Pixelart Coloring Techniques: Advanced Tips And Tricks

Pixel art is a form of digital art where artists manipulate pixels to create images and animations. Each pixel forms a building block that artists use like a mosaic to construct intricate designs. The term pixel art originated in the 1980s when graphics cards enabled computers to display graphics in higher resolutions. Early games consoles also used simple pixels to create their in-game sprites and environments. The limited resolutions made pixel by pixel artwork a necessity (The History of Pixel Art, 2018).

Over time, pixel art has evolved from a technical limitation into an artform embraced for its retro aesthetic. Today, pixel artists intentionally limit the resolution and color palettes of their work to achieve the signature pixel look. Basic techniques include choosing color palettes, manipulating individual pixels, and using dithering and anti-aliasing to simulate detail and gradients. Advanced pixel artists employ a variety of specialized techniques to create stunning game environments, animated characters, and more.

Color Theory

Color theory is an essential concept when creating pixel art. It involves understanding how colors interact with each other and the visual effects produced through different color combinations. Some key principles of color theory to know are the color wheel, primary, secondary and tertiary colors, and color schemes.

The color wheel shows the relationship between different colors. It’s made up of primary colors (red, yellow, blue), secondary colors (colors created by mixing primaries), and tertiary colors (mix of primary and secondary). Knowing the color wheel helps artists choose harmonious color schemes for their art.

Some common color schemes used in pixel art:

  • Analogous – colors next to each other on the wheel
  • Complementary – opposite colors on the wheel
  • Triadic – three colors equally spaced on the wheel
  • Monochromatic – shades of one color

Understanding these color relationships allows pixel artists to make informed choices when selecting a palette and applying color. Proper use of color theory creates visual appeal and aesthetically pleasing artwork.

Palette Selection

Choosing the right color palette is essential for creating vibrant and appealing pixel art. The number of colors you use will depend on the complexity of your artwork and desired visual style. Most pixel art uses a limited palette of around 5-15 colors for a cohesive and retro look.

Excellent sources of palette inspiration are classic games and consoles like the NES, Gameboy, and SNES. Their graphics used a small number of colors very effectively. There are also many pixel art palette generators online that can suggest color combinations based on your preferences.

Some recommended tools for generating custom palettes are Lospec, Paletton and Coolors. Start with a base background color and add complementary shades and tones. Keep your palette organized by hue and saturation for easy selection while coloring. Save and export your palette to reference as you work.

Remember that limitations breed creativity. A concise pixel art palette allows you to develop a strong visual style. Master pixel artists can create amazing works with just 4-5 colors.


Dithering is a technique used in pixel art to blend colors together and create the illusion of additional shades and tones using limited color palettes. By carefully placing pixels of different colors next to each other, dithering can smooth color transitions and gradients in pixel art. It is an essential technique for achieving detail, shading, and nuance when working with constraints like limited color options.

Dithering should be utilized when an artist needs to transition from light to dark values, blend colors together, or add texture and detail to a piece. The most basic application is gently blending one color into another color. More advanced dithering creates patterns like checkerboards, dots, lines, or stripes to transition colors. Dithering works best for gradients, shadows, and areas where precision is needed when shading.

There are many patterns and techniques to achieve different dithering effects in pixel art. Common patterns include checkerboard, dots, diagonal lines, criss-cross lines, horizontal or vertical lines, circular shapes, noise patterns, and more. Artists can experiment with different densities, formations, angles, and combinations of patterns to find what works best for specific areas and needs. Some basic dithering techniques are random dithering, grid dithering, line dithering, dot dithering and more. The density, shape, and arrangement of the patterns make a significant difference in the final effect and illusion of blending.

As discussed in this article, dithering takes patience and practice for pixel artists to master. But once understood, it offers great control and is an invaluable technique for achieving the color blending, shading, and detail needed in advanced pixel art.
example of using dithering patterns to transition colors in pixel art


Anti-aliasing is an important technique in pixel art for minimizing jagged edges and creating smoother transitions between colors. It involves manipulating colors along the edges between two contrasting areas to create a softer, less pixelated effect.

The most basic anti-aliasing is known as “grayscaling” which involves using lighter and darker shades of gray along an edge to smooth it out. This can be achieved by using dithering patterns or manually placing intermediate shades by hand 1. More advanced methods include alpha blending which utilizes semi-transparent pixels along edges, and supersampling which involves rendering images at a higher resolution before downscaling.

Applying anti-aliasing takes patience and practice. It’s important to use it judiciously, only along key edges, and balance it with hard edges to maintain a pixel art style. Anti-aliasing can make a big difference in creating smooth gradients, clean lines, and refined detailing in pixel art.


Shading is an essential technique for creating the illusion of form and depth in pixel art. Proper shading can make a flat 2D image appear to have volume and contours. There are several approaches to shading pixel art effectively.

