How To Improve Your Pixelart Skills: Tips For Beginners

Pixel art is a form of digital art that uses a limited color palette and low pixel resolutions to create a distinct retro video game aesthetic. The term “pixel art” refers to both a type of digital image and a creative style. Unlike traditional digital art that uses a high number of pixels, pixel art relies on color limitations and large pixels to convey form and detail.

The earliest examples of pixel art originated in the 1970s and 1980s with the advent of home computers and video game consoles. Early arcade games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong used simple pixelated graphics to render characters and environments due to the technical limitations of the hardware. As video game graphics improved over time, pixel art remained a popular stylistic choice for indie games seeking a nostalgic 8-bit or 16-bit look.

Today, pixel art continues to be used in video games but has expanded into new mediums like digital illustrations, animated GIFs, and web design. Its nostalgic pixelated aesthetic makes it popular for artists aiming to evoke the look and feel of retro games and pop culture. Pixel art offers artists and designers a fun creative challenge to convey complex ideas using minimalist means.


The History Of Pixel Art

Basic Tools Needed

When starting out with pixel art, having the right basic tools can make a big difference in the quality of your work. Here are some of the essential supplies for beginner pixel artists:

For software, many beginners use graphic design programs like Photoshop or GIMP since they have basic pixel art features. However, dedicated pixel art programs like Aseprite or Pro Motion provide specialized pixel art tools and are a good investment (Source).

Using a drawing tablet instead of a mouse gives you more control and precision when drawing. Wacom is the most popular brand for beginner-friendly drawing tablets (Source).

Other recommended starter supplies are a sketchpad for hand-drawn drafts, pencils, and erasers. Working by hand first can help you plan out ideas before digitizing them.

Understanding Pixel Resolution

example pixel art animation of a character walking
Pixel resolution refers to the number of pixels contained in a display image. Resolution is typically measured in pixels per inch (PPI) or pixels per centimeter.

Some common pixel resolutions used in pixel art include:

  • 16 x 16 (very low resolution for retro pixel art)
  • 32 x 32 (common for pixel art sprites and characters)
  • 64 x 64 (provides more detail for environments and backgrounds)
  • 128 x 128 (high resolution with a lot of detail)

When choosing a resolution for your pixel art, consider:

  • Lower resolution allows for bigger, bolder pixels that are easier to work with.
  • Higher resolution provides more detail but requires working with smaller pixels.
  • Match the resolution to the subject matter – lower resolution for simpler icons and sprites, higher for complex scenes.
  • Consider the final display size – lower resolution works for smaller sizes, higher resolution preserves detail when enlarged.

Experiment with different resolutions to find the right balance of detail versus simplicity for your goals.

Using a Limited Color Palette

When creating pixel art, it’s recommended to stick to a limited color palette, usually 10 colors or less. Here are some of the benefits of limiting your colors:

  • Makes it easier to achieve color harmony and create a cohesive look
  • Forces you to be more creative in shading and texturing with a small set of colors
  • Easier to tweak and adjust colors when you have a limited palette
  • Helps give pixel art its iconic retro gaming visual style

When choosing your palette, it’s best to pick a set of colors that work well together. Usually a mix of dark, medium and light tones works best. Start with primaries, secondaries, neutrals, and accents. Some classic palettes to try are:

Limiting colors may seem restricting at first, but it will push your creativity in new ways. Start simple with a small palette and you can always expand it later as you gain experience.

Pixel Art Techniques

There are a few key techniques that can help take your pixel art to the next level. Mastering these will allow you to create more detailed and intricate pixel art.


Dithering is a technique where you blend colors together by intermixing pixels of different colors. This helps create the illusion of shading and textures. For example, you can dither shades of brown to create the look of wood grain. Dithering is useful when you have a limited color palette.


Anti-aliasing smooths jagged edges in pixel art by blending pixels of different colors. For example, you can use lighter colors on the edges of a dark shape to soften the jaggies. This makes curves and diagonals look less pixelated. Anti-aliasing helps make the final piece look cleaner.


Banding refers to unwanted transitions between shades in pixel art. It looks like distinct bands or lines of color rather than a smooth gradient. To avoid banding, you want to blend colors smoothly by carefully dithering. Having more colors in your palette helps as well. Experiment to find dithering patterns that eliminate banding in your art.

