Pixelart Character Design Tips: Crafting Memorable Characters


The characters in a video game are often what players remember most fondly years later. Who can forget the iconic pixel art sprites of Mario, Link, Samus Aran, and other classic video game heroes? There’s something nostalgic and special about those blocky, low-resolution designs that stood out amid simple 8-bit graphics. Though gaming has evolved remarkably since the 1980s and 90s, pixel art remains a much-loved aesthetic choice for modern indie developers. Crafting memorable characters is key whether making a retro platformer or sprawling 3D epic. Pixel art imposes unique creative constraints, but also opportunities to convey personality and emotion in minimalist designs.

Keep Designs Simple

One of the most important tips for pixel art character design is keeping the overall design simple. With pixel art, you are working with a very limited number of pixels, especially at smaller sprite sizes like 16×16 or 32×32. This means you don’t have room for lots of extra details or flourishes in your design.

Focus on the key identifying features of your character – often just a few well-chosen pixels can suggest an eye, mouth, or other facial feature. Don’t try to cram in extra details just for the sake of it. As reddit user u/thetafour suggests, “A good rule is that a character needs a distinctive silhouette” (source). Keeping the overall shape clear and recognizable is more important than extra decoration.

Of course, as your sprite size increases, you’ll have more freedom to add some additional flair. But in general, embrace the pixel art aesthetic by keeping your characters clean, simple, and visually distinctive.

Use Color Strategically

The colors you choose for your pixel art characters can be a powerful way to convey their personalities and emotions. According to an article on Medium, having a cohesive color palette creates harmony in your art while allowing certain colors to stand out (source). For example, warm colors like red, orange, and yellow can suggest energetic or fiery characters. Cool colors like blue, purple, and green may give a more calm or contemplative impression. You can also use complementary colors like red and green to make parts of your character pop. Just be sure not to use too many competing colors in one character design, as that can make them visually confusing.

Additionally, an article on Pixel Parmesan recommends developing a relative color palette when creating pixel art characters (https://pixelparmesan.com/color-theory-for-pixel-artists-its-all-relative/). Pick a few anchor colors that will be the extremes of your palette, then connect the shades in between to create gradient options while maintaining color harmony. This allows you to shade your character with purposefully selected hues that enhance their look and personality.

Make Poses Dynamic

One of the most important aspects of designing memorable pixel art characters is to make their poses dynamic. Poses show action and emotion, bringing your characters to life. Dynamic poses convey energy and attitude, making characters appear more animated.

When developing poses, think about the emotion or action you want to portray. For example, an excited character can be shown jumping up with arms raised while a thoughtful character may be looking down with hand on chin. Consider the personality and role of the character. An elegant character may pose gracefully while a fighting character takes on a battle stance.

example pixel art character poses showing action and emotion.

Additionally, use poses to convey relationships between characters. Turn bodies towards who they are interacting with and consider complementary gestures. For example, a character handing an object to another character while the recipient reaches out. Contrasting poses can also create visual interest. One character standing upright while another sits down. Varying poses adds dynamism and visual intrigue.

Beware of stiffness. While pixel art uses limited pixels, utilize angles, gestures and asymmetrical poses to add energy. Reference photo poses or act out gestures yourself. Vary poses across frames for animation. Dynamic poses bring pixel art characters to life!

For inspiration, check out character pose examples on sites like Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/laceys-stuff–20125529576866889/).

Establish Clear Silhouettes

One of the most important aspects of pixel art character design is creating a recognizable silhouette. The silhouette is the basic shape of the character, reduced to solid black against a white background. A strong, readable silhouette makes a character instantly identifiable even in the absence of details or color.

When designing your pixel art characters, pay close attention to the silhouette. Avoid silhouettes that are overly complex or generic. Instead, establish unique shapes that capture the essence of each character. For example, Mario’s hat and mustache make him easily recognizable. Link’s pointed hat, shield and sword are iconic elements of his silhouette.

Aim for silhouettes that are simple yet distinctive. You want players to recognize characters right away, even from a distance or small size. Keep silhouettes clear of visual noise and unnecessary details. Refine the shapes until each character has a solid, memorable silhouette before adding finer details.

Testing silhouettes on their own, without color or textures, is a great way to evaluate their clarity. Do this periodically as you refine the pixel art. If a silhouette reads well on its own, you’ve created effective visual shorthand for that character.

