Exploring Pixelart Animation Software

Pixel art is a form of digital art where images are created and edited at the pixel level. Generally created with limited color palettes and resolutions, pixel art emerged from the early home consoles and computer graphics technology of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The earliest examples of pixel art come from arcade video games of the 1970s such as Pong and Space Invaders. The technical limitations of early computing meant graphics could only be displayed in low resolutions, leading to the very blocky, pixellated aesthetic that defines pixel art. As home consoles like the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System gained popularity in the 1980s and 90s, pixel art was widely used in video games to create characters and environments.

Today, pixel art enjoys a popular resurgence, especially in the indie gaming scene. The retro style brings a sense of nostalgia and visual cohesion to modern games that simulate graphics of past gaming eras. Pixel art techniques are also used for icons, logos, pixel portraits, and animated gifs. The limited palette forces artists to convey more with less – elevating pixel art to a unique artform. Overall, pixel art continues to evolve alongside emerging display technologies while paying homage to its origins in early computer graphics.

Popular Pixel Art Software

When looking for pixel art software, some of the most popular options include:

Aseprite – Aseprite is considered one of the best pixel art programs available for creating animated sprites and pixel art. It offers color palettes, layers, timeline editing, and other tools specifically for game development. Aseprite is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Piskel – Piskel is a free web-based pixel art tool from piskelapp.com. It features an intuitive sprite editor with a grid system, layers, and supports animations. Piskel works well for simple game sprites.

GraphicsGale – GraphicsGale is a featured pixel art editor for Windows. Key features include palette editing, animations, onion skinning, and extensive export options. The free version has limited functionality.

Pixel Studio – Pixel Studio is a free online pixel art drawing tool. Users can create game sprites, animations, icons, and more right within their web browser. Pixel Studio is easy to use but has limited features compared to desktop software.

Pyxel Edit – Pyxel Edit is designed specifically for pixel art and tilemap creation. It runs on Windows and offers tilemap integration, palettes, layers, and animations. The software is geared more towards game development rather than general pixel art.

GIMP – The open source image editor GIMP is commonly used for pixel art thanks to its selection tools, layers, and custom brushes. However, it lacks animation features. GIMP is available on Linux, Windows, and Mac.

Photoshop – Adobe Photoshop remains a popular choice for professional pixel artists due to its robust editing tools, although not specifically built for pixel art. Photoshop gives greater control over animations compared to other non-specialized software.


Aseprite is one of the most popular pixel art tools available. It was originally designed for creating sprite animations for games. Some key features of Aseprite include:

  • Timeline for creating frame-by-frame animations
  • Onion skinning to preview animations
  • Pixel-perfect tools like pencil, eraser, fill bucket
  • Color palettes and ability to create custom palettes
  • Raster layers and ability to create sprite sheets

A major pro of Aseprite is that it is designed specifically for pixel art, so the interface and tools are tailored to that workflow. It also has very good animation capabilities with the timeline and onion skinning features. The UI is intuitive and easy to use once you get the hang of it.

Some cons are that it lacks certain photo editing tools you may find in other software like GIMP or Photoshop. It also only runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux – there is no web or mobile version. Pricing starts at $15 for the Steam version.

Overall, Aseprite excels at animation and provides a full-featured professional toolset for serious pixel artists. Its focused scope on pixel art gives it an edge over more general graphics software.

Learn more about Aseprite’s features on the Slant review.


Piskel is a free online pixel art editor and sprite animation tool. It provides a simple interface for creating pixel art and animations frame-by-frame. Piskel offers a grid-based editor for building sprites and animations up to 1024×1024 pixels in size.

Some key features of Piskel include:

  • Layer-based editing allowing organization of sprites and animations
  • Onion skinning to preview animations as you work
  • Color palette management for easily selecting colors
  • Export animations as GIFs or sprite sheets
  • Supports transparency and opacity

As a free online tool, Piskel is very accessible and easy to use. The simple interface allows beginners to quickly start creating pixel art and animations. However, more advanced users may find it limiting compared to desktop applications like Aseprite. Since it runs in the browser, performance can also be an issue for larger canvases.

Piskel is available to use for free on the Piskel website. Accounts allow saving and sharing sprites online. While free, there are limitations like maximum canvas size and lack of some advanced tools. For unrestricted use, users can download the open-source desktop editor for Windows, Mac, and Linux.


GraphicsGale is a pixel art and sprite animation program developed by HumanBalance. It is designed specifically for creating animations, sprites, and pixel art. Some key features of GraphicsGale include:

Powerful Animation Tools – GraphicsGale provides onion skinning, frame manipulation tools, and other features to make the animation process easier and more efficient.1

Palette System – The program has a versatile palette system that lets you quickly pick and manage colors for your artwork.2

Free Version Available – GraphicsGale Free provides core pixel art tools without any watermarks or trial limitations.

Intuitive Interface – The UI and tools are designed to be user-friendly for beginners while still providing advanced capabilities.3

Some of the key pros of GraphicsGale are its animation features, custom brushes, and support for saving in multiple file formats. Potential downsides are that it lacks some specialized filters or effects that other programs may have.