Drawing Pixel Shapes

One of the keys to creating compelling pixel art is being able to draw basic shapes like circles, curves, and angles. According to an article on Adobe’s website, “The most basic objects — squares, circles, triangles — are the atoms of the pixel world. Simple shapes combined creatively give rise to complex objects and engaging scenes” (source).

When drawing pixel circles, start with a small diameter and build outward. Use anti-aliasing (blending colors of adjacent pixels) to smooth jagged edges. For curves and angles, plot points carefully before filling them in to create natural, smooth lines. Pay attention to anatomy and perspective to depict forms accurately. To convey depth, make objects smaller and overlap them. Use changes in brightness and saturation to create the illusion of distance (source).

With practice in placing individual pixels thoughtfully, you can learn to draw lifelike pixel art shapes and figures. Mastering basic forms is an essential first step for any aspiring pixel artist.

Animating Pixels

Animation can add a whole new dimension to pixel art. By making elements move, you can really bring your pixel creations to life. Here’s an overview of pixel art animation basics, tools, and best practices:

For animation basics, you’ll need to understand the principles of animation like timing and spacing. Pixel art animation often uses very short loops of only a few frames. Carefully plan out each frame to create smooth motion. Consider starting with simple bouncing or blinking animations before attempting more complex movements.

As for tools, many pixel art programs like Aseprite allow you to create animations frame-by-frame. Onion skinning features help preview animations as you work. Alternatively, you can animate spritesheets in Photoshop or other image editors using layers. There are also dedicated pixel animation apps for mobile devices. Explore different tools to find your preferred pixel art animation workflow.

When animating pixels, focus on just a few elements moving while keeping the background static. Avoid overcomplicated or disjointed motions. Use animations subtly to enhance the overall scene. Playback speed can also impact the end result. Faster speeds can heighten intensity while slower speeds create a more relaxed vibe. Refine your animations through iteration and testing. With practice, you’ll develop a style of pixel art animation that brings your artwork to life.

Creating Pixel Scenes

Creating a full pixel art scene takes planning and an eye for composition. Here are some tips for constructing eye-catching pixel scenes:

Composition and Layout

Think about the layout of your scene and where you want to lead the viewer’s eye. Place important elements using the rule of thirds. Lead the eye from foreground to background using objects and scenery. Think about balance and empty space.


The background sets the tone and location for your scene. Keep backgrounds simple but evocative. Use a limited palette and pixel techniques like dithering for sky, water, clouds etc. Add details like mountains, trees or buildings to suggest depth.


Use perspective to add depth and realism. Draw objects smaller and simpler as they recede into the distance. Overlap objects, use foreshortening, and play with the horizon line. Add shadows, highlights and detailing to strengthen the perspective.

With planning and practice, you can create vibrant pixel scenes full of life. Experiment and find what works for your artistic vision.

Developing Your Style

Your pixel art will start to come into its own as you develop your personal style. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find an aesthetic that excites you.

Look at other pixel artists’ work for inspiration, but avoid copying their style outright. Use references to understand techniques, color palettes, and composition, but make it your own.

Creating a cohesive style means working in a consistent way across your pieces. Develop your own techniques and motifs in your work. Maybe you perfect your ability to draw expressive characters, or create stunning alien landscapes, or animate mesmerizing magic spells.

Your style is what makes your pixel art special. Keep practicing and developing it through your pieces. Stay open to feedback from others, but trust your creative instincts to guide your aesthetic over time. With patience and persistence, you’ll create pixel art that reflects your unique artistic vision.

Sharing and Getting Feedback

An important step in improving your pixel art skills is sharing your work and getting feedback from others. Online pixel art communities like Pixel Art Communities are a great place to do this. These communities allow you to post your artwork and get live feedback from experienced pixel artists.

When sharing your work, be open to constructive criticism. Don’t take negative feedback personally. Focus on using it to improve your skills. Ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand something. Listen to feedback on the fundamentals like color palette, shapes, shading, and animation techniques.

After receiving feedback, thank the community members for taking the time to help you improve. Consider their suggestions as you continue practicing and developing your pixel art skills. Reflect on what worked well and what you can improve on for your next piece. Continually sharing your progress will help benchmark your growth as an artist.