Pixelart Tips For Creating Pixel-Perfect Artwork

Pixel art is a form of digital art where images are created and edited at the pixel level. According to Wikipedia, “Pixel art is a form of digital art drawn with graphical software where images are built using pixels as the only building block. It is widely associated with video games and sprites of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of games.” [1]

The earliest known examples of pixel art come from the 1972 game Pong. During the 1970s and 80s, pixel art became more prevalent as home video game consoles gained popularity. The low resolutions and limited color palettes of early systems like the Atari 2600 forced developers to be creative within constraints. This spawned a unique aesthetic that leaned into the blocky, pixelated style.

Today, pixel art continues to be used for indie and retro-style video games. The art form has also expanded beyond games into illustrations, animations, and other media. At its core, pixel art embraces pixels as the building blocks of the image. Each pixel is deliberately placed by the artist.

In this guide, we will cover tips and techniques for creating stunning pixel art, including choosing a canvas size, working with limited color palettes, pixel art shading, clean line work, avoiding common pitfalls, using references effectively, and more. Follow along to learn pixel art best practices that will take your artwork to the next level.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixel_art

Choosing Your Canvas Size

The size of your canvas is one of the most important decisions when starting a new pixel art project. The dimensions you choose will determine the level of detail and resolution you can achieve. Here are some common pixel art canvas sizes to consider:

64×64 pixels: Small canvas size perfect for icons, small sprites, and patterns. Allows for fast iteration but limits level of detail.

128×128 pixels: A moderate size good for game sprites, characters, and scene elements. Provides more room for detail while remaining manageable.

256×256 pixels: A large canvas size great for complex game assets, detailed characters, and backgrounds. Allows for fine details but can be time consuming to work with.

The choice comes down to your project’s needs. Smaller canvases are faster to work with but limit detail. Larger canvases allow meticulous detailing at the cost of speed. Finding the right balance for your goals is key.

Using a Limited Color Palette

Using a limited color palette is one of the most important aspects of pixel art. Since each pixel is a solid color, having too many colors in your palette can quickly make your artwork look noisy and disjointed. For beginners, it’s recommended to stick to a palette of 12 colors or less. This allows you to master the basics without getting overwhelmed. As you gain more experience, you can gradually increase your palette size to 16, 32, or even 64 colors for more advanced work.

Limiting your colors forces you to think creatively about shading and textures using a small set of hues. It also creates a cohesive style since all elements share colors from the same palette. Popular tools like Lospec and Reddit offer curated color palettes that work well for pixel art. You can also build your own custom palette using an application like Adobe Color or Coolors.

No matter your experience level, carefully choosing a limited color palette is essential for creating professional pixel art with clean, consistent colors.

Learning Pixel Art Shading

Shading is an important technique in pixel art for adding depth and dimension to your artwork. Here are some basics to understand about light sources, shadows, and highlights when shading pixel art:

Determine the direction of the light source. This will dictate where your highlights and shadows fall. Light typically comes from above, but you can get creative with light direction for different effects.

Shadows occur on surfaces facing away from the light. They will be the darkest areas of your pixel art. Add shadows under objects, on their edges, or on any surfaces not lit by the main light.

Highlights are the lightest and brightest areas. These commonly occur along rounded edges or protruding surfaces facing the light source directly. Use highlights sparingly to draw attention.

Dithering refers to using patterns of light and dark pixels to produce gradients or textures. This helps add realism and break up solid colors. Common dithering patterns include checkerboard and noise.

When shading, use a limited palette with around 3-5 values ranging from your darkest shadow to lightest highlight. Plan where to strategically place shadows and highlights for best effect.

Study real-world references to understand how light interacts with different materials and textures. Apply this knowledge to shade your pixel art appropriately.

With practice, you’ll gain intuition for lighting and shading to take your pixel art to the next level. For tutorials on shading styles, see this Pinterest board.

Pixel Art Animation Basics

Animation is created by displaying a sequence of still images called frames to create the illusion of movement. For pixel art, each frame is a separate pixel art drawing. To animate pixel art, you draw each keyframe, which are the most important frames that define the overall motion.

It’s important to use onion skinning when animating pixel art. Onionskinning allows you to see the previous and next frames faintly behind the current frame you’re drawing. This helps you keep your animation consistent and smooth. Many pixel art programs like Aseprite have built-in onionskinning features.

Once you have your keyframes drawn, you can create the in-between frames known as “tweening.” Tweening helps interpolate the animation between keyframes. Using tweening makes the process faster compared to drawing every single frame individually.

The more frames per second (FPS), the smoother and less choppy your animation will be. 12 FPS is common for pixel art, but you can go as low as 6 or as high as 24 FPS. Experiment to see what works best for your particular animation.

For more on getting started with pixel art animation, check out this helpful pixel art animation basics tutorial series.

Drawing Clean Pixel Lines

When creating pixel art, it’s important to draw clean lines without jagged edges or stray pixels. Here are some tips for getting those lines pixel-perfect:

For straight lines, use the line tool in your software if available. This will snap lines directly to the pixel grid for maximum crispness. You can also plot single pixels manually using the pencil tool, working slowly and deliberately.

