The Evolution Of Pixelart Tutorials And Learning Resources

Pixel art refers to digital artwork using pixel-level rendering techniques where each image is created pixel by pixel. Compared to other digital art styles, pixel art relies on a more limited color palette and canvas size but highly detailed work with each individual pixel.

The history of pixel art traces back to the earliest days of computer and video game design. With limited graphical capabilities of early computing, game developers relied on manipulating colored pixels to create sprites, environments, and animation. The constraints drove creativity and led to signature pixel art styles for games in the 70s, 80s and 90s. As home computers emerged, an online community of hobbyists, enthusiasts, and professional pixel artists developed sharing ideas, tutorials, and pushing the boundaries of the artform.

Pixel art came into prominence through early computer and gaming culture. The low resolution screens coupled with highly stylized individual pixel designs necessitated economical approaches to graphics. Despite newer technology, pixel art has remained popular for its nostalgic appeal and creative canvas limitations.

Early Pixel Art Tutorials

Pixel art first emerged in the 1980s as a technique for creating graphics and sprites for early home computers and video game consoles that had very limited processing power. At the time, pixel art was often taught through books and printed tutorials focused on computer graphics and game development.

One of the earliest pixel art tutorial books was John’s Pixel Art Tutorial published in 1987. This guide provided an introduction to manipulating and optimizing bitmap graphics on computers like the Commodore 64. It demonstrated techniques like dithering, optimization for limited color palettes, and achieving visual effects with limited resolution.

Other notable early pixel art books included The Computer Artist’s Handbook: Concepts, Techniques, and Applications by Daniel Pelavin (1990) and The Official Book of Ultima Addams by Shay Addams (1990), which provided guidance on spritemaking for games. These books introduced foundational pixel art skills to new computer artists and hobbyists.

Without modern digital tools, these tutorials relied on more traditional mediums like pen and graph paper to plan out and develop pixel artwork. But they were instrumental in defining pixel art techniques still used today.

Online Communities for Learning

The internet played a pivotal role in connecting and growing the pixel art community. In the early 2000s, forums like Pixelation and gallery sites such as Pixel Joint emerged as places for pixel artists to share their work, give and receive feedback, and learn from each other. Pixelation in particular became very influential, with over 30,000 members at its peak. These online communities were instrumental in evolving pixel art styles and techniques.

Sites like DeviantArt, Instagram and Twitter also played a role in the growth of pixel art by allowing artists to easily share their creations. The instant feedback and sense of community fostered innovation and expanded the reach of pixel art around the world.

Video Tutorials

The rise of video sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo in the mid-2000s significantly impacted how pixel artists learned techniques and improved their skills. Early pixel art video tutorial creators like Adam Atomic, MortMort, and CureDolly began sharing their knowledge in digestible video format, allowing aspiring artists to visually follow along with their tutorials step-by-step.

Seeing the techniques in action was a game-changer compared to static images and text descriptions alone. These pixel art masters brought complex methods like dithering, anti-aliasing, and animation to life on-screen. Their narration also provided context and explanations that enhanced the learning process.

As YouTube grew in popularity, the selection of pixel art video tutorials exploded. A new generation of teachers emerged, producing videos dedicated to specific techniques like shading, textures, line work, and color palettes. The availability of high-quality pixel art video tutorials continues to lower the barrier to entry for learning the craft today.

Digital Tools

The development of software tools has had a major impact on pixel art creation over the years. In the 1980s, programs like Deluxe Paint on the Amiga allowed artists to create pixel art digitally for the first time [1]. Deluxe Paint’s features like palettes and brushes made it easy for artists to work directly with pixels. In the 1990s and 2000s, programs like Photoshop, GraphicsGale, and Paint.NET gained popularity for pixel art [2]. These provided layers, filters, and other more advanced features.

In the 2000s and 2010s, specialty pixel art software started being developed. Programs like Aseprite, Pyxel Edit, and Pixel Studio Pro catered specifically to the needs of pixel artists. They optimized features like palettes, tiles, and animations. This allowed for more efficient workflows for game development, animations, and other projects. The emergence of these niche softwares accelerated the pixel art revival and enabled new styles and techniques [3]. Overall, the evolution of digital tools has been integral to the growth and popularity of pixel art.

Art Styles and Techniques

Pixel art originated with very basic sprites and pixelated characters used in early video games and digital art. Early pixel art focused on simplicity, using a limited color palette and low resolution. Many early pixel art pieces used a simple black outline on a white background. As technology advanced, pixel artists were able to work with expanded palettes, higher resolutions, and more advanced techniques.

