Pixelart In Print Media: Editorial Design Trends

Pixel art refers to digital art created through manipulating individual pixels. It emerged in the 1980s as graphics technology advanced to support pixel-level modification. Early platforms that enabled pixel art creation included the Commodore 64, Atari 800, and Amiga

The roots of pixel art can be traced back to traditional mosaic artforms as well as early computer graphics. As display resolutions increased, artists began experimenting with manipulating pixels to render low-resolution retro graphics and sprites. This became popularized through early video games like Space Invaders, Pac Man, and Super Mario Bros which relied heavily on pixel art.

Pixel art requires careful planning and positioning of each pixel to build up the desired image. It utilizes a limited resolution and color palette compared to continuous tone raster graphics. This constraint gives pixel art its distinctive retro and pixelated aesthetic. Mastering pixel art takes precision, patience, and practice.

Popularity in Editorial Design

Pixel art has become increasingly popular in print media such as magazines, newspapers, and other publications due to its retro aesthetic. Publications like Wired, The New York Times, and The Economist have featured pixel art on their covers and in articles to add visual interest and nostalgia.

For example, a 2019 cover of Wired featured an 8-bit pixel art portrait of Mark Zuckerberg for a story about Facebook (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/digital-art-magazine–12314598972838161/). The pixelated graphic calls back to the early internet days of Facebook while complementing the theme of the article. The New York Times Magazine has also used pixel art portraits of politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Donald Trump to accompany political profiles.

Editorial designers appreciate pixel art for its ability to compress complex images into simplified representations that are highly shareable on social media. The retro style helps articles stand out while conveying meaning through abstraction. When used thoughtfully, pixel art can add intrigue and depth to editorials discussing technology, culture, and politics.

Benefits for Editorial Design

Pixel art offers several advantages for editorial design. First, it provides strong visual interest through its retro pixelated aesthetic. The blocky, low-resolution style stands out on the page and captures readers’ attention (Source 1). Pixel art also evokes nostalgia for old video games and digital media, which can connect with audiences on an emotional level.

Additionally, the constraints of pixel art force designers to get creative within limitations. With a restricted color palette and low resolution, artists must focus on iconic, easily recognizable shapes and compositions. As one source notes, “The principles of pixel art design encourage more iconic, simple graphic elements that get a point across without being overly worried about the minutiae” (Source 2). This simplicity can cut through visual clutter and sharpen editorial layouts.

In summary, the low-fi retro aesthetic, nostalgic feel, and creativity from constraints make pixel art a compelling stylistic choice for modern editorial design projects.

Key Techniques

Pixel art requires the use of several unique techniques to achieve the distinct blocky, “retro” aesthetic. Some important ones are:

Limited palette – Using a very limited set of distinct colors allows each tone to stand out clearly and emphasizes the “blocky” nature of pixel art (source). For example, popular pixel art palettes like DawnBringer’s only use 16 colors.

Pixel grid – Aligning all elements to a strict pixel grid lends a unified style and emphasizes hard edges and geometric shapes. Pixel artists work within the confines of the grid rather than anti-aliasing lines (source).

Enlarged scale – Drawing pixel art on a blown-up scale (e.g. 1 pixel = 1 cm) allows greater control and precision compared to tiny on-screen pixels. The art is then scaled down while preserving clarity of line and color.

Notable Artists

Many artists have gained prominence in the pixel art community for their distinctive styles and innovative techniques. Some of the most influential pixel artists today include eBoy, known for their retro cityscapes; Gutty Kreum, who creates vibrant pixel portraits and landscapes; and Paul Robertson, recognized for his animations and designs for video games.

Diego Bergia produces highly detailed pixel art with a glitch art aesthetic. ONIONLABS are a Korean studio that make striking minimalist pieces. Thomas Feichtmeir (also known as Cyangmou) is known for his smooth gradients and lighting effects. These are just a few standout examples among the many talented pixel artists actively pushing the medium forward.

