Pixelart Reflection Tips: Adding Realistic Reflections To Your Art

Reflections are an important element for creating realism in pixel art. When light hits a surface, it often reflects and bounces off in different directions. Capturing these reflections in pixel art can help make a scene feel more believable and visually engaging. Pixel art reflections allow light sources to feel grounded in the scene and let viewers better understand the shapes, textures, and dimensions of objects. Mastering reflections takes pixel art to the next level by enhancing the illusion of light and adding complexity to materials. This guide will provide tips on how to add convincing and aesthetically pleasing reflections to pixel art using principles like choosing appropriate surfaces, manipulating reflection shapes, adjusting opacity, and more.

Source: https://www.yurishwedoff.com/how-to-create-the-illusion-of-light-reflecting-on-pixel-art/

Types of Reflections

There are several types of reflections that can add realism to pixel art:

Specular Reflections

Specular reflections are the bright, mirror-like reflections seen on shiny surfaces. As described on Graphic Design Stack Exchange, these are often small highlights that can replicate a chrome or metallic look.

Diffuse Reflections

Diffuse reflections are soft, scattered reflections created by rough or matte surfaces. They help define the shape and contours of an object through subtle gradients, as mentioned in this Pixel Art tutorial.

Ambient Reflections

Ambient reflections come from surrounding light sources that bounce and reflect onto surfaces. They create subtle lighting and shading across an entire object or scene.

Using a combination of specular, diffuse and ambient reflections can create realistic and visually striking pixel art.

Choosing Surfaces

The type of surface will determine the nature and intensity of reflections. For realistic reflections in pixel art, focus on surfaces like metal, glass, and water.

metal, glass and water surfaces work best for realistic pixel art reflections

Metal surfaces like chrome and steel create the most intense, mirror-like reflections. According to a Reddit user, gradients with gray stops can replicate a chrome effect in pixel art (source).

Glass also produces clear, mirror-like reflections, though less intense than metal. Glass reflections will be impacted by the transparency of the glass surface.

Water surfaces create softer, rippling reflections that distort the image. As one Redditor advises, studying lake reflection paintings shows how ripples impact reflections in pixel art (source).

Other surfaces like wood, plastic, and fabric will create progressively softer, more distorted reflections.

Light Sources

When adding reflections to pixel art, carefully considering your light sources is crucial for creating a realistic effect. The direction, intensity, and color of the light all impact how the reflections will look.

The direction of the light source determines where reflections will appear and their shape. For example, an overhead light will create reflections towards the bottom of objects while a side light source produces reflections on one side. Angling the light creates elongated reflections that follow the angle of incidence. Play around with light direction to get interesting reflection shapes.

Light intensity also affects reflections. Brighter light sources create more intense reflections with solid colors and clearly defined edges. Dimmer lighting leads to softer reflections with blurred edges and more subtle colors. Combining different intensity lights can add realism.

Furthermore, colored light sources influence the hue of reflections. Warm light creates golden reflections while cool blue light leads to icy reflections. Matching the reflection color to the color temperature of the light source helps sell the effect. Subtle colored reflections can enhance realism when used judiciously.

To cite the YouTube video as a source per the instructions: Pixel Art Class – Lighting & Shading Basics provides a great intro to light principles for pixel art.

Reflection Shapes

The shape of reflections in pixel art can add realism by showing how the reflective surface distorts the image. Smooth, flat surfaces like glass or calm water will have minimal distortion, resulting in reflections that closely match the original shape. Rougher surfaces like metal or wavy water will bend and stretch the reflection in more random ways.

The orientation of the reflective surface also impacts the shape of reflections. A reflection in a vertical surface like a mirror will be reversed horizontally from the original image. A horizontal surface like a lake reflects objects right-side up. Tilted or irregular surfaces create reflections skewed at an angle.

When deciding on reflection shapes, consider the characteristics of the surface material and its angle relative to the viewer. More distortion and irregularity in the reflection increases realism on textured or moving surfaces. Matching the perspective of the reflection with the angle of the surface adds convincing detail. As noted in this StackExchange answer, gradients can imitate the warped reflections on metal.

