Pixelart Time-Lapse: Speeding Up Your Workflow

Pixel art refers to digital artwork created through the placement of individual pixels. It emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as graphics technology advanced to enable computer screens to display art. With its characteristic blocky, low-resolution look, pixel art evokes a sense of nostalgia for retro video games and digital art from the early days of computing. Artists value pixel art for the limitations it imposes. Every pixel matters, so pixel art requires precision, planning, and care. Animations and sprites (2D characters) commonly utilize pixel art for its efficiency and pixel-perfect control.

[The History Of Pixel Art](http://www.thefactorytimes.com/factory-times/2018/9/27/the-history-of-pixel-art)

Planning Your Pixel Art

The first step in creating great pixel art is to spend time developing a concept and gathering references. Having a clear idea of what you want to create will make the process much smoother (https://www.pinterest.jp/briannalthor/%2Bnotion/). Look for images related to your idea on sites like Pinterest or Google to get inspiration for the overall style, color scheme, and layout you aim for. Collecting a variety of visual references will help you decide on the exact perspective, pose, and framing for your piece.

It’s also a good idea during this planning stage to identify the size limitations you want to work within. Because pixel art relies on a limited number of pixels, you’ll need to know the constraints before beginning. Sketch your concept on paper first so you can visualize how to best convey forms and details within a small resolution. Take time to refine the idea until you’re happy with the posing, composition, and overall impact of the scene.

Starting with a Rough Sketch

The first step in creating pixel art is to start with a rough, low resolution sketch (https://www.pinterest.com/a2682905851/%E5%BB%BA%E7%AD%91%E7%81%B5%E6%84%9F/). This allows you to plan out the overall composition and basic shapes without getting bogged down in details. Pixel art creation is an iterative process, so you’ll want to iterate on your sketch multiple times to refine the proportions, perspective, and layout.

When sketching, it’s important to keep things simple and not get distracted by details like colors or shading. Focus on blocking in the main shapes and forms with simple lines and shapes. Let your initial sketch be a guide, not a rigid plan. You can deviate from it as needed when moving into the actual pixeling stage. The goal of the sketch is to give you a solid foundation to build upon.

Don’t spend too long obsessing over your sketch. Part of the benefit of working digitally is that nothing is permanent. You can easily erase or make changes as needed when transitioning into outlines and final pixel art. The sketch just provides a starting point and ensures you don’t dive blindly into pixeling. Take the time to iterate on your sketch until you have clear plan, but don’t overwork it.

Color Selection

Color is a critical component of pixel art. Unlike traditional art, pixel art relies on a very limited palette. Often pixel artists will restrict themselves to around 12-16 colors maximum for a piece. Choosing which colors to include in your palette involves understanding color theory and how colors interact.

In pixel art, it’s important to focus on having a good balance of light, medium and dark values. Don’t use all extremely saturated colors or all muted tones. Aim for a mix. It’s also key to understand color temperature – warm colors like reds, oranges and yellows versus cool colors like blues, greens and purples. Use both warm and cool shades to create contrast and visual interest.

When selecting your palette, make sure to pick colors that work cohesively together. Colors near each other on the color wheel tend to look pleasing together. You can also utilize complementary colors that are opposite each other on the wheel. Don’t choose colors that clash or fight for attention.

Limiting your palette may seem restrictive at first, but it allows you to master color combinations and focus on deliberate choices. Start with a basic palette and gradually add colors as needed for shading and highlights. Remember that a thoughtful, intentional color palette is the hallmark of great pixel art.

Drawing Outlines

Clean line work is essential for creating crisp and defined pixel art. When drawing outlines, it’s important to use single pixel width lines to avoid anti-aliasing (blurring of edges). According to the Pixel Art Lines Tutorials on Lospec, keeping your outlines 1 pixel wide will result in hard edges and prevent fuzzy lines.

As a beginner, it can be challenging to draw straight 1 pixel lines. Using pixel perfect stroke sizes in your chosen software can help. You may also want to start with basic shapes and build up forms using straight vertical and horizontal lines. The Pixel Grimoire pixel art tutorial recommends cleaning up your initial sketch into straight 1 pixel lines before moving onto coloring.

Practice keeping your outlines minimal and using as few lines as possible to define your forms. Build up texture and detail through shading later on. Crisp line work will give your pixel art a bold and stylistic look.

Adding Light and Shadow

Proper lighting and shading can make pixel art really pop. Start by identifying your light source and considering where shadows would naturally fall. For example, if the light is coming from above, shadows will appear towards the bottom of objects.