Memorable silhouettes make a lasting impression and help give each character a unique identity. They are one of the most important foundations for creating iconic pixel art characters.

For tips on pixel art silhouettes, check out this Reddit thread: How do I create character silhouettes in pixel art?

Add Expressive Details

One way to make pixel art characters more memorable is by adding small expressive details. For example, add unique hairstyles, clothing patterns, or accessories that provide hints about the character’s personality or backstory. A mage character might have stars and moons on their robe, while a princess could wear fancy jewelry. According to an article on Kodeco, “Subtle touches like tears in clothing or scratches on armor can tell a story too.”

When adding details, remember to keep the overall design simple and readable. As noted in Introduction to Pixel Art for Games (https://www.kodeco.com/2888-introduction-to-pixel-art-for-games), “It’s easy to go overboard so try to use just enough detail to get the point across.” Stick to just a few well-chosen details that enhance the character.

The details you choose can also create visual interest. For example, including both horizontal and vertical elements makes the design more dynamic. Layering details on top of the base colors adds depth and texture. Use details to lead the viewer’s eye across key focal points of your character’s design.

Give Each Character a Distinct Shape

One way to make pixel art characters stand out is by giving them unique silhouettes and body shapes. Avoid making all your characters the same height and width. Instead, experiment with different proportions to add visual interest.

For example, you could have a tall, slender character in contrast to a short, stocky one. Or make a character that is wider on top and narrower on the bottom. Exaggerating body shapes adds personality and makes each character distinct at a glance.

In addition to body shapes, consider giving characters distinct props or clothing shapes to differentiate them. For example, a character wearing a long coat will have a different silhouette than one wearing a short cape. Unique accessories like large hats, different hairstyles, and weapons can all help make a character’s shape more distinctive.

When brainstorming characters, sketch out various proportions and silhouettes. See how adjusting the shoulders, waist, and leg length changes a character’s look and personality. Distinct shapes are especially important for player characters, enemies, and key NPCs that the audience will see repeatedly.

For examples of how to give pixel art characters unique and exaggerated shapes, see this reference guide: Pixel Art Character Examples.

Consider How Characters Interact

Relationship dynamics between characters can be conveyed through body language and proximity. When designing characters that will be interacting, think about their relationship and how to visually communicate it. For example, characters who are antagonistic toward each other may face away, while characters who are friends might face each other. The distance between characters also matters – characters with close relationships will likely stand nearer, while unfriendly characters will keep more distance. Consider having interacting characters mirror each other’s body language to show connection.

Pixel art allows designers to use simple cues to suggest complex social relationships between characters. A change in posture, glance, or stance can speak volumes. Study body language and proxemics to learn how humans interact in real life, and apply those lessons when positioning your pixel art characters together on the canvas. With just a few pixels, you can imply allies and enemies, mentors and students, parent and child pairs.

Test Characters in Different Scenes

It’s crucial to test your pixel art characters in different environments and scenarios to evaluate if the design is visually striking and memorable. Simply sketching a character on a blank canvas doesn’t reveal how it will look in actual game scenes.

Test your character walking, jumping, and performing actions in various settings like forests, castles, outer space, etc. See if the colors, shapes, and poses you’ve chosen make the character stand out. As advised on Reddit, use free tools like Game Character Hub to easily test animations and backdrops. Experiment with different camera angles as well.

Additionally, view your character next to others. Are they still identifiable? Can you quickly spot them in a lineup? Distinct silhouettes and colors will make a design more memorable. Use these tests to tweak your pixel art until the character truly pops in any scene.


In summary, creating memorable pixel art characters comes down to keeping designs simple yet strategic. Focus on establishing distinct silhouettes, dynamic poses, thoughtful color choices, and expressive details. Make each character’s shape and personality pop. Consider how your characters will interact together and test them across various scenarios.

Some final tips: don’t clutter the design, let key identifying features shine through. Use color to draw the eye where you want it. Animate sparingly for maximum impact. And most importantly, embrace limitations and have fun bringing your imagination to life in pixels!

The pixel art medium offers a unique creative space to craft iconic game characters. Start sketching and see what memorable heroes, villains and creatures your imagination conjures up. Pixel by pixel, build a vibrant world for your characters to inhabit. Happy pixel art character designing!