Mastering Pixelart: Tips And Tricks For Beginners

Pixel art is a form of digital art that focuses on creating images and animations using individual pixels. The term “pixel art” refers to both the process and the resulting artwork. In pixel art, images are digitally drawn and edited at the pixel level.

Pixel art first emerged in the 1970s and 1980s with the rise of 8-bit video game consoles and computer graphics that were restricted to a limited color palette and resolution. Early pixel art was characterized by blocky, low-resolution sprites and environments. Over time, pixel art has evolved to make use of larger palettes, resolutions, and animation techniques while still maintaining its signature pixel aesthetic.

Today, pixel art continues to be popular in indie/retro video games, mobile games, pixel art communities, and graphic design projects looking for a distinct, nostalgic look. The constrained nature of pixel art presents creative challenges and makes mastering pixel art a rewarding yet challenging endeavor for artists and designers.

This guide aims to teach beginners the fundamental skills needed to start creating their own pixel art. We’ll be covering key topics like tools and software, color palettes, shading, animation, and more. With practice and dedication, you can develop proficiency in the unique creative medium of pixel art.

Tools and Software

When starting out with pixel art, it’s important to choose user-friendly software that allows you to focus on the fundamentals. Here are some top recommendations for beginner-friendly pixel art tools:

For online editing, Piskel and Lospec Pixel Editor are both free browser-based options with simple interfaces. Their limited features help new users grasp the basics without getting overwhelmed. Piskel offers frame-by-frame animation while Lospec provides a selection of color palettes.

For desktop software, Aseprite is a popular choice thanks to its affordable price and pixel-perfect workflow. The timeline view makes sprite animations easy. Krita is also free and open source, with natural painting tools that mimic real-world art supplies. Both are beginner-friendly while allowing room to grow.

Some cons to watch out for are limited features in free online editors, and a learning curve with more advanced desktop apps. But starting simple is key. As a beginner, focus on grasping the fundamentals rather than using complex software with abundant features.

Color Theory and Palettes

Color is a major component of pixel art. Understanding basic color theory principles allows you to create appealing palettes and use color effectively. When starting out, it’s best to limit your palette to just a few colors to maintain a cohesive, retro look.

Overview of Color Theory

Some key color theory concepts to know:

  • Primary colors – red, yellow, blue. Can’t be mixed from other colors.
  • Secondary colors – orange, green, purple. Created by mixing two primaries.
  • Tertiary colors – made by mixing a primary and secondary color.
  • Complementary colors – opposite on the color wheel, create high contrast.
  • Analogous colors – next to each other on the color wheel, create harmony.
  • Warm colors – red, yellow, orange. Cool colors – blue, green, purple.

Limited Color Palettes

Pixel art uses a limited palette, often with around 12 colors or less. This maintains a retro style and cohesive look. Focus on picking colors that work well together through color theory principles like complements or analogies. Avoid choosing colors randomly.

Creating Color Palettes

Some tips for creating great pixel art palettes:

  • Pick a dominant color as your base.
  • Add complements or analogous colors.
  • Include some light and dark shades.
  • Add some warmer and cooler colors for contrast.
  • Aim for a balance of muted and saturated colors.
  • Use a color palette generator tool if needed.

Test your palette to ensure colors work well together before using it in your artwork. Limiting your palette will help maintain consistency across your pixel art and give it a stylized, retro look.

Drawing Pixels

Pixel art is all about placing individual pixels in a deliberate way to create recognizable shapes and images. When first starting out, it can be challenging to draw evenly sized and spaced pixels. Some tips for drawing clean pixels include using graph paper or dot grids for guidance, zooming in closely on your canvas, and using stabilization features in drawing apps. It’s also helpful to start simple by drawing basic pixel art shapes like circles, squares, triangles to get a feel for constructing forms out of pixels.

