Creating Pixelart Avatars: Beginner’S Guide To Avatar Design

Pixel art is a form of digital art where images are created and edited at the pixel level. It refers to graphics created using raster graphics software, where images are built up from individual pixels as the fundamental building blocks (Wikipedia). Pixel art has been around since the earliest days of computer and video games in the 1970s and 1980s. The limited processing power and screen resolutions of early systems necessitated a focus on minimalist, low-resolution graphics.

Avatars are graphical representations of users or players in games, online communities, and other digital spaces. Pixel art is commonly used to create avatars due to its simplicity and retro aesthetic. The constrained nature of pixel art allows artists to convey the essence of a character or identity with just a small collection of pixels.

Pixel art avatars rose to prominence along with the growth of online gaming, message boards, and social platforms in the 1990s and 2000s. Their nostalgic, 8-bit pixel aesthetic helped establish the visual identity of these communities. Today pixel art avatars remain popular for their retro style and self-expressive nature. Creating your own unique pixel avatar can be a fun and rewarding way to establish your presence online.

Tools You’ll Need

When starting out with pixel art, having the right software tools is essential. The two main types of tools are raster and vector graphics programs.
Raster graphics work with pixels as the fundamental elements, making them ideal for pixel-level work. Popular raster software choices for beginners include Aseprite and GraphicsGale. Vector tools like Adobe Illustrator use mathematical representations of shapes, which makes them better for clean lines and scalability. While Photoshop can work for pixel art, it’s not purpose-built for it.

Some top recommended beginner software options include:

  • Aseprite – specifically designed for sprite animation and pixel art
  • GraphicsGale – free editor with animation and tilemap features
  • GrafX2 – open source bitmap paint program

When starting out, a simple free or low-cost program is recommended over advanced tools like Photoshop. Dedicated pixel art tools will provide better indexing features, palettes, overlays and workflows.

While not required, many pixel artists enjoy using a graphics drawing tablet over a mouse. This allows for more fluid and natural strokes. Entry-level tablets like those from Huion and XP-Pen are affordable options to consider. Styluses also let you achieve a more organic, hand-drawn feel.

Getting Started with Pixels

Pixels are the building blocks of pixel art. Understanding how pixels work is key to creating great pixel art avatars.

Pixels come in different colors, and arranging them in certain ways can create the illusion of form, texture, light, and shadow. Pixel artists use a limited color palette, usually with around 12-32 colors. Limiting your palette helps your art look unified and cohesive.

It’s good to start with basic color theory. Primary colors are red, blue and yellow. Combining primary colors makes secondary colors like orange, green and purple. Tertiary colors are made by mixing primary and secondary colors. Using colors that are next to each other on the color wheel results in pleasant, harmonious hues.

Consider the composition or layout when getting started. Structuring the important elements in certain ways makes the art more eye-catching. Rule of thirds, symmetry, focal points and visual hierarchy help lead the viewer’s eye through the piece. See this guide for composition tips: []

Start simple when learning pixel art. Block in the basic shapes and colors that define your avatar. You can add more detail later. Getting the overall proportions and palette right first makes the rest easier.

Drawing Avatars Step-by-Step

When drawing pixel art avatars, start with basic head and body shapes before adding details. Circles and ovals work well for heads, while rectangles and triangles can form torsos and limbs. Keep shapes simple at first as it’s easier to add details later.

For facial features, dots and short lines convey eyes, noses, and mouths. Avoid features that are too small or close together. Add highlights, shading, and eyebrows to bring out expressions. Hair can be depicted through spikes, bangs, or layers using pixels. Accessories like hats, glasses, and jewelry help customize the look.

Clothing is also important for avatar style. Use rectangles and triangles to form shirts, dresses, pants, and shoes. Vary the shapes and colors to create different outfits. Add collars, buttons, zippers, and other extras for a sense of realism.