Curved lines can be more challenging. One technique is to first plot points along the curve, then fill it in using single pixels or short lines between the points. Be sure to zoom in close to check for any unwanted pixels between the lines ([https://lospec.com/pixel-art-tutorials/tags/lines]).

When drawing shapes with hard edges like rectangles or circles, work one line segment at a time. Finish one edge completely before moving to the next. This helps avoid gaps or overlaps at the corners.

No matter the shape, work zoomed in and toggle between tools to refine the lines. The eraser can clean up stray pixels. Remember that patience pays off for clean pixel lines.

Avoiding Banding and Noise

Banding and noise are two common artifacts that can degrade the quality of pixel art. Banding refers to unwanted transitions between shades, often appearing as stripes or bands of color. This occurs when there are not enough colors available to smoothly transition between different brightness levels. Noise manifests as random speckles throughout the image, giving a grainy appearance. While a small amount of noise can sometimes be used artistically, excessive noise is usually undesirable.

There are a few techniques pixel artists use to minimize banding and noise in their work:

Dithering blends colors together to simulate a wider range of shades using limited colors. This breaks up banding by scattering pixels to make transitions less abrupt. Different dithering patterns like Bayer ordered dithering can help disperse noise to make it less noticeable. According to Pixel Joint Forum, dithering is very effective at reducing banding in pixel art.

Anti-aliasing smooths jagged edges and transitions by partially filling edge pixels based on color values. This minimizes the stark pixelated transitions that lead to banding. As noted on Medium, anti-aliasing helps blend colors for a more gradual shift between shades.

Careful shading and color selection when initially drawing can also sidestep banding and noise issues before they arise. Planning transitions and shading meticulously avoids abrupt unintentional shifts that become visible artifacts. Picking colors and shades deliberately makes it easier to create smooth gradients without relying on dithering or anti-aliasing after the fact.

With knowledge of the causes and some practice utilizing preventive techniques, pixel artists can create stunning artwork free of distracting banding and noise.

Using References

Using proper references is crucial when creating pixel art. References allow you to observe how light, shadow, textures, and details appear on real objects or environments. This helps you translate those elements into a convincing pixel art style more accurately. Some key tips for using pixel art references effectively include:

Look for photos and artworks that have bold shapes, clean lines, strong lighting, and simple textures that translate well into pixel art’s limited resolution. Things like product photos, architectural references, pixelated screenshots, and retro games make great starting points. For example, see this Pinterest board for pixel art references.

Don’t aim to directly copy a reference. Use it as inspiration and guidance for lighting, proportions, colors, etc. while still applying your own style. Tracing rarely looks good.

Use multiple references to build a more complete understanding of an object, character, or environment. Mix and match elements from different sources.

Start with simple, iconic forms. Establish the basic shapes, silhouette, pose, proportions and perspective before adding smaller details.

Check your pixel art against the reference frequently to make sure proportions and lighting are accurate.

References help add authenticity and interest to pixel art. But try not to rely on them entirely – adding your own creative interpretation is key.

Creating Interesting Textures

Textures are an important element in pixel art that can add visual interest and realism. There are many techniques pixel artists use to create appealing textures. Repetition of small pixel patterns is one effective method. You can repeat a simple pattern, like dots or diagonal lines, across a surface to simulate texture. According to an article on https://lospec.com/pixel-art-tutorials/tags/textures, experimenting with different sizes, shapes, directions and colors for your repeated pattern can yield different textural effects.
example of using repeated pixel patterns to create textures

Introducing noise or distortion is another way to make textures appear more realistic and lifelike. As noted in a Reddit discussion at https://www.reddit.com/r/gamedev/comments/bakq6u/how_to_make_pixel_art_textures_for_3d_meshes/, adding subtle random pixels to interrupt a uniform pattern can create a scratchy, fuzzy, or gritty texture. This makes the texture less flat and synthetic looking. You can control the coarseness of the texture based on the amount of noise you add.

It often helps to use references of real-world textures for inspiration. Study textures like wood, metal, stone, fabric, grass, etc. and break them down into simple pixel components. Analyze the patterns, noise, colors, and shapes that make up the texture. Then recreate and abstract those elements in your own pixel art. With practice and an analytical eye, you can create authentic, high-quality textures in your pixel artworks.


In closing, there are many techniques to ensure you create clean, interesting pixel art. Using a constrained canvas size and limited color palette forces you to be creative in conveying forms with fewer pixels. Proper shading can add dimension, while clean pixel lines give crispness. Avoid common issues like banding and noise by using dithering tools.

Gathering reference images can provide inspiration on poses, lighting, and textures. Experiment with different textures to make surfaces more interesting. Animation requires planning transitions and movements ahead of time.

For more learning, there are many online courses and tutorials to help you master pixel art. Continued practice and studying great pixel artwork will sharpen your skills. Always strive for clean efficient pixels that convey the essence of your subject.

With patience and dedication to the craft, you can create stunning video game sprites, animated GIFs, and more. Pixel art allows you to communicate complex subjects in a minimalist, distilled visual style.