Pixelart Texturing Tips: Adding Depth To Your Artwork

Pixel art refers to digital artwork created by placing discrete pixels in certain arrangements to compose larger forms. Unlike more continuous art forms like vector graphics or digital painting, pixel art relies on a limited resolution and color palette to convey shapes, lighting, and detail.

Texturing pixel art can be uniquely challenging due to the constrained raster grid and limited number of available colors. However, there are techniques pixel artists can use to add convincing depth, texture, and realism to their work.

This article will cover tips like using color variation, overlaying textures, adding reflections and shadows, including surface imperfections and environmental effects, animating elements, utilizing depth of field, and leveraging light and shadow to breathe life into pixel art textures.

Use Color Variation

Varying the shades and hues of a base color is an effective way to add visual interest and depth to pixel art. Try using lighter tints and darker shades of your main colors to show highlights and shadows on your subjects. As noted in How to start making pixel art #6 on Medium, understanding color theory concepts like hue, saturation, and value allows pixel artists to create more dynamic palettes.

Dithering techniques, where you blend pixels of different colors together, can also be used to add texture and gradients to your pixel art. As Pixel Parmesan discusses, hue shifting your colors based on lighting conditions helps convey a sense of form. Highlights shifted towards white and shadows shifted towards complementary colors will make your artwork feel more three-dimensional.

By mastering color variation through highlights, shadows and dithering, you can add the illusion of depth and lighting to create compelling pixel art compositions.

Overlay Textures

Adding overlay textures is a great way to add visual interest and realism to pixel art. Subtle texture overlays like wood grain, metal, or stone can integrate into the existing artwork to make it look more realistic without overpowering the original pixel art style. According to Shutterstock, there are over 100,000 pixel texture overlays available, giving artists ample options to choose from.

overlay textures on pixel art

When applying overlay textures, it’s important to adjust the transparency so that the texture blends into the artwork seamlessly. Setting the texture layer blending mode to “Multiply” in Photoshop can help integrate it into the existing shading. Keep the opacity around 50-60% to maintain the pixelated style. Experiment with different texture scales as well – larger textures can simulate rough stone, while small, subtle textures can mimic brushed metal or weathered paint. Applying these overlays sparingly and purposefully to key elements in the scene can add realism and depth without compromising the core pixel art aesthetic.

Reflections and Shadows

Adding realistic reflections and shadows to pixel art can create a strong sense of depth and dimension. Reflections show how a surface interacts with light, while shadows anchor elements to the ground plane. According to an article on Reddit, “Shadows and reflections depend on light sources, angles, materials and styles” (source).

To create reflections, use reflection maps to show how light bounces off different materials like metal, glass, or water. Pay attention to the shape and angle of the reflective surface to determine the distortion in the reflection. For example, upward facing surfaces like the ground or water will reflect objects above them, while angled metal surfaces may create elongated reflections.

Cast shadows on the ground to visually connect elements like characters or objects to the surface below them. This helps place them firmly within the scene. The length and softness of shadows depends on factors like the light source direction and distance. Closer light sources create sharper shadows while distant lights make softer, more diffuse shadows. Experiment with different shadow styles to find the right look for your scene.

Surface Imperfections

Adding subtle surface imperfections can add a lot of realism and depth to pixel art. Small variations in color, texture, and lighting help make surfaces look worn, aged, and three-dimensional. According to a Reddit post on r/blenderhelp, techniques like adding dirt, scratches, smudges, chips, cracks, and stains work well for creating realistic imperfections on things like walls, floors, and windows:

How do I create realistic window imperfections like this? I want dirt and scratches to be visible when the light hits the window.

The key is to be subtle and strategic with imperfections. Adding too many or making them too intense can make the surface look busy or damaged. Try scattering small scratches, flecks of dirt, slight color variations, and other minor imperfections sparingly to add complexity and realism to surfaces.

Environmental Effects

Adding environmental effects like rain, snow, and fog can greatly increase the realism and immersion of your pixel art. These elements showcase weather and emphasize a sense of place. According to Seliel the Shaper, weather effects “add clouds, snow, rain, and lightning to your RPG maps.” Simple additions like rain or snowflakes make the environment feel alive.

When using particle effects, be careful not to overdo it. As Craftpix advises, “Avoid using too many particle effects as this can make the graphics confusing.” Subtle environmental touches go a long way in pixel art. Fog creeping in, a light snowfall, or a gentle rain can set the scene effectively without overwhelming the artwork.


Subtle animations can add a lot of life and motion to pixel art. For example, adding gently waving grass or flickering lights to a scene can make it feel more dynamic (https://lospec.com/pixel-art-tutorials/tags/animation). When used sparingly, small animations draw the viewer’s eye and add depth.

Animating textures is another way to add motion. For instance, pixelating a water texture and animating the reflections can suggest rippling water. Or making torch flames subtly dance can bring light sources to life (https://www.reddit.com/r/Unity2D/comments/14ooect/how_do_you_make_a_pixel_art_animation_like_this/). Used judiciously, animated textures can add a sense of motion and energy.

The key is to use animation deliberately to enhance the scene. Overdoing it can make pixel art feel busy and distracting. But when used thoughtfully, animations can add liveliness and dimension.

Depth of Field

One simple but powerful technique to add depth in pixel art is to blur the background to emulate depth of field, as if you were looking through a camera lens. This can help make foreground elements seem to “pop” and stand out more. As explained in the Unreal Engine forums discussion on depth of field, you can strategically blur certain areas of your artwork while keeping important elements in sharp focus. The effect mimics real-life depth perception and pushes the background further away visually. Use this technique sparingly on key areas you want to emphasize. Make sure objects in the foreground contrast well against the softer, blurred areas behind them.

Light and Shadow

One of the most effective ways to add depth and dimension to pixel art is through strategic use of light and shadow. As with any visual medium, replicating real-world lighting goes a long way in creating a sense of 3D space. Light sources in a scene cast shadows in logical directions based on the position of the light. Highlighting certain elements while shrouding others in darkness creates contrast and depth cues.

When lighting your pixel art scene, think about where the light is coming from and how it would naturally illuminate the environment. For example, a strong light source from above and slightly in front will cast shadows down and behind objects. Softer ambient lighting fills in shadowed areas to gently illuminate the whole scene. Strategically placed lighting highlights points of focus while still retaining a sense of realism.

Pay close attention to shadows and how they interact with shapes and surfaces. Softer shadows complement rounded forms, while harsh, jagged shadows enhance the hard edges of geometric shapes. The blending of light and shadow breathes life into your pixel art and transforms it from a flat 2D plane into a living, breathing world with depth and imagination.

For examples of dramatic pixel lighting, see the cave scene from Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne (Slynyrd) or the ruined subway station from Mateusz Skutnik’s Submachine 10 (PixelJoint).


In summary, there are many techniques pixel artists can use to add depth to their artwork such as using color variation, overlaying textures, adding reflections and shadows, incorporating surface imperfections and environmental effects, utilizing animations and depth of field, and working with light and shadow.

We invite readers to share their own tips and tricks for adding depth to pixel art in the comments below. There are many creative ways to give pixel art a sense of dimensionality.

For those looking to further develop their skills and explore new techniques, here are some additional resources on pixel art texturing:

With practice and by trying out different approaches, you can give your pixel art creations the illusion of depth and texture.