Reflection Opacity

The opacity of a reflection is key for conveying a sense of realism in pixel art. As a reflection moves farther from the original subject, it naturally fades and becomes more transparent. When setting the opacity, consider the distance, angle, and surface the reflection is depicting.

Reflections very close to the subject should have nearly full opacity, between 0.8 to 1.0. As the reflection moves farther, you’ll want to steadily lower the opacity in increments. A reflection near the middle of the surface may be around 0.5 opacity, while one near the edge could fade to 0.2 or lower.

The angle matters as well. Reflections that show the subject straight on will be more opaque than those viewed at an angle. For example, a mirrored reflection directly under a subject could remain 0.8 opacity, while a distorted side view may fade to 0.4 opacity even when at the same distance.

Finally, the opacity can hint at the reflective quality of the surface. A perfectly smooth surface like glass may preserve higher opacity than a rougher surface like glossy metal. Experiment to find what opacity best matches your specific surface.[1]

Blurring and Noise

One of the keys to creating realistic reflections in pixel art is adding the right amount of blurring and noise. This helps soften the reflection and make it appear more natural, rather than just being a straight mirrored copy of the original art. According to a tutorial posted on Reddit, “In these pixel art programs are tools to help you achieve these effects like blur and lowered opacity, but when you post it people say it looks unrealistic because it looks too clear and defined for a reflection.”1 The trick is finding the right balance between blurring enough to create a reflection effect, but not so much that details get lost or muddy.

When adding blur, it’s often best to use a gaussian or motion blur filter set to a low level. You may need to experiment to find the ideal settings, as factors like resolution, water movement, distance to reflection surface etc. will impact it. Go slow and subtly build up blurring to maintain clarity while softening edges. It can also help to isolate and blur just part of the reflection, like the edges, rather than the whole thing. Noise effects like film grain can also lend an organic feel when used sparingly. Just a slight touch of noise helps break up solid colors and hard lines. As with blurring, it’s easy to overdo noise so use a light touch. The goal is giving the reflection an authentic blurred and noisy look without sacrificing too much detail.

Color and Highlights

The color of reflections can add a lot of realism to pixel art. Generally, reflections will take on the color of the surface they are reflecting. However, the color is often tinted based on the light source and environment.

For example, reflections of a blue sky will add a bluish tint. Reflections from a red neon sign may cast a reddish glow. You can use a color gradient tool to easily tint reflections.

In addition to tinting, reflections often contain bright spots or highlights. These occur where the light source directly hits the reflective surface. Add small bright areas to your reflections to mimic this effect. The highlights will make the reflection look more realistic and dynamic.


Animating reflections can really bring your pixel art to life. Some techniques for animating reflections include:

Rippling – Add a rippling effect to the reflection to show movement in the water. This can be achieved by drawing concentric circles in the reflection layer and animating them to move outwards from the point of contact. Make the circles more transparent and blurry as they move out for a natural effect. You can find a tutorial for this method on Reddit here.

Movement – As objects or characters move in your scene, update the reflection to match the movement. Keeping the reflection anchored to the point of contact, redraw it or shift it on each frame to match the motion above. Using a consistent brush stroke helps maintain realism, as explained in this StackExchange thread here.

Ripples and waves – Adding animated ripples that move across the whole reflected surface creates a sense of movement in the water. Use gently undulating shapes and transparency to achieve a realistic watery effect.

Consider the perspective – The reflection should accurately reflect the angle and perspective of the original object or scene. Adjust the shape and proportions of the reflected image appropriately.


In summary, adding realistic reflections to pixel art can greatly enhance the overall look and feel of a piece. By carefully selecting reflective surfaces, considering light sources, paying attention to reflection shapes, opacity and blurring, adjusting color and highlights, and incorporating animation, you can make reflections really come alive.

A few final tips: Start subtle and build up the reflection slowly. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shapes and angles. Remember that reflections add realism but can also be artistically distorted. And consider how reflections contribute to the overall mood and composition of the artwork.

With practice and by following the techniques covered here, you’ll be able to create stunning reflective effects in your pixel art that capture a believable sense of light and space.