The Evolution Of Pixelart Tools And Software

Pixel art refers to digital art created through pixel-level manipulation rather than using vector or freehand graphics. It emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as graphics chips became sophisticated enough to render colorful 2D visuals. The term “pixel art” itself originated in the early 1990s as the art form gained popularity. According to The History of Pixel Art, pixel art began as a necessity due to hardware limitations but evolved into an artform in its own right (

Pixel art involves manipulating individual pixels to create sprites, icons, textures, and full scenes or animations. The technique uses a limited resolution grid and color palette, typically with a retro video game aesthetic. Each pixel is deliberately placed rather than automatically anti-aliased or interpolated. Common tools for creating pixel art include Deluxe Paint, Graphics Gale, Pyxel Edit, and Aseprite. Due to its distinct look, pixel art remains popular for indie and retro-style video games, mobile apps, and artwork.

Early Pixel Art Software

Some of the earliest pixel art software emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as personal computers started to become more widely available. These early programs enabled artists to create pixel art and sprite graphics manually using limited tools.

One of the most well-known is MS Paint, introduced by Microsoft in 1985. MS Paint allowed basic image creation and editing using pixels, shapes, and simple brushes. It was bundled with early versions of Windows, making it one of the most accessible pixel art tools.

Other early software designed specifically for creating pixel art and sprites includes Deluxe Paint (DOS), GrafX2, Micrographic Designer (Apple II), and Degas Elite. These provided functionality like onion-skinning, palettes, brushes, and animating for early pixel artists and game developers.

Advancements in the 1990s

The 1990s saw major advancements in pixel art with the release of several revolutionary pieces of software. Adobe Photoshop quickly became an essential tool for many pixel artists. With layers, adjustments, filters, and other powerful features, Photoshop enabled more complex and detailed pixel art creation. Many features specifically useful for pixel art were added over subsequent versions of Photoshop during the 90s.

Other significant releases included Fractal Design Painter, which simulated natural media in a digital environment. Painter’s thick paint and textured brushes allowed pixel artists to achieve more organic, hand-painted looks. Ray Dream Studio, geared more toward 3D graphics, also found popularity among pixel artists for its robust 3D rendering and animation tools. The 90s marked a pivotal shift as professional-grade software provided pixel artists better creative control than ever before.

Pixel Art in Modern Tools

Today there are many great software options available for creating pixel art. Some of the most popular modern tools include:

Aseprite – This software was built specifically for creating pixel art and animations. It provides numerous time-saving features including layers, palettes, spritesheets, and onion skinning. Aseprite is popular among indie game developers and pixel artists. Modern pixel art software like Aseprite makes the process of drawing and animating much easier.

Pyxel Edit – Pyxel Edit has a simple and intuitive interface optimized for quickly laying down tiles and sprites. It offers layers, palettes, tilemaps, and seamless tile drawing. Many pixel artists use Pyxel Edit for game development and web designs.

Piskel – This free online editor is great for beginners looking to get into pixel art. It provides a grid workspace and offers basic tools like colors, layers, and onion skinning. Piskel is commonly used for prototyping designs and simple game sprites.

Pro Motion NG – Designed for professional pixel artists, Pro Motion NG provides advanced animation and effects tools. It excels at creating detailed animations with features like bone animation, morphing, and auto tweening. The program exports animations into multiple sprite sheet formats.

DOTPICT – A simple online pixel art drawing tool, DOTPICT allows you to create pixel art without extra features. It’s a quick and easy way to start making pixel art for anyone new to the hobby.

Integrating Pixel Art into Games

Pixel art is commonly integrated into games through popular game engines and development tools. Some engines that excel at handling and displaying pixel art include:

RPG Maker – This engine specializes in 2D roleplaying games and provides dedicated support for pixel art assets. RPG Maker streamlines creating tilesets, characters, animations, and menus tailored for a pixel art style. Many classic JRPG-style games have been developed using RPG Maker’s pixel-friendly workflow.

GameMaker Studio – GameMaker Studio is a flexible 2D game engine used by many indie developers. It works well for pixel art games and allows importing sprite sheets and tilesets. The engine includes built-in functions for handling collisions, animations, particle effects, and more when working with pixel art assets.

Construct – This free game builder caters to beginner and hobbyist developers. It simplifies game creation through an accessible drag-and-drop interface. Construct games can have a pixel art look with the ability to import retro-style sprite sheets and tilemaps. The behaviors system makes it easy to add gameplay logic when using pixel art.

Unity – Unity is one of the most popular game engines for both 2D and 3D games. The editor has dedicated tools for importing, slicing, and handling sprites which make adopting a pixel art style achievable. There are pixel perfect cameras and lighting options to maintain the retro aesthetic when rendering the pixel art.

Unreal Engine – Unreal Engine 4 has expanded support for building 2D games with pixel art. This includes adding a Pixel Perfect Camera, integration with Spine for 2D skeletal animation, and blueprint functions for implementing 2D gameplay. While not as common, Unreal Engine can produce stunning high-fidelity pixel art games.

Online Pixel Art Communities

Pixel art has found a welcoming home and audience on the internet, with numerous online communities dedicated to sharing, appreciating, and discussing pixel art. Some of the most prominent pixel art communities include:

Pixel Joint – Founded in 2004, Pixel Joint is one of the longest running and most well-established pixel art communities online. It features a gallery for members to showcase their artwork as well as forums for critiques, challenges, tutorials, and general discussion. Pixel Joint helped define early pixel art culture on the web.