Start with a basic shape, add rough details, then refine and perfect. Utilize symmetry to ensure facial features align. Keep pixel sizes consistent for a clean look. Revisit and tweak elements that feel off. Finally, zoom out to get the full picture. With practice, you’ll develop skills to design avatars in your own artistic style.

For step-by-step pixel art avatar tutorials, check out this YouTube playlist.

Animating Your Avatar

Animation is what brings your pixel art characters to life. When starting out with pixel art animations, it’s important to focus on the basic principles of animation and keep things simple.

Some tips for animating your first pixel art avatar:

  • Use very small and subtle movements. Large, exaggerated motions don’t work well in pixel art.
  • Focus on primary motions first like walking, jumping, or waving. Start with just 2-3 frames for a simple animation.
  • Pay attention to the timing and spacing of your animations. Add pauses in between motions.
  • Work with a low framerate between 5-12 FPS. This helps keep animations simple for beginners.
  • Use reference videos or animated GIFs when animating complex motions like dancing or fighting. Break the movements down into smaller pieces.
  • Think in terms of shapes, not just pixels. Consider how entire limbs and body parts are moving.

With just a few frames, you can bring basic motions like walking to life. As you practice more, you can add additional frames and complexity for smoother, more advanced animations. But start small and focus on the fundamentals when beginning with pixel art animations.

For some examples of basic pixel art motions, check out these animated GIFs:

Creating Pixel Art Backgrounds

pixel art game background examples

When creating a background for your pixel art avatar, you’ll want to consider how it complements the look of your character. The background should enhance your avatar’s design rather than compete with it. Here are some strategies for creating pixel art backgrounds that work well with avatars:

Focus on simple, clean designs. Very complex or cluttered backgrounds can distract from the avatar. Try using solid blocks of color, subtle gradients, or repetitive pixel patterns to create an interesting but not overpowering backdrop.

Use a limited color palette that ties into your avatar’s colors. Having just 3-5 colors in your background that match shades used in the avatar helps create a cohesive, balanced scene.

Consider parallax scrolling effects. Parallax backgrounds add depth and movement by having different layers scroll at different speeds. This can work well with avatars by creating a sense of the character existing in a larger world.

Leave negative space around the avatar. Don’t cram the background right up to the edges of the avatar art. Allow padding around the character so they stand out against the backdrop.

Focus details behind and around the avatar, not overlapping. Centralize the avatar art by keeping busier background elements as a frame behind them rather than overlapping.

Use lighting, shadows, and highlights to make the avatar pop. Subtle spotlights, glow effects, or shadows help the avatar stand out against the backdrop.

Balance intricacy between avatar and background. If your avatar has very simple pixel art, make the background more detailed. For a complex avatar, use a more minimal background.

Add gameplay elements sparingly. If your avatar will be used in a game, you can include some interactive items or objects in the background. But use these judiciously to avoid visual clutter.

Test that avatar and background work in thumbnails. Zoom way out to ensure the composition reads well even at reduced sizes for profile images or icons.

Exporting and Using Your Avatar

Once you’ve completed designing your pixel art avatar, you’ll want to properly export it so you can upload and use it across different platforms. Two key things to consider are file formats and sizing.

File Formats

When exporting your avatar, PNG is the best file format to use. PNGs support transparency, which is crucial for maintaining those crisp pixels and clean edges in your design. JPGs do not support transparency, so they would result in a white box around your avatar.

Some other formats to consider:

  • GIF – useful for animated avatars, but limited color palette
  • SVG – vector format good for scaling, not ideal for pixel art
  • PDF – useful for printing physical merchandise


Make sure to export your avatar at the proper dimensions for where you want to use it.

For digital use, common sizes include:

  • Profile picture: 128×128, 256×256
  • Forum avatar: 80×80, 100×100, 150×150

When printing your avatar on physical merchandise, you’ll need much larger dimensions, such as:

  • T-shirt: 3000×3000
  • Poster: 24 inches x 36 inches at 300 PPI

If you plan to sell your avatar designs, create editable layered files so buyers can customize colors, props, backgrounds, etc. Provide high-res PNGs along with the original layered files.

