Drawing Inspiration: Pixelart Trends To Fuel Your Creativity

Pixel art is a distinct artistic style that makes use of computer graphics software to create the illusion of digital images through the intentional placement of individual pixels. While the origins of pixel art can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s when personal computers first became available, the artform has continued to evolve over the decades thanks to advances in technology and new creative techniques.

The earliest pixel art can be found in games and graphics created for computers like the Commodore 64 and Apple II which had very limited display capabilities. Artists worked within tight resolution constraints, often as small as 320×200 pixels, to render the best visuals possible. These early pixel art creations established the highly stylized and geometric aesthetic that defines the artform.

Over time, pixel art has expanded beyond games to animation, digital art, and more. While technology now allows for much higher resolutions, many pixel artists intentionally limit themselves to low resolutions as a creative choice. This forces them to carefully choose colors and optimize geometry in each pixel for the desired visual effect.

Defining Pixel Art

Pixel art refers to digital artwork created through pixelling techniques, where an image is edited at the pixel level. According to Wikipedia, pixel art is “art created in a raster editor where the image is drawn pixel-by-pixel.” Pixel art is all about working within limitations to create digital illustrations or animations using a limited resolution and color palette.

Pixel art shares its origins with the graphics used in early video games and computer imaging due to constraints like low screen resolution and limited computing power. Common techniques used in pixel art include dithering, anti-aliasing, and using palettes with restricted numbers of colors. The limited resolution forces pixel artists to practice economy of space and conveys information with as few pixels as possible.

While early pixel art was born out of necessity due to hardware limitations, it has evolved into an art form of its own. Modern pixel art is created intentionally for aesthetic and creative purposes rather than technical restrictions. However, creating within constraints is still a core part of the pixel art process.

Popular Genres

Some of the most popular genres of pixel art include retro video games, fantasy, and sci-fi. Retro video game pixel art is a way for some artists to pay homage to classic gaming with graphics that usually feature large pixels and a limited color palette [1]. This gaming art style expresses nostalgia and conveys the gameplay limitations of the past. Fantasy pixel art draws inspiration from genres like medieval settings, mythology, and fairy tales, allowing artists to bring their imaginative worlds to life pixel-by-pixel [2]. Sci-fi pixel art transports viewers to futuristic scenarios filled with spaceships, robots, and dystopian cityscapes. The pixelated style adds a gritty, glitchy feel fitting for technological subject matter.

Tools and Techniques

Pixel artists utilize a variety of tools and techniques to create intricate designs within the constraints of low resolution graphics. While pixel art can be created using almost any imaging software, programs like Aseprite and Pixilart provide specialized features for pixel art creation. These include indexed color palettes, pixel-perfect tools, and support for animations.

Color palettes are essential for achieving the signature pixel art aesthetic. Many pixel artists restrict their color choices to 16 or fewer hues. This limitation encourages more creative use of color. Dithering techniques like error diffusion can blend colors together for smoother shading effects. Color palettes may also be customized to evoke certain styles or moods.

Other common pixel art techniques include outlines, shadows, and highlights to separate elements in a composition. Tools like the pencil, eraser, and bucket fill assist in laying down pixels precisely. As a digital medium, pixel art also allows for layers, transformations, and filters during the creation process.

Using Limitations Creatively

example of an animated pixel art character walking cycle

One aspect of pixel art that inspires creativity is working within limitations. Pixel artists intentionally limit their color palettes, resolutions, and tools as a creative constraint. This forces them to problem-solve and think outside the box to convey their vision. As artist MI Leggett discusses on the Share the Load podcast, limitations unlock creativity by helping artists focus their efforts (https://consentwizardry.com/share-the-load-podcast/2023/2/6/mi-leggett-on-creative-constraints). Similarly, in her Alpine Evening talk, Nicole Warrington explores how limitations like sketchbooks and focused themes push her art in new creative directions (https://ivynewport.com/alpine-evening). Rather than hindering artists, intentionally embracing restrictions helps spark innovation and problem-solving skills.