Way of the Pixel – Way of the Pixel, often abbreviated as WotP, launched in 2006 as another early dedicated pixel art site. In addition to pixel art galleries and forums, it hosts regular pixel art contests and “collaborations” where artists contribute to group projects.

Pixelation – Pixelation is a pixel art forum that has been active since 2000, making it one of the oldest communities in the field. The site revolves around discussion threads and sharing work for constructive feedback.

Pixel Art on Reddit – Reddit is home to two major pixel art communities: r/PixelArt and r/PixelDailies. Between them they have over 600,000 members sharing pixel creations, resources, and appreciation. Being on Reddit provides exposure to a broad audience.

Notable Pixel Artists

Some of the most well-known and influential pixel artists include eBoy, Paul Robertson, Phylo, Cure, and Funisushi.

The artist collective eBoy consists of Steffen Sauerteig, Svend Smital, and Kai Vermehr. Since 1999, they have created highly detailed pixel art depicting urban landscapes populated with tiny pixel people. Their distinct style combines retro video game graphics with a modern pop culture aesthetic.

Paul Robertson is an Australian pixel artist known for his animated pixel art GIFs and games like Kings of Power 4 Billion% and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His pixel art combines bright colors, fluid animation, and absurdist humor. According to The Masters of Pixel Art, his “playful, hyperactive style helped pixel art find popularity in internet art communities.”

Phylo, aka David Vandenburgh, creates nature-inspired pixel art and pixel art portraits. His detailed animal portraits showcase his technical skill in working within the medium’s constraints. According to Pixilart, his pieces are “so realistic yet maintains a painterly quality with the limited colors.”

Cure, also known as Tom Preston-Werner, is the co-founder of GitHub known for his isometric cityscape pixel art. He focuses on using limited palettes and dithering to create depth and lighting effects. Cure’s pixel art combines urban architectural subjects with strong unified themes and color schemes.

Funisushi is a Japanese pixel artist specializing in anime-inspired characters and portraits. Their anime pixel art manages to convey emotion and dynamism within the constraints of low-resolution graphics. Funisushi frequently posts speed-paint videos on Twitter showing their pixel art process.

Pixel Art in Popular Culture

pixel art features heavily in pop culture like scott pilgrim vs. the world
Pixel art has become widely recognized and used in popular culture. Some of the most notable examples are in video games, films, and advertising.

The film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World heavily featured pixel art animation and visuals inspired by 8-bit and 16-bit games. This creative style helped bring an indie gaming aesthetic to the big screen (source).

Several popular indie games like Hyper Light Drifter and Shovel Knight used a pixelated retro style. Their success showed the mainstream appeal of this art form in modern gaming (source).

Pixel art has also been used effectively in advertising and marketing. Brands like Coca-Cola and Louis Vuitton have created pixelated versions of their logos and products for digital campaigns. The simplicity yet recognizability makes pixel art styles visually engaging for consumers (source).

The Appeal of Pixel Art

Pixel art has a timeless appeal for many reasons. First, it evokes nostalgia for retro video games and computing. The chunky pixels and limited color palettes are reminiscent of games from the 80s and 90s, tapping into fond gaming memories for many players (Source). Pixel art carries the retro aesthetic in a uniquely digital way.

Additionally, pixel art’s constraints inspire creativity. With limited resolution and colors to work with, pixel artists must get clever to convey ideas and emotion. This forces them to hone the core elements of shape, color, and composition (Source). Pixel art can capture complex scenes and characters in minimalist but evocative ways.

The pixel art visual style has an inherent charm and personality. The chunky pixels lend a tactile, hand-crafted feel, while the abstraction adds whimsy. This art style pairs well with imaginative game worlds and storytelling. Pixel art has emotional resonance because it suggests rather than reveals, inviting the player’s imagination to fill in the gaps.

Overall, pixel art endures because of its strong nostalgic pull, inspiring creative constraints, tactile visual style, and emotional expressiveness. It taps into gaming history while allowing new generations of artists to put their own stamp on this retro art form.

The Future of Pixel Art

Pixel art continues to evolve and remain relevant even in the age of high definition graphics. New tools and innovations are expanding the possibilities of the art form. AI generation tools like NightCafe allow artists to quickly iterate ideas and explore new styles ( At the same time, many pixel artists are skeptical about how AI may impact the field in the long run (

Pixel art remains popular for indie and retro-inspired games. The constrained style forces developers to get creative with limited resources. As new gaming platforms emerge, pixel art provides a lightweight, nostalgic aesthetic. The retro look also appeals to players tired of realistic HD graphics.

As an art form, pixel art is shifting away from rigid limitations. Artists are exploring higher resolutions and innovations like dithering to widen the scope of the medium. New styles like “pixel soft” and “neo pixel” blend pixel art with modern techniques. However, working within constraints is part of the craft’s identity. The evolution of pixel art aims to retain its core minimalist spirit while pushing boundaries.

To remain relevant today, pixel art needs to move beyond pure nostalgia. As display technology advances, artists must showcase pixel art as an intentional choice rather than technical limitation. When done skillfully, the style creates immersive worldbuilding and storytelling opportunities not possible with high fidelity graphics. Pixel art’s future depends on continuing to find new applications that leverage the art form’s unique aesthetic strengths.