How to Create Pixel Art: Beginner's Guide

Interested in how to start making pixel art? In this beginner guide we will cover everything you need to know to begin creating your own pixel art.

How to Make Pixel Art

Pixel art is a type of digital art form where 2D images are created using squares called pixels. This type of art was originally created on older video games consoles where the graphics were constrained to 8-bit and 16-bit devices. Now it is a very popular art style used frequently in video games.

When working on video games, pixel art images are also called sprites. These two-dimensional bitmaps are then combined to make a larger scene or even animations.

Are you ready to start making your own pixel art? Heres a complete guide on how to get started.

Essential Pixel Art Tools

There are several pixel art software available today. Many have great features that make creating pixel art fast and easy. Some of these include Adobe Photoshop, Piskel, Aseprite and Microsoft Paint to name a few.

Pixel Art Tools

However to make your own pixel art you will need to make sure that your pixel art editor of choice has the following tools.
  • Pencil: The Pencil tool allows you to basically draw a pixel to your grid
  • Eraser: The Eraser tool allows you to erase a pixel from your grid
  • Bucket Fill: The Bucket fill tool fills in an area with a color you choose saving time
  • Eyedropper: The Eyedropper tool lets you set the current color to the color you select in the grid
Now there are several other tools that certainly help speed up the pixel art creation process such as the selection tool, line tool, and even rotation tools. This depends largely on the editor you use. But as long as the software you use has the tools mentioned above you should be perfectly fine.

Tools to Avoid

Keep in mined when you begin to work with more expensive softwares there will be several additional tools that come with the program that are not recommended for pixel art. Generally speaking you'll want to stay away from blurs and gradient tools. Pixel art should be crisp and have straight edges. Also brushes are not ideal either as you will want to have complete control over the pixels you draw to the grid.

Hardware to Use

Pixel art is very detail oriented. Because of this you'll want to use either a mouse or drawing pad with a pen. These tools give you ability to click on specific cells in your grid when you're drawing. 

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What Size Should your Pixel Art Canvas Be?

Technically pixel art sprites can be any size. But for design purposes, the pixel art you see in older and modern games uses a multiple of eight. These include 8x8, 16x16, and 32x32. The reason for this is that older devices literally had to use these dimensions. Because of this modern games stuck to these rules to give pixel art the unique design you see today.

Pixel Art Grid Size

When starting pixel art for the first time it is recommended to start with a smaller grid size like 8x8 or 16x16 so that you can pick up the basics faster. Also keep in mind that the magic of pixel art is being able to make every pixel count. If you you make your pixel art too big, users won't be able to tell its pixel art.

Here's an example of how the 3 main sizes are portrayed.

As you can see the bigger the canvas you use, the more details you are able to add to your pixel art sprite.

Determine the Pixel Art Sizes for Games

When you are making a game, all pixel art used in the game must use the same dimensions. In other words you can't make a character that is 8x8 and then make a car that they ride in that is 16x16. Because of this it is important to think out what grid size you want to use for your pixel art. 

An easy way to accomplish this is usually to start with the main character or object of your scene. Determine the level of detail you need to portray this element. Everything else in the scene is secondary and can follow the size you set for the main player.

Screen Resolution

The other important element is screen size. Most devices today have thousands of pixels in their resolution. If you were to try to make a scene this size your pixel art would appear extremely small. 

Instead what game artists do is determine a smaller size and then scale all the pixel art sprites up by a percentage. For example lets say we have a screen that is 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels tall which is standard 1080p. We don't have to actually make our canvas 1920 pixel wide. Instead we can make our canvas 384 pixels wide and just scale it up by 500%. Here is an example of original piece of pixel scaled up

Scale Pixel art to match the screen resolution

Keep in mind that scaling is the final step in the process. If you try to work on a scaled up sprite you will have hundreds of thousands of pixels to keep track of which is extremely difficult.

The Pixel Drawing Process

Like any other artwork process there is no set way of creating great looking pixel art. However there are some useful tips you'll want to stick to so that you artwork looks clean and professional.

Import a Picture

The fastest and easiest way to get started is to start with an image of what you want to make. Virtually every pixel art editor allows you to import an image into your canvas. If you resize the image and make it smaller you'll notice that the image begins to become pixelated. From here you can clean up the image to make it more crisp. This saves tons of time and effort.

If you want to learn how to pipeline an image view our tutorial How to Convert a Picture into Pixel Art.

Draw by Hand

Another useful method is to draw by hand using the Pencil tool. Since pixel art works off a grid it is very easy to go back and clean up what you draw to give it a specific look.

Make Line Art Even

One thing that will give you away when making pixel art is that the lines are not smooth or even. That means when you work with angles the line should have a uniform length of pixels similar to a set of stairs. Avoid odd jumps in pixel lengths. These make your lines look like there was an error. Also keep round shapes and lines smooth so that they don't appear jagged.

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Add Pixel Details, Shadows and Highlights

Like we mentioned before you shouldn't add traditional shadows or gradients to your pixel art. Instead you can add pixel details, shadows and highlights to you objects without breaking the true style of pixel art. This will add some volume to your pixel art so it doesn't appear too flat. Also be sure to be consistent with your light source. Don't place a shadow on the left side of your character and then switch if for another object. Keep them the same to make if feel more natural.

Use Scaling when Exporting Your Pixel Art

Like we mentioned before you don't have to make massive pixel art sprites to fit a particular screen size. You can design using a smaller grid size and then just scale it up after you are finished to fit your needs.

Use the Grid

Sometimes the grid is off by default when working in certain software. It is very useful to use a grid to help you plan out how big an object should be and how to evenly space elements. Be sure to use the grid and guides to help you make your pixel art.

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Add Some Color

Originally, pixel art was limited in how many colors you could use. Today you can use an unlimited amount of colors in your pixel art sprites. However keep in mind that adding too many colors begins to break from the established pixel art style that is common today. There are examples of games that go both ways, so feel free to follow whatever path works best for you.

Where to Go From Here

Now that you have learned how to set up Aseprite and the fundamentals for drawing your own pixel art, you can make more pixel art for your video games and projects. Thank you for reading this tutorial. Please share if you found this helpful!


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