With the proper exporting and sizing, you’ll be able to use your custom pixel art avatar across digital platforms, in printed merchandise, and more!

Common Beginner Mistakes

When starting out with pixel art, it’s easy to make some common mistakes that can hold back your avatar designs. Here are some of the most frequent issues beginners tend to struggle with:

Proportion Problems

Getting the right proportions for your avatar is crucial, but often tricky for beginners. It’s easy to make the head too big or limbs too short if you aren’t carefully measuring out your pixels. Be sure to use guide lines to map out the major shapes and features first. Check your proportions from multiple angles as you build up your design.

Blending Colors

Resist the urge to blend colors by using semi-transparent pixels. This causes an unwanted anti-aliased look that destroys the crisp pixel aesthetic. Stick to using solid colors right next to each other for clean results.

Overusing Anti-Aliasing

Similarly, avoid overusing anti-aliasing effects around the edges of your shapes. While subtle anti-aliasing can help blend colors, too much makes things look blurry and lowers the resolution of your work.

Too Much Detail

It’s easy to get carried away adding more and more detail to your avatar, but too much can clutter the design. Prioritize only the most important shapes and features needed to convey the character. Less detail can force you to be more creative within constraints.

Developing Your Pixel Art Style

Developing a unique pixel art style takes experimentation and practice. Here are some tips for exploring different looks:

– Try using a limited color palette. Restricting yourself to just a few colors can stimulate creativity. Some classic pixel art palettes include 4-bit, 8-bit, and 16-bit. You can find color palette inspiration online (

– Explore different resolutions. Lower resolutions like 8×8 or 16×16 pixels will have a retro, blocky look. Higher resolutions allow for more detail. Find a balance that fits your aesthetic.

– Study pixel art you admire. Look at techniques, shapes, and color choices that appeal to you. Gather inspiration, but don’t directly copy others’ work.

– Be consistent. Develop motifs, shapes, and patterns that unify your work. Using consistent techniques and elements creates cohesion.

Finding your style takes practice and dedication. Experiment freely, study great pixel art, and work to hone your skills. With persistence, you’ll develop a distinctive pixel art aesthetic.

Next Steps for Improving

Once you have mastered the basics of creating pixel art avatars, there are many ways to continue improving your skills. Here are some recommendations for taking your pixel art to the next level:

Introduce more advanced techniques: Learn how to create animation, shading, and lighting effects. Some intermediate pixel art tutorials can teach you these techniques in programs like Photoshop.

Take online courses and tutorials: Structured online courses can take you step-by-step through more complex pixel art projects. Sites like Skillshare and Udemy have excellent pixel art courses for all levels.

Join pixel art communities and use pixel art resources: Connect with other pixel artists through forums, Discord channels, and social media groups. Great places to find pixel art inspiration, feedback, and tips.

Practice regularly: Like any skill, pixel art requires regular practice to improve. Set aside time each day or week to create new pixel art and expand your abilities.

Study pixel art from skilled artists: Look at pixel artwork you admire and analyze the techniques used. Taking inspiration from others will help develop your own style.

Experiment with styles and subjects: Don’t just create one type of pixel art. Try different styles, subjects, and approaches to grow as an artist.

Use limited palettes: Restricting your color palette helps improve pixel art fundamentals. Vibrant artwork can still be created with just a few colors.

Add your pixel art to projects: Applying your new skills to game sprites, website images, or other projects will provide valuable learning experiences.

Consider paid professional programs: While free software works for beginners, programs like Aseprite offer more advanced pixel art tools.

Set pixel art goals and challenges: Give yourself pixel art goals to motivate improvement. Or try pixel art challenges that push creativity.