According to a helpful Pixel Art Tutorials video, some easy beginner pixel art shapes to practice include cubes, spheres, pyramids. The tutor recommends sketching these shapes first with basic outlines before filling them in with pixels. This allows you to visualize the 3D form before digitizing it into pixels. When shading the shapes, be mindful of light source and gradations of color. Subtle variations in hue can create the illusion of depth and volume.

practicing basic pixel art shapes like cubes and spheres helps build foundational skills.

When comfortable with basic shapes, you can move on to more complex pixel art subjects like characters and environments. It takes time and practice to develop pixel art skills, so be patient with yourself as you learn proper techniques for constructing clean defined pixel art.

Animating Pixels

Animation is a key part of pixel art that brings your creations to life. By sequencing a series of frames with slight changes, you can depict motion and actions. Here’s an introduction to some core animation concepts for beginners:

Introduction to Animation

The basic principle of animation is creating the illusion of movement by displaying a sequence of slightly different images called “frames” in quick succession. For pixel art, each frame is a single digital image comprising pixels. When the frames are shown rapidly one after another, it tricks our brain into perceiving continuous motion.

To animate pixel art, you need to first plan out the sequence of key frames that will depict the action you want to show. These frames only need to represent major positions, like the start pose, middle pose, and end pose. The software will automatically generate the in-between frames to complete the animation sequence.

Walk Cycles

A common animation in pixel art is a “walk cycle”, which shows a character walking. This involves depicting the major poses of taking a step with the legs and swinging the arms. A typical walk cycle has around 6-12 frames.

When creating a walk cycle, it’s important to have key frames of when the feet touch the ground, as well as when the legs pass each other. The other frames show the transition poses in between. Once the walk cycle is done, it can be looped continuously to animate the character moving.

Frame Rate

The frame rate determines how many frames are displayed per second in the animation. Standard frame rates are 10, 12, 15, 24, or 30 frames per second. A lower frame rate makes the animation more choppy, while a higher frame rate makes it smoother.

For pixel art, frame rates between 10-15 frames per second are commonly used. This provides enough frames to depict smooth motion while keeping the amount of drawing work manageable.

Shading and Lighting

Shading is an important technique for creating the illusion of form and depth in pixel art. Since pixel art has a limited resolution, shading is essential for depicting light and shadow.

There are several common shading techniques used in pixel art:

  • Dithering – Using patterns of light and dark pixels to create gradients and textures.
  • Contour Shading – Darkening pixels on the edges and contours of an object to define its shape.
  • Cel Shading – Using flat shading with sharp transitions between light and dark areas.

The direction and intensity of lighting affects how shadows are rendered. Side lighting from a directional light source creates strong shadows. Ambient lighting softly fills in shadows. Rim lighting accentuates outlines and edges.

Here are some tips for effective shading and lighting in pixel art:

  • Use shading to enhance the form of characters, objects, and environments.
  • Add shadows near the feet of subjects to ground them.
  • Use differences in value contrast to create focal points.
  • Limit the palette but shade gradually for smooth transitions.
  • Dither in the direction of the light source’s rays.
  • Light backgrounds tend to recede, dark backgrounds advance.

With practice and observation, lighting and shading can bring pixel art to life with personality and visual appeal. Experiment with different techniques to develop your shading skills.

Perspective and Depth

Creating the illusion of perspective and depth in pixel art can add a sense of realism and draw the viewer into the scene. Here are some tips for achieving perspective and depth in your pixel art:

Use a vanishing point and horizon line to create 1, 2, or 3 point perspective. This will make objects appear to recede into the distance. Place larger objects closer to the viewer and make objects smaller as they get farther away.

Vary the size and density of pixels to create depth. Close objects can have larger, more defined pixels while far away objects have smaller pixels. Distant backgrounds only need a few pixels to convey depth.

Overlap objects to make some appear closer than others. Objects in the foreground can partially block and cover objects farther away.

Use values and shading to create depth. Distant objects appear lighter while close objects have more contrast and details.

Add background elements that recede into the distance like hills, clouds, or buildings. Distant objects are blurrier, less saturated, and have less detail.

Experiment with different angles and viewpoints. Side scrolling or top down perspectives make good use of depth and parallax.