Current Trends

Some of the hottest trends in pixel art today include isometric designs, voxel styles, and cinemagraphs. Isometric pixel art creates a 3D look by using angled lines and shapes. This adds visual depth and interest to pixel art scenes and game environments. Voxel art takes pixel art into 3D by using cubes as the building blocks. This blocky, chunky look has become popular for indie games. Cinemagraphs combine animated pixel art with still frames, often in captivating looping gifs. These hybrid designs merge motion with static scenes in eye-catching ways.

According to a recent post on CalmingColoring, “latest pixel art trends like isometric designs are pushing the boundaries of what can be created with digital pixels” (source). The post highlights how pixel artists are exploring new techniques and styles to fuel creativity in this artform.

Tips for Beginners

When starting out in pixel art, it’s best to keep things simple. Focus on basic shapes, limited color palettes, and low canvas resolutions to practice the fundamentals. As described on 80 Level, “It’s worth saying that Reece’s YouTube channel has a number of videos where he gives useful tips for beginner pixel artists and teaches the basics” (https://80.lv/articles/80-level-digest-introduction-to-tools-for-pixel-artists/).

Studying the work of professional pixel artists can also provide inspiration and ideas for beginners. Look at pixel art from classic games, modern indie titles, and online communities to see the techniques used. As one Reddit user advised when asked for tips, “Study sprites from older games, they’re great for learning efficient pixel use” (https://www.reddit.com/r/Genshin_Impact/comments/k0rfr4/team_loli_klee_diona_and_qiqi_pixel_art_ver/).

It’s also important for beginners to practice pixel art fundamentals like forms, values, colors, and lines. Start with simple shapes, practice shading techniques, limit your palette, and sketch concepts on paper first. Building foundational skills will make more advanced techniques much easier down the road.

Intermediate Techniques

Once you have the basics of pixel art down, it’s time to move on to more complex techniques like animation, lighting, gradients, and shading. These skills will take your static sprites to the next level.

Animation is a big part of game development and brings your pixel art to life. Some key skills are walk cycles, idle animations, attack animations and more. Start simple with just a few frames, then work up to smooth loops and complex sequences. Plan out transitions between frames and use tweening to help fill in the gaps (https://lospec.com/pixel-art-tutorials/tags/advanced).

Lighting effects like highlights and shadows add realism and depth to pixel art. Carefully place light sources and use shading gradients to show how light interacts with objects. Study real life lighting for reference. Dithering can help blend colors for smooth gradients.

Shading techniques like cross-hatching let you convey complex textures and surfaces with limited colors. Build up shades gradually and aim for believable shading based on a consistent light source. Highlights help draw the eye to focal points.

With practice, you can create impressive scenes and artwork using these intermediate pixel art skills. Don’t be afraid to experiment as you level up.

Advanced Skills

Mastering pixel art requires developing advanced skills to add fine details, textures, and create complex scenes. Pixel artists recommend focusing on the following areas:

  • Lighting – Explore light sources and shading to add realism. Study how light interacts with different materials.
  • Textures – Use techniques like dithering to simulate the look of various textures like metal, stone, grass, etc.
  • Details – Add small touches that bring a scene to life, like subtle shadows and highlights.
  • Perspective – Create the illusion of 3D space using techniques like foreshortening and point perspective.
  • Animation – Animate characters and elements frame-by-frame to make them move smoothly.
  • Color Palettes – Curate specific palettes to convey mood and aesthetics.

With practice and dedication to improving these advanced areas, pixel artists can create incredibly complex and realistic scenes, characters, and animations within the limitations of pixels.


Pixel art stimulates creativity and imagination in unique ways. By working within rigid technical limitations, pixel artists are challenged to maximize expression and emotion with limited tools. This forces innovative thinking and problem solving. The simplified nature of pixel art also frees the mind to imagine rich worlds and stories based on sparse visual information. Viewers are drawn in to actively participate by filling in details with their own imagination. In this way, pixel art fosters engagement and collaboration between artist and audience. Both are pushed out of their comfort zone to envision new creative possibilities. Though seemingly basic on the surface, pixel art represents a minimalist artform that can awaken our inner childlike wonder and tap into the endless potential of human creativity.