Use simple highlights and shadows to create the illusion of form. Add highlights along edges facing the light source and shadows on the opposite sides. Dithering, which is carefully placing pixels of different values next to each other, can help smooth out transitions between light and dark areas.

Avoid using pure black for shadows, as it can look harsh. Try dark gray instead. When highlighting, off-whites often look more natural than pure white. With practice, you’ll get a feel for lighting that looks subtle yet striking.

Here’s a great video on pixel art lighting basics from Pixelist: Pixel Art Lighting And Shading Basics

Animating Your Pixel Art

Animating pixel art requires patience and attention to detail, but the end result can be incredibly rewarding. There are a few key techniques to keep in mind when animating pixel art:

Frame by Frame Animation

The most common approach is to draw each frame individually. This allows for complete control over every pixel in every frame. Start by sketching out the key poses or main action points. Then fill in the frames between the key poses. Be consistent with your scale, perspective, and color choices across frames for a cohesive animation.

Transitions and Tweens

To save time, you can utilize transitions and tweens instead of drawing every single frame. For example, you can draw the start and end frames, then automatically generate the frames in between. This creates smooth transitions between poses. Be careful not to overuse transitions, as too many can make the animation feel robotic or unnatural.

Easing and Timing

Pay close attention to timing and easing to make your pixel art animation feel lifelike. Use slow easing in and out of key poses. Add subtle movements like blinking, breathing, or fidgeting during still moments. Vary the timing between frames to create realistic acceleration and deceleration. Proper timing and easing will bring your pixel art to life.

Best Practices

When creating pixel art, it’s important to streamline your workflow as much as possible. This allows you to work more efficiently and avoid wasting time on repetitive tasks. Some best practices include:

Use keyboard shortcuts whenever possible. Most pixel art programs have shortcuts for common functions like zoom, rotate, and eraser tools. Learning these can greatly speed up your workflow compared to clicking icons with the mouse. Popular pixel art programs like Aseprite and Piskel have extensive keyboard shortcut options.

Invest in tools tailored for pixel art creation. Programs like Aseprite and Piskel are designed specifically for pixel art, with features like onion skinning, indexed color palettes, and pixel-perfect tools. Generic art programs often lack these specialized features.

specialized pixel art software like aseprite speeds up workflow

Use layers to organize your artwork. Breaking your piece into layers allows you to easily edit certain elements without disturbing others. Common uses include separating line art, colors, shadows, highlights, and animation frames.

Create keyboard and mouse shortcuts for common tasks. Most pixel art software lets you customize shortcuts to speed up repetitive actions. For example, set a shortcut to quickly switch between pen and eraser tools.

Sketch ideas before committing them to final pixel art. Rough sketches help evolve your piece without wasting time polishing early versions. Your initial sketch also provides an outline to follow when drawing final pixel lines and colors.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When creating pixel art, there are some common mistakes that beginners often make. Being aware of these issues can help you avoid making the same errors and improve the quality of your work.

One of the most common mistakes is working at too low of a resolution. Pixel art requires a balance between having enough pixels to add detail while keeping the resolution small enough to maintain that pixelated look. Working at a resolution that is too small will limit the amount of detail you can add. Similarly, a resolution that is too large starts to lose the defined pixel edges that give pixel art its signature appearance. Finding the right balance for your particular artwork’s needs takes some experimentation.

Problems with color are another typical error. Using too limited of a color palette flattens the depth of your art and makes it look bland. On the other hand, choosing too many colors reduces cohesion. The colors should complement each other and create the right mood. Don’t hesitate to edit your palette as you work until you find just the right set of colors.

Issues with shading and lighting also commonly arise. Failing to properly shade can make your artwork look flat and lifeless. At the same time, overdoing gradients results in a muddled, blurry look that ruins the crisp pixel definition. Mastering shading takes practice observing how light and shadow play across forms in real life.

By learning from the mistakes of others, you can recognize and avoid these common pixel art pitfalls. With experience and experimentation, you will develop techniques to create the pixel-perfect artwork you envision.


In conclusion, creating great pixel art takes planning, patience and practice.

Start by sketching out your idea and selecting a limited color palette. Use outlines to define shapes before adding lighting and shading to bring your artwork to life. When animating pixel art, work in small iterative changes to create smooth motion.

Avoid rushing through your pixel art process. Take the time to refine details and transitions. Don’t be afraid to experiment and make changes as you go.

For more inspiration and tips, explore pixel art communities online and study masterpieces by renowned pixel artists. With dedication to honing your craft, you can create captivating pixel artwork and animations.

The key is finding enjoyment in the meditative process of building your pixel art one tiny block at a time.