How To Create Pixelart Characters: Step-By-Step Tutorial For Beginners

Pixel art is a form of digital art where images are edited and created pixel-by-pixel. It emerged in the 1980s with early home computers and video game consoles that had limited graphic capabilities. The style has remained popular and seen a resurgence in recent years with indie games like Stardew Valley and Terraria embracing a retro pixel art aesthetic (

In this beginner’s tutorial, we’ll cover the basics of creating pixel art characters from start to finish. You’ll learn how to plan and sketch your character design, build up shapes and forms, add color and shading, draw facial features, include fun details, and put on the finishing touches. With just some simple tools and basic pixel art techniques, you can bring cute and quirky retro-style characters to life. Let’s get started!

Gather Resources

To start making pixel art you’ll need the right tools. The most important items are a drawing tablet or mouse and pixel art software.

For the drawing tablet, many pixel artists recommend getting one with a screen so you can draw directly on it. Popular options are the Wacom Cintiq or XP-Pen Artist. If you’re on a budget, a basic Wacom Intuos or Huion is a good alternative.

For the software, there are both paid and free options. Excellent paid options include Aseprite, Pyxel Edit, and Piskel. If you want to try pixel art out before spending money, free alternatives are GIMP, Piskel (browser version), and Lospec Pixel Editor.

Plan Your Character

Planning your character is an essential first step before starting the pixel art design. You’ll want to decide on the character’s concept, role, style, size, colors, and other key details.

Start by sketching some quick drafts of your character on paper or digitally. Focus on defining their overall proportions, pose, personality, and other visual traits. Consider the character’s purpose in the project – are they a hero, villain, sidekick? What is their backstory? How does their appearance communicate their role?

Nail down the visual style you want for your pixel art character. Retro, cute, realistic? Consistency in style will make your final design look cohesive. Determine an approximate canvas size for your character based on their purpose – main characters tend to be larger.

Pick a color palette that matches your character’s personality and the project’s style. Limit yourself to around 4-5 colors maximum. Complementary or triadic color schemes often work well. You can refine colors later, but have a general scheme in mind.

Sketching multiple versions of your character will help refine your choices. Look at pixel art you admire for inspiration. But the key is finalizing your character’s concept before you start detailing – it will give your art direction and consistency. Consult game docs if your character has a predefined role. With planning done, you’re ready to start building up your pixel art character!

For examples of character design sketches for pixel art, check out this Pinterest board:

Outline the Base Shape

When starting a new pixel art character, it’s important to begin with simple geometric shapes to lay out the basic form. This will serve as the foundation to build the rest of your character on top of. Focus first on roughing out the major body parts like the head, torso, arms and legs before worrying about features and details.

For the head, draw a circle or oval shape. For the torso, use a rectangle or oval. Arms can be rectangles or slightly tapered cylinders. Legs are often rectangles or cylinders as well. Don’t stress about perfect proportions yet. The goal here is to map out the overall size and flow of your character.

For example, you may start with basic shapes like this:

Build the Form

After outlining the basic shape of your character, the next step is to build up the form by adding shapes for key elements like hair, clothes, and accessories. This helps define the final proportions and silhouette of your character.

Start by sketching rough shapes and forms for the hair on top of the head outline. Indicate the direction and flow of the hair using simple lines and blocks. You can add shapes for bangs, ponytails, pigtails, or other hairstyles. Refine the outline of the head to fit with the hair shape.

Add simple rectangular or oval shapes on the body to represent clothing items like shirts, pants, dresses, coats, etc. Consider the character’s outfit and how their clothes sit on the body. Allow the clothes to influence the final proportions – a puffy jacket will add width, while tight pants can lengthen the legs.

Finally, rough in any key accessories your character will wear like glasses, jewelry, backpacks, tools, or weapons. These details will get refined later, so just focus on their general size and placement for now.

As you build up the form, frequently zoom out and check that the proportions look correct. Make adjustments to get the right balance and silhouette. The shapes should start coming together to create a more refined sense of your character’s physical dimensions.

