the need to communicate images on the limited storage space of 8- or 16-bit computers and video game consoles.

Sometimes the process of creating pixel art is called "spriting", which comes from the word "sprite". This is a computer graphics term used to describe a two-dimensional bitmap that is incorporated into a larger scene (usually a video game).

Are you interested in your own pixel art? Here is everything you need to know to get started.

The essential tools for pixel art

Contrary to popular belief, powerful or expensive software does not guarantee quality art! Choosing a program is just a matter of preference.

If you're a Windows user, you can even use something as basic as Microsoft Paint. Here is a more detailed list of some of the tools you can use to create pixel art.

All you really need to create pixel art are the following tools (so make sure your program of choice has them):

  • Pencil: Your basic drawing tool that places a pixel by default.
  • Eraser: Deletes or removes pixels you have drawn.
  • Pipette: Copied the color of the pixel you choose to reuse.
  • Bucket: Fills an empty area with a solid color

Other useful tools are selection, line, recolor, and rotation tools. They are not strictly necessary as you can achieve the same effects using the tools listed above.

You want to stay away from brushes, blurs, gradients, and other automatic tools to make sure you are in control of every pixel on the canvas.

As for the hardware, anything you need to control your cursor is perfectly fine. A trackpad or mouse is characterized by precision and detail. A graphics tablet may be your preference for better control over long strokes.

Related: The Best Graphics Tablets for Digital Artists and Designers

How big should your sprite or canvas be?

There is no wrong answer for sprite size. However, the most common are multiples of eight in powers of two (e.g. 8 × 8, 16 × 16, 32 × 32, etc.), as old computers might not be able to display them properly otherwise.

Personally, we recommend starting small as it can help you learn the basics quickly. Ultimately, pixel art came about because artists wanted to get the most out of every pixel and color used because their hardware could only handle so many.

You are forced to get creative when you have to work within limits. Focus on maximizing the space of a tiny sprite. After that, you can move up to larger sizes to get even more details out of there.

And if you want to add a character to a scene, you need to think about the canvas size too.

A good way to do this is to consider the relationship between your sprite and the rest of the screen. How big or small do you want your character to be compared to the world they're in?

Game developers should know that most monitors these days have an aspect ratio of 16: 9. This means that there are nine pixels high for every 16 pixels wide.

Whichever resolution you ultimately choose, you'll usually work in a much smaller canvas size and then scale to that larger resolution when you're done.

At the same time, when you scale your pixel graphic, you'll want to resize it by whole numbers, otherwise things might look a little shaky. It is important that you check your math before you start creating pixel art!

Suppose you wanted to achieve the standard definition of 1080p. You can work on a 384 × 216 canvas and then enlarge it by 500 percent.

Scaling should be the last thing you do, too. You don't want to scale up and then continue drawing with your one-pixel pencil tool. This gives you different pixel ratios that never look good.

The Spriting Process

So you've opened your canvas - now what? Well, just like with any other art form, the possibilities are endless. There is not just one way to do this.

To give you a starting point, here are step-by-step instructions on how to get started with your project. You are completely free to follow exactly, skip a few steps, or add your own.

1. Start with a rough sketch

Start your sprite by doing the Pencil- Tool move around and draw in the same way you would draw with pen and paper. It doesn't have to be perfect.

Whatever you do, we'll clean up later. All we strive for at this early stage is to get your idea and its composition onto the canvas.

2. Clean up the line art

Now is the time to make things a little more presentable. We're going to take your rough lines and chisel them away to clean up stray pixels.

Individual pixels or a group of pixels that break the consistency of a line are called "spikes". Jaggies are exactly what we want to avoid.

Often times the problem is simply that a segment of the line is too long or too short, resulting in an uncomfortable jump. You want to use a consistent pixel length for a smooth-looking transition on a curve. Do not surround a row of pixels with larger ones.

It's impossible to avoid jags altogether (unless your artwork is all basic shapes), but you'll want to try to keep them to a minimum.

3. Introduce colors

It's time to get your Bucket Snap tool and fill the line drawings of your sprite with colors.

Usually you want to limit yourself to one color palette. In the past, the size of the sprite often determined how many colors were on the palette. If a sprite was 16 × 16, it meant the artists had 16 colors to work with. Fortunately, technology has advanced since then, and we are no longer limited to this rule.

The best palettes have different hues that complement each other, different saturation values ​​and a mixture of light and dark. If you don't already know how to properly use color theory, it can be difficult to put together your own palette.

If you'd like someone else to do the thinking for you, Lospec is a great online database of pre-made color palettes.

4. Add details, highlights, and shadows

This is the best part of the whole process! This is where your art really starts to jump off the side. Now that we have the basic idea in place, we can add all the little things to give the illusion of shape to your flat art.

Select your light source and start shading areas farthest from that light source with a darker color. Highlights should be placed in areas that are directly hit by light.

You can choose to keep your line drawings black or colored. However, it depends on your personal preferences or your art style.

5. Save your art

It's time to save your job! Scale to the size you want, then choose a file format. For the most part, if your image is static, you'll want to save it as a PNG.

However, if your art has animation in it, save it as a GIF. It is crucial that both formats support large areas of solid color and transparency.

Stay away from JPEGs unless you know what you are doing. It is a lossy file format intended for digital photos and other smoothly graded images.

Pixel Art: Easy to learn, difficult to master

Pixel art differs from digital drawing because of the limitations imposed by its grid-like nature.

That being said, it uses many of the same principles so painters and other artists can learn it pretty quickly. With a lot of practice, anyone can get great at pixel art.