One key principle is establishing a light source. Imagine where the light is coming from in your scene – often from above, the side, or below. Areas facing the light source will be highlighted, while areas facing away will be in shadow. You can shade the pixels gradually from light to dark to show this light fall-off across your image.

In addition to light and shadows, shading can also indicate the material of an object. Metallic surfaces reflect light differently than rough or matte ones. Study real-world references to observe how light interacts with different materials when shading them (Esther An on Twitter).

When shading, it helps to start with broad areas of light and dark, blocking in the major planes. You can then refine with more nuanced intermediate tones and highlights/shadows to increase realism. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate the contrast – this helps sell the 3D effect.

Some shading techniques like manual anti-aliasing along edges can smooth jaggies and blend colors nicely. Dithering, using patterns of alternating colored pixels, is another way to create gradients in pixel art (Pixel Art Mastery – Advanced Textures and Shading).

With practice, you’ll develop an intuitive sense for light, form, and material in your pixel art through effective shading.


Adding details like textures, patterns, and highlights can take your pixel art to the next level. Here are some tips for effective detailing:

Textures – Add visual texture by varying your palette to give the impression of different materials like stone, wood, metal, etc. You can also add small details like cracks, scratches, or pores to enhance realism. Check out this tutorial on creating realistic textures: How to start making pixel art #4. Basic Shading

Patterns – Repeating patterns are an easy way to add intricate detail, especially for things like fabrics, tiles, or scales. Start with a small pattern motif and copy/paste to create a seamless pattern. Vary the colors slightly for a more organic look.

Highlights and Shine – Strategic highlights and shiny areas direct the viewer’s eye and add depth. Use bright accent colors sparingly to create focal points and the illusion of light. Highlights along edges can give a rounded, beveled effect.

The key is to add details judiciously. Too much can make pixel art feel noisy and cluttered. Focus on strategic areas to enhance realism and draw the eye where you want it to go.


Animation is a key component of pixel art that brings your static images to life. To animate pixel art, you need to create a series of frames that transition from one to the next to convey movement. Here are some tips for effective pixel art animation:

Creating Movement

The illusion of movement in pixel art is achieved by gradually changing the position of elements across frames. For example, to make a character walk, you would slowly adjust their leg position in each frame. Other techniques like squashing and stretching objects as they move can make the animation more dynamic.

Frame Transitions

To make the animation look smooth, you need to have enough frames and ensure proper timing between transitions. Aim for at least 12 frames per second, and use transitions like “onion skinning” to preview how frames flow into each other.


Some examples of animated pixel art include:

  • – A bouncing ball moving up and down
  • – Clouds slowly drifting across the sky
  • – Water rippling from a splash
  • – A character running or jumping in place
  • – A spaceship engine flame animating

With meticulous attention to detail, you can create captivating pixel art animations frame-by-frame.

Tools and Software

There are many great tools and software programs for creating pixel art. Some of the most popular options include:

Adobe Photoshop is a well known graphics editing and digital painting software, and it is also one of the best software for pixel art making. While it’s not specifically designed for pixel art, it has many useful features like layers, brushes, and plugins that pixel artists can take advantage of.

Aseprite is a sprite editor dedicated to pixel art. It has support for layers, frames, palettes, animations, and more. Many pixel artists use Aseprite for its specialized tools tailored for this art form.

GIMP is a free and open source raster graphics editor that many pixel artists use. It has a range of brushes and tools that allow artists to create detailed pixel art.

There are also pixel art focused brushes and plugins available for programs like Photoshop. These can help create authentic looking pixel art with features like indexed color, dithering, and pixel perfect strokes.

When selecting software, pixel artists should consider the features they need like animation tools, indexed color support, and specialized brushes. The best programs allow artists to focus on the art rather than technical limitations.

Creating Pixel Art

Pixel art may seem intimidating for beginners, but with some guidance, anyone can start creating simple pixel art projects. Here is a step-by-step guide to get you started:

  1. Pick your canvas size. Start small, like 32×32 or 64×64 pixels. This will make it easier as you’re learning.
  2. Select your palette of colors to use. Limit yourself to just a few colors in the beginning.
  3. Sketch your idea first on paper so you have a plan.
  4. Use the pencil tool at 1px to lay down your basic shapes and silhouette.
  5. Switch to the paint bucket to fill in your colors.
  6. Add details and shading with darker and lighter shades of your colors.
  7. Zoom in close to clean up jagged lines and shape edges.
  8. Don’t worry about perfection! Keep your first attempts simple and practice.

Some common mistakes those new to pixel art make are using too many colors in their palette, not planning out compositions beforehand, and ignoring anti-aliasing. Be sure to start slowly and focus on the basics. With regular practice of small projects, you’ll start developing skills over time. Useful exercises for beginners include recreating simple icons or logos, designing sprites for games, and converting photos to pixel art.

For step-by-step video tutorials, check out these beginner pixel art guides: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5DfYoMRfP4tNl14GMDfv670-3fnYcjsh