Add Color

Choosing the right colors is an important part of creating appealing pixel art characters. Understanding color theory concepts like hue, saturation, and value can help you pick a harmonious color palette. Complementary, analogous, and triadic color schemes work well for pixel art. Limit your palette to around 4-5 colors for simplicity. Stick to colors that have high contrast from each other.

When coloring your pixel art character, use the eyedropper or color picker tool to sample colors from your palette. Use shades and tints of your base colors to show light and shadow. Add highlights and shadows carefully to create the illusion of form. Use dithering techniques (combining dots of different colors) to shade or transition between colors smoothly.

Apply colors in broad strokes at first, then refine. Vary the saturation and values across your character for visual interest. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different color combinations until you find one that brings your character to life!


Draw the Face

Getting the proportions and placement of facial features right is key to creating appealing pixel art characters. Here are some tips on constructing the face:

Start with basic guidelines to map out the face shape and placement of features. The eyes are usually about halfway down the head, with space equal to one eye width between them. The mouth sits about one eye width below the eyes. The nose is centered between the eyes.

Drawing the eyes is all about simplicity. Just a couple of pixels can suggest an eye shape. Go for basic circles or rounded squares. Add a darker pixel or two for the pupil.

The nose can be a simple downward pointing triangle just a pixel or two wide. Nostrils are optional.

For the mouth, a single pixel line or simple curve gets the point across. Or make a small square shape for closed lips.

Ears can be suggested with just a pixel or two on each side. Other details like eyebrows, eyelashes, and wrinkles can be added for personality.

Keep facial features large and somewhat exaggerated. This helps them read clearly at small pixel scales. Adjust proportions until you get a pleasing look for your character.

For examples and inspiration, see pixel art faces at sites like: this Reddit thread and this Pinterest board.

Add Details

Adding details is one of the most important steps in creating compelling pixel art characters. This is where you refine the shapes, add highlights and shadows, and really make your character come to life.

Some key detailing techniques include:

  • Using lighter and darker shades to add depth and form – add shadows under chins, beneath hair, under arms, etc. Highlights along edges can accentuate curves and give a nice polished look.
  • Pay attention to light source and think about where shadows logically fall on your character’s form based on an imagined light source. Use shades strategically to create the illusion of 3D.
  • Refine shapes and smooth jagged edges. Zoom in close and clean up rough pixels along curves and lines.
  • Add expressive touches like glints in the eyes, blush on cheeks, strands of stray hair. These elements bring life and personality.
  • Consider texture and material. Use patterns, gradients, and highlighting to differentiate between say, metal armor and cloth garments.
  • Anticipate how your character will animate. Leave breathing room rather than filling every pixel. Generally avoid straight horizontal/vertical lines.

Start with broad details, then progressively refine. Don’t be afraid to experiment and tweak as you go. Detailing can take a basic form and transform it into a vivid character brimming with personality. For examples, see this pixel art detailing tutorial.

Finishing Touches

a pixel art character waving hello with a friendly smile

After your pixel art character is complete, it’s important to add some finishing touches before sharing it online. Some things to consider:

Sign your work. Just like any art, it’s good practice to sign your pixel art creations. Add your signature, handle, or initials in an inconspicuous spot on the canvas.

Export the file properly. Save your pixel art creation at the resolution you worked at to retain image quality. Common file formats are .png and .gif. If posting online, save a lower resolution version.

Back up your files. Make sure to keep the original high-res files in case you ever need them. Save copies in multiple locations to prevent data loss.

Share your character. Post your finished pixel art on your website, art sharing sites like DeviantArt or social media. Tag with relevant terms and link to your portfolio.

Look for feedback. Ask other pixel artists for constructive criticism so you can continue improving. Participate in pixel art communities online.


In this tutorial, we walked through the key steps for creating pixel art characters for beginners. We started by gathering references and planning out the character design. Then we outlined the basic shapes, built up the forms, and added color. After that, we drew the facial features, clothes, and other details to bring the character to life. Finally, we went over finishing touches like outlines and highlights.

The process takes patience and practice, but making pixel art characters can be a fun and rewarding way to start creating digital art. To continue improving your skills, check out the pixel art tutorials and communities linked below for more tips and inspiration:

With regular practice using the techniques from this beginner’s guide, you’ll be making awesome pixel art characters in no time.