Pixelart Line Art Tips: Perfecting Your Outlines

Pixel art is a digital art form that involves creating digital images where each pixel matters. Unlike traditional digital art which allows blending pixels, pixel art relies on hard edges and deliberate color choices to convey forms. This restriction requires pixel artists to carefully choose colors, shapes, and outlines to achieve their desired style.

Clean and clear outlines are essential in pixel art for separating elements and establishing forms. Since there are limited pixels to work with, messy or blurry outlines can make a pixel art piece feel unfocused. Well-executed outlines create crisp edges that make sprites and scenes pop. Perfecting outlines is key for communicating complex shapes with limited resolution.

In this article, we will explore tips and techniques for creating clean, consistent outlines in your pixel art to take it to the next level. Proper use of line thickness, corner shapes, line flow, and shading can elevate your pixel art outlines from chaotic to precise and professional.

Choosing Line Thickness

For pixel art, the thickness of your lines is important and should be chosen carefully based on factors like canvas size, level of detail, and personal style. According to the pixel art tutorial on lospec.com (Line weight thickness in sprites), smaller canvases like 16×16 or 32×32 pixels will need thinner 1px lines for detail, while larger canvases can handle thicker outlines of 2-3px. Consider the amount of detail needed – thin lines allow for more intricate designs, while thick lines work better for bolder, iconic looks.

Your personal artistic style will also dictate ideal line thickness. The pixel art experts at lospec recommend starting with 2px lines during sketches, then vary line weights for emphasis while cleaning up the final art. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different thicknesses for bold contours or delicate details. Pay attention to how line thickness impacts overall style and readability.

Avoiding Jaggies

Jaggies are a common problem in pixel art where diagonal or curved lines appear jagged or pixelated instead of smooth. This is caused by the rasterized nature of pixel art, where lines are constructed from individual square pixels. Jaggies stand out and can make your art look unpolished.

The most common technique for avoiding jaggies is anti-aliasing. This involves using partially filled pixels along the edges to create the illusion of smoother lines. For example, transitioning gradually from fully opaque pixels to fully transparent ones along a diagonal line will make it appear less jagged. However, anti-aliasing can cause unwanted blurring if overdone, so use it judiciously.

Other approaches are using higher resolutions, rotating the canvas to align lines with the pixel grid, and manually tidying jagged edges. References and overlays can assist with identifying problem areas. Overall, being aware of jaggies and taking steps to mitigate them will help perfect your outlines.

For more details, see the Pixel Art Wiki’s article on jaggies.

Consistent Line Weights

Keeping your line weights consistent is one of the most important things you can do when creating pixel art. Inconsistent line weights make your art look amateurish and unpolished. According to the Reddit article Rough sketch and line art, you should aim for “long, confident strokes (not sketching), and fairly consistent line weight (thickness).”
example of pixel art with clean, consistent line weights

The key is to define a line weight that works for your piece and stick to it throughout. Don’t make some lines thick and others thin randomly. Variations in line weight can be used sparingly and intentionally for effect, but in general you want to keep it uniform. This creates a bold, graphic look that pixel art is known for. It also unifies the image and makes it look crisp and intentional. So remember, consistency is key for professional looking pixel art.

Corner Techniques

When working on pixel art, paying close attention to corners is crucial for creating clean, crisp lines. Here are some techniques for handling corners:

Corner Stitching – Instead of connecting two lines with a sharp point, use small stitches or dots to round off the corner. This helps avoid jagged edges. As recommended in this tutorial video, work the stitches in a circular motion around the corner.

Rounding Corners – For a smoother curve, extend the lines slightly past the corner and use anti-aliasing. This eliminates the harsh 90 degree angle. Make sure to be consistent with the amount of rounding on all corners.

Extending Lines – Let lines extend one pixel past corners before connecting them. This prevents gaps in the corners. Use this especially when connecting lines that meet at an angle.

Take the time to carefully render corners. Well-defined corners lend polish and visual appeal to pixel art. Using these techniques will level up the quality of your outlines.