Characters and Sprites

Creating compelling characters and sprites is one of the most important skills in pixel art. The characters and sprites are often the centerpiece of a pixel art game or animation. Here are some tips for designing memorable pixel art characters and sprites:

Start with a simple base shape like a circle or square. Build up the basic forms of the character adding simple geometry shapes. Keep the silhouettes readable and identifiable. According to Pixel Art services on Fiverr, developing strong silhouettes helps reinforce the character’s personality and makes animation easier.

Use a limited color palette for each sprite. Limiting the colors per sprite makes animation more consistent across frames. Refer to color theory principles to choose colors that complement each other. See the Color Theory section for more tips.

Aim for the right level of detail. Include just enough detail to convey the essence of the character while maintaining simplicity. Prioritize key identifying characteristics. Clean lines and intentional shapes are more important than fine details in small sprites.

Animate your sprite to test how it looks in motion. Create a simple walk cycle or idle animation as a litmus test. Tweak the design based on any issues that emerge during the test animation. According to sprite sheet services on Fiverr, animation-testing sprites is crucial.

Create modular sprites and sprite sheets. Separate distinct body parts (arms, legs, torso, etc) into different sprites that can be recombined as needed. Use sprite sheets to organize variations of a sprite into one image file.

Study pixel art masters and classic games. Looking at examples helps internalize good techniques. Deconstruct sprites to see the shapes, colors and details that bring them to life. Mastering pixel art takes study and practice.

Environments and Assets

Creating compelling environments and assets is key for building immersive pixel art worlds. Start by planning out your environments on paper or digitally to map out the overall layout. Consider how you want the player to move through the space and encounter key objects and NPCs along the way. Use a gridded approach when constructing environments to keep pixels aligned and structured. Focus on the big shapes first, like walls, floors, large objects before adding in finer details.

When designing individual assets and props, break objects down into simple geometric shapes to start. Then add shading and details that bring them to life. Reuse assets and templates as much as possible – a well-made chair or rock asset can be duplicated and recolored for efficiency. Build modular pieces like wall segments, floor tiles and decorative objects that can be rearranged to create diverse environments. Maintain a consistent perspective, scale and level of detail across assets for visual cohesion.

For tilesets, illustrate small modular pieces like grass, water, trees, rocks, etc on a shared transparent background. These can then be pieced together in-game like building blocks to construct expansive environments efficiently. Start with flat single-color tiles, then add depth with shading, highlights and details. Just a few carefully made tiles can go a long way!

Use reference photos to inform your pixel art environments and assets. Look at real world objects to see how light and shadows play across shapes and surfaces. Study pixel art from games you admire to learn techniques for asset creation. With careful planning and an iterative approach, you can craft immersive pixel art worlds for players to explore.

Next Steps and Resources

Once you’ve grasped the basics of pixel art, there are many ways to continue improving your skills and connecting with the pixel art community.

Recommendations for Improving Skills

Practice regularly by recreating game sprites, characters, or scenes that inspire you. Analyze pixel art you admire to understand the techniques used. Participate in game jams or pixel art challenges to create artwork under a deadline. Experiment with different styles, themes, and genres to expand your range. Teach others by creating pixel art tutorials or critiquing work on forums.

Online Communities

Connect with other pixel artists on sites like Reddit, Twitter, and Discord. Share your work, give feedback, and be inspired by others. Some popular pixel art communities include r/PixelArt on Reddit, the #pixelart hashtag on Twitter, and servers like Pixel Art Community and Pixel Art Newbie. These can be great places to learn, get motivated, and make pixel art friends.


Expand your knowledge with pixel art books that provide structured lessons and expert techniques. Some well-regarded options include:

  • “Pixel Art for Game Developers” by Dan Silber
  • “The Fundamentals of Pixel Art” by Oryx Design Lab
  • “Pixel Logic” by Ivan Blaženić
  • “Drawing Pixel Art” by Jasper van Vugt

Investing in robust instructional books can level up your skills and give you structured exercises to practice.