Stylistic Variations

Pixel art encompasses a wide range of stylistic variations that artists utilize for different effects. Some of the main styles include:

Low Resolution – This style uses very few pixels, like 8×8 or 16×16, to create detailed artwork. Low resolution pixel art requires mastery of pixel placement to convey forms and details.1

Pixel Perfect – Pixel perfect art uses crisp, well-defined pixels with no anti-aliasing. This makes pixels clearly visible and creates a retro video game aesthetic.1

Isometric – Isometric pixel art uses axonometric projection to create a faux 3D look. This adds depth and dimension while maintaining a low resolution pixel aesthetic.1

Tools and Software

Pixel artists utilize a range of specialized software to create artwork. Some of the most popular pixel art programs include:

pixel art tools and software

Aseprite – This open source pixel art program allows for animation, layers, and other advanced features. It’s designed specifically for creating sprites and pixel art. Aseprite supports onion skinning and is optimized for pixel-level work.

GraphicsGale – GraphicsGale is another highly regarded pixel art software with animation capabilities. It provides color palettes, tilemaps, and other tools tailored to game asset creation.

Piskel – Piskel is a free browser-based pixel art editor with basic animation support. Its simple interface makes it beginner-friendly.

Photoshop – Adobe Photoshop remains a staple for professional pixel artists, with customizable brushes and robust features. However, it lacks specialized pixel art tools.

Programs like MS Paint or GIMP can also be used, but lack animation features. Pixel artists may use different software depending on their needs and preferences.

Best Practices

When creating pixel art, following some best practices can help artists achieve a polished, professional look. Three key areas to focus on are composition, color, and light/shadow.

For composition, it’s important to frame the subject effectively and use the limited space intentionally to direct the viewer’s eye 1. Strategies like the rule of thirds and balancing foreground and background elements create strong layouts. Simplicity and contrast help the focal point stand out.

Pixel artists recommend limiting the color palette and using colors purposefully to convey lighting and mood 2. Colors should be visually distinct but work together cohesively. Strategic shifts in hue, saturation, and brightness create contrast and dimension.

Finally, light sources and shadows define forms and add depth. Highlights and shadows can be subtle, using just a few shades difference to suggest shape and lighting. Strategic illumination creates atmosphere and guides the viewer’s eye.

Criticisms and Challenges

While pixel art has gained popularity in recent years for its retro aesthetic, some critics argue that its perceived simplicity actually masks significant creative limitations. With pixel art’s constrained palette and resolution, artists have a more restricted range of techniques and effects at their disposal compared to other digital art forms. This can make conveying visual ideas and emotions more challenging.

Some designers argue that pixel art’s throwback visual style can limit its ability to feel fresh and modern. The nostalgic pixel look may not suit every project or brand that wants a forward-thinking aesthetic. Additionally, while pixel art originated from technical limitations, some feel that clinging to those limitations today is a creative dead-end rather than an inventive choice.

That said, skilled pixel artists continue to push the boundaries of what can be achieved despite the medium’s constraints. Layering, lighting, and parallax effects are just some of the innovations pixel art has adopted from other digital art forms. Still, creating detailed and nuanced pixel artwork requires great dedication to draft and refine even simple designs.

For these reasons, many professional designers reserve pixel art primarily for projects where the retro style is an integral part of the concept. While it achieves a specific nostalgic look, some feel pixel art is less suited for contexts demanding a contemporary or complex visual message.

Future Outlook

Pixel art is likely to continue gaining popularity and evolving in editorial design. As one article states, “We probably won’t see many people creating pixel art in exactly the same way they are currently, even just a few years from now”. While the fundamental techniques remain the same, new tools, AI generators, and creative explorations will advance pixel art in editorials. Designers are already “pushing pixels” and “infusing this retro charm into logos, illustrations, and even motion graphics”. As technology improves, we may see higher resolution pixel art with more detail and smoother animations. The style allows endless creativity within constraints, appealing to editors seeking a distinct, nostalgic yet modern aesthetic. Pixel art’s flexibility and ability to convey complex ideas through simplicity ensures it will continue enhancing editorial content.