Line Flow

It is important to create intentional, smooth line flows in pixel art to help lead the viewer’s eye through the image. Having abrupt changes in line direction or uneven line weights can create a disjointed, chaotic effect. Instead, think about using graceful curves, diagonal lines, and subtle variations in line thickness to create a sense of movement and visual flow.

For example, if you are drawing a character, use the flow of their clothing or hair to direct the eye towards the focal point like their face. Or in a landscape, let lines in the background guide to a point of interest in the foreground. Flow lines help establish visual hierarchy, rhythm and connectivity within the composition.


Reference Lines

Reference lines are essential for creating balanced and symmetrical designs in pixel art. They act as construction lines that help you plot out the proper proportions of your artwork before adding in details. Reference lines will often be added to separate layers in your pixel art software so they can be easily erased or hidden later.

One of the main uses for reference lines is establishing symmetry. You can place vertical and horizontal lines to split the canvas and ensure both sides of your artwork match. This allows you to check that elements are the same size and shape on each side as you work. As noted in a DeviantArt post, reference lines down the center axis create a mirror which makes symmetrical artwork much easier.

Reference lines can also map out the perspective and proportions of your piece. Laying down guides in 1px increments allows you to plot out the relative size and spacing of elements in your scene. Grids, circles, diagonals, and lines flowing to vanishing points are all useful constructs. You can check sizes against your reference to keep the proper perspective. Allowing initial sketches and forms to flow from your reference lines results in more cohesive pixel art.

Just remember that the reference lines themselves will be erased later. They should be subtle enough not to distract from your main artwork. Use colors that contrast with your palette so they can be easily seen and edited as you work, but won’t interfere with the final pixels. Keeping them on separate layers makes it simple to remove the guides when your pixel art is complete.

The Rule of Threes

Pixel artists often benefit from sticking with a maximum of three different line weights to add visual interest while maintaining a clean look. This general guideline is referred to as the “rule of threes.” Using more than three distinct line weights can make a piece look cluttered and messy. The key aspects of the rule of threes include:

1. Identify the thickest line you’ll use. This will often be outlines for the main shapes or characters.

2. Choose a medium weight line. Use this for initial shading/details.

3. Select a thin line for finer details and accents. Using a thin line can help key aspects pop.

Sticking to just three thicknesses forces the pixel artist to be selective about line weights. This results in a clean, intentional look. Going beyond three line thicknesses risks muddying the overall piece.

Shading Techniques

Shading is a powerful way to add dimension and realism to pixel art. The shading technique you use will depend on the desired visual style. Some common shading techniques include:

  • Cel shading – Uses solid colors with hard edges to emulate a cartoon or comic book style. Often uses a limited palette. Creates a flat, graphic look.
  • Dithering – Blends colors to create the illusion of shading using patterns of dots. Softer and more blended than cel shading.
  • Ambient occlusion – Darkens crevices and areas where surfaces meet to suggest depth and lighting variation. Subtle and naturalistic.
  • Noise – Adds random noise patterns to create grain and texture for a gritty, lo-fi aesthetic.

When shading, it’s important to maintain consistency with your light source and shadows. Complementary shading will enhance your outlines and make forms look more three-dimensional. For examples and tutorials, see https://hobbybuilders.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/beginning-pixel-art-shading/.


Outlining is a crucial first step in creating clean and consistent pixel art. By taking the time to plan your outlines, you can ensure your final piece has deliberate, polished lines. Some key points to keep in mind:

  • Choose a line thickness that suits your piece and sticks to it.
  • Avoid jaggies by using anti-aliasing techniques.
  • Keep line weights consistent across your artwork.
  • Use cornering techniques to transition lines smoothly.
  • Let line flow dictate the direction of your outlines.
  • Use reference lines to check proportions and angles.
  • Limit yourself to 2-3 line weights for simplicity.
  • Strategic shading can enhance your outlines.

By mastering pixel art outlines, you can elevate your artwork to a more professional level. Taking the time to plan and perfect this foundation will pay off tremendously in your final compositions.