By the 16-bit era in the late 1980s and early 1990s, pixel art became more sophisticated. Artists worked with 16-bit and 256 color palettes, allowing for more detail, shading, and complex designs. Popular styles included isometric pixel art and “pixel smooth” techniques to simulate curvature and gradients. Artists developed techniques like dithering and anti-aliasing to add depth and realism. [1]

Modern pixel art uses expanded color palettes with thousands or millions of colors. Many contemporary pixel artists use digital tools like Photoshop, Pro Motion, and GraphicsGale. These tools allow artists to work with layers, filters, and effects for detailed lighting, shading, texture mapping, and animation. Current techniques include cinemagraphs, voxel art, and ASCII art. The evolution of hardware and software has enabled pixel art to become incredibly sophisticated while still retaining its signature 8-bit aesthetic.

Pixel Art in Games

Pixel art has a long history of being used in video games, especially in classic games from the 1980s and 1990s. Early game consoles like the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System had very limited graphical capabilities, so game developers had to get creative within the constraints of low screen resolution and limited color palettes (Source:

Well-known examples of classic pixel art games include Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and many more. The low-fi retro aesthetic of pixel art was a necessity based on hardware limitations, but it became an iconic style synonymous with the games of that era.

In modern times, pixel art has seen a resurgence among indie game developers who purposefully choose the style for its retro appeal. Games like Terraria, Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight, and Hyper Light Drifter adopt a pixelated look as an intentional artistic choice. Pixel art remains popular for its nostalgic factor and ability to convey complex gameplay and storytelling in a compact format (Source: The mainstream gaming industry may have moved on to high-definition 3D graphics, but pixel art continues to have an important place in video game history and modern indie titles.

Commissions and Commercial Work

In recent years, pixel art has become increasingly popular as a professional commercial art form. Artists are able to earn a living by taking commissions and selling their artwork (Wikipedia, 2023). With the rise of mobile gaming, indie game development, and pixel art-based games, there is a growing demand for skilled pixel artists who can create game sprites, environments, and other assets.

a pixelated image representing the growing popularity of pixel art commissions and commercial work

Some professional pixel artists are hired full-time as part of game development teams. Many work as freelancers, taking commissions from game studios or individual clients. Freelance artists may create character sprites, tilesets, UI elements, icons, and other artwork. Rates can vary widely based on the artist’s skills and portfolio. According to pixel artist Pedro Medeiros, professional pixel art commissions can earn anywhere from $30 to $500 per piece or more (Medeiros, 2021).

Outside of games, pixel art is also used commercially for advertising, marketing, web design, software UI, and other applications. The nostalgic pixelated aesthetic can help brands establish a retro vibe. The limited resolution makes pixel art a lightweight option suitable for websites and digital ads. As a result, businesses are increasingly commissioning custom pixel art for commercial purposes.

With the popularity of platforms like, Etsy, and Fiverr, pixel artists now have more ways than ever to monetize their skills and make pixel art a full-time career.

Learning Process Today

The learning process for pixel art has evolved dramatically thanks to the proliferation of online resources. Where aspiring pixel artists once had to rely solely on books, magazines, and trial-and-error, today there is a wealth of information available at their fingertips.

One of the most significant developments is the rise of online pixel art courses and tutorials. Sites like Skillshare and Udemy offer beginner to advanced pixel art classes from established artists. These video-based lessons provide step-by-step guidance on tools, techniques, and different pixel art styles. Their structured curriculums allow new learners to progress methodically.

Active online communities like Reddit’s r/PixelArt also enable beginners to learn from giving and receiving feedback. By posting their creations, they can get critique to improve. They can also study others’ pixel art to see examples of good techniques. These communities connect novice pixel artists with more experienced ones for mentorship.

The wealth of pixel art tutorials on YouTube is another valuable modern resource. Video content shows specific methods for animation, shading, color palettes, and using programs like Aseprite. Step-by-step narrated visuals help techniques click for visual learners. Experienced pixel artists generously share their knowledge this way.

With these online courses, communities, and tutorials, the pixel art learning journey is far less isolated today. Beginners have ample resources to develop skills and appreciation for this retro artform.

Future of the Artform

Pixel art has come a long way from its early days as a necessity due to hardware limitations. As technology has advanced, pixel art has transitioned from a required style to an intentional artistic choice. Despite more powerful hardware and tools that can generate detailed graphics, pixel art continues to have a strong following and appeal.

Looking to the future, pixel art is poised to inspire new generations of artists and evolve in exciting ways. More accessible tools like Aseprite have made pixel art creation possible without extensive technical knowledge. Online communities provide spaces for pixel artists to connect, learn from each other, and push the boundaries of what can be achieved with limited resolution.

Advancements in AI may also shape the future landscape of pixel art. Generative algorithms can rapidly produce pixel art compositions, allowing artists to iterate and experiment more quickly. However, there are concerns that AI art could make human pixel artists obsolete or devalue their work. Responsible and ethical use of AI will be an important consideration (

Ultimately, the appeal of pixel art comes from imposing constraints and finding creative ways to express ideas within those limitations. As long as artists continue pushing themselves in new directions, the artform will remain vibrant and exciting. The future looks bright for pixel art to continue inspiring artists and delighting audiences.