There is a free version of GraphicsGale available, while the full Pro version currently costs $35 USD.

Pixel Studio

Pixel Studio is a simple online pixel art editor geared primarily towards game development. It offers a streamlined interface and basic pixel art tools for creating retro-style sprites and tilesets. Some key features of Pixel Studio include:

Layers and palettes: Build up complex pixel art using layers. Customize colors with palettes. Easy to swap between palettes while working.

Tilemap support: Pixel Studio has built-in support for tilemap creation. Design tilesets and build them into game-ready maps.

Animation and spritesheets: Animate game characters and elements with the built-in sprite sheet animation tools.

Export options: Export animations and assets in multiple formats like GIF, PNG, and JSON. Integrates with game engines.

Some pros of Pixel Studio are that it’s free, intuitive, and has all the basic tools needed for game-focused pixel art. The simple interface allows new users to get started quickly. It also exports seamlessly into popular game engines.

Cons are that it lacks more advanced illustration features found in paid programs. The web-based format limits the canvas size. File management and storage requires a Pixel Studio account.

Pixel Studio is free to use for personal and commercial projects. For teams and studios, paid plans start at $3 per month for additional cloud storage and team management features.

Pyxel Edit

Pyxel Edit is a pixel art and tilemap creation tool designed specifically for indie game developers and pixel artists. It provides users with a suite of intuitive tools for creating and animating pixel art sprites as well as building and exporting tilemaps. Some of the key features of Pyxel Edit include (Pyxel Edit Review):

  • Pixel art drawing and animation tools
  • Tilemap creation and editing
  • Tile stamping and flood fill
  • Onion skinning for animations
  • Exporting animations as sprite sheets

Pyxel Edit is an affordable option available for $9. It’s optimized for creating retro pixel art styles. The simple interface and focus on game dev makes Pyxel Edit a good choice for indie developers working with pixel art (Pyxel Edit Review).

Some of the key advantages of Pyxel Edit include (Pyxel Edit Alternative):

  • Intuitive and easy to use
  • Powerful tilemap creation and editing tools
  • Dedicated pixel art animation features
  • Affordable single payment license model

Potential downsides to consider are that Pyxel Edit is fairly basic and lacks some advanced features of paid programs like Photoshop. The interface is also retro-styled, which some users may not prefer. Overall though, Pyxel Edit is a great affordable option for indie game developers working with pixel art and tilemaps.


GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free and open-source raster graphics editor. It can be used for image retouching and editing, free-form drawing, converting between different image formats, and more. GIMP is a popular option for pixel artists due to being completely free and open source.

Some key features of GIMP for pixel art include:

  • Supports layers and transparency
  • Wide range of painting and selection tools
  • Brushes can be customized for pixel art
  • Onion skinning allows tracing animations
  • Plug-ins add advanced features like palette management

As an open source program, GIMP is completely free to download and use with no restrictions. The interface is highly customizable. While not focused specifically on pixel art, GIMP is a versatile editor with powerful tools for illustration and photo manipulation as well.

The biggest downside is that the default settings need to be adjusted for pixel art work. It may take more setup compared to specialized pixel art software. Some users also find the interface less intuitive at first. However, overall GIMP remains a very capable option for creating pixel art with the right configuration.

Adobe Photoshop


Adobe Photoshop is a popular pixel art software because it is a versatile graphics editor that many artists are already familiar with. It has a wide range of tools and features that can be used for pixel art, though it is not specifically designed for it.


Some key features of Photoshop for pixel art include:

  • Layers and layer modes
  • A variety of brushes and brush customization
  • Pixel perfect zoom
  • Support for animation frames and timeline
  • Variety of selection, masking and transparency tools


  • Very versatile and full-featured editor
  • Many artists are already experienced with it
  • Works well for complex or multi-layered pixel art
  • Integrates nicely with other Adobe apps


  • Expensive monthly subscription
  • Not purpose-built for pixel art
  • Can be overwhelming for new users
  • Limited tileset and palette support

Pricing: Photoshop is available only as a subscription through Adobe Creative Cloud plans starting at $9.99/month for individuals.

Choosing the Right Software

When choosing pixel art software, there are a few key considerations depending on your needs as an indie developer, hobbyist, or professional.

For indie developers working on a game, Aseprite and GraphicsGale are top recommendations, as they integrate directly with game engines like Unity and have features tailored for game development like sprite sheets and tilemaps.

For hobbyists who just want to create pixel art for fun, free options like Piskel and Pixel Studio provide an accessible entry point to start learning pixel art and animation.

For professionals, Photoshop remains an industry standard with powerful tools, while Aseprite is preferred by many pixel artists for its specialized pixel workflow.

Some key features to evaluate are layers, palettes, tile/sprite tools, onion skinning, exporting animations, and integration with game engines. Testing different options to find the right balance of features, flexibility, and price is recommended.