6 Pixel Art Drawing Techniques

6 Pixel Art Drawing Techniques

Today, we are going to explore an art that
was born with old-school videogames. An art that will challenge your patience and your
meticulousness. Yes, I am talking of pixel art.
If pixel art has a unique look, the drawing process is still pretty close to regular drawing
and painting. Your knowledge of the principles of design, color, light but also shapes all
apply to this medium. The workflow to produce a character or any scene will still be the
same as with painting: We start with a sketch, or a blocking.
We then add shadows and lights. And we refine the piece with more strokes
and using compositing techniques. Pixel art does have some particularities.
As we draw using those small squares that make up our screens, the pixels, we face some
constraints. How can we draw curves using squares? Here’s the first issue we are going
to face. Another difficulty resides in the low resolution of pixel art assets. How can
we create the illusion of volume on a tiny canvas?
A good mastery of silhouettes and the ability to come up with subtle color nuances is essential
in order to make quality pixel art. You’ll also need to be very patient! Yet, there are
some useful techniques that are going to facilitate our discovery of the world of pixel art. We
are going to see some of them in this video. Number one: Contours.
Coming up with great silhouettes is hard in pixel art. Most notably, it is no easy task
to keep track of the big picture when we draw little squares one by one. Because of that,
it is critical to always keep a copy of our canvas at a 100% zoom level. That way, even
when we zoom in, we can still keep an eye on the final result. Most image-editing software
possess a navigator that can play this role. Others also allow us to duplicate the active
document. In order to get clean outlines, and to create
the illusion of curves, we have to use patterns. We could almost talk about routines here.
We move 2 pixels to the right, one up, we repeat that, then one to the right, one up,
etc. If we reuse these patterns throughout our
pixel art, we breathe some unity in it in terms of form. And if you recall, that is
actually an application of one of our fundamental principles of design: repetition. There is
no math formula that will cover all your needs in terms of drawing patterns. You will have
to experiment and practice pixel art to find the schemes that are going to fit your needs.
  Number 2: alpha lock.
Once we have established our base shapes, just as with painting, we can lock our layers’
alpha. Aseprite has an option to paint in such a way that transparent pixels are not
affected. On Photoshop, as we have seen in one of the first how to game art, it is possible
to freeze a layer’s alpha using the / key. We can also proceed in another way: using
the magic wand tool. We first select a color or a set of colors, and we can then paint
inside the selection. Number 3: antialiasing.
With pixel art, the shapes that we initially draw are going to be crenellated. If we want
to refine our final sprites’ shading, we can use transition colors. We have to apply
them to a few carefully picked pixels to emulate some form of antialiasing. We use this technique
whenever the transition between 2 color zones is too abrupt. I personally prefer to work
inside the darkest color of the 2. As you can see, if we use antialiasing on the brighter
color, this tends to blur the edge and make the transition zone look heavier.
The simplest way to use this technique is to place one transition pixel at the end of
every straight-line that makes up our entire shape.
Number 4: using filters. Pixel art requires a great time investment.
Traditionally, it is all done by hand. Just as with painting, there is effectively no
secret to polish a piece: it has to be done by hand. However, it is possible to use filters
and even some other tools to work faster. Aseprite possesses 2 interesting types of
filters: the first one produces a contour around an existing shape. It is very handy
if we want to stroke our character once it’s done. This can give it an interesting style.
The 2nd filter I want to talk about is the sharpen filter. It generates lighter or darker
colors along the edges of a color island. It offers a quick way to accentuate the separation
between 2 colors and to pop its edges. This filter also works well with selection tools.
Number 5: tinting shadows. Whenever I work on a new set of graphic elements
for a game, I often design them as if they were lit by a white light. In other words,
I use local colors in order to do my assets’ blocking. Once a graphic element is close
to being done, I can always unify its shadows by tinting them with blue, purple, orange…
all that thanks to gradient mapping. On Photoshop, gradient mapping is accessible
as an adjustment layer. You just have to add the effect as a layer, to open this layer’s
properties and to make sure that it only affects the shadows of underlying elements. If we
put the gradient map at the top of our layer stack, we can globally affect the shadow colors
of our whole creation. Number 6: some general tips.
It is always hard to see the mistakes we make when we are drawing. We have seen that it’s
interesting to always keep a copy of our document at a 100% zoom level. But there is more! There
are some other tricks we can use to bring our piece’s issues out.
For example, we can change the document’s background color from time to time. This alters
the relationship between our characters colors and, obviously, the canvas’ hue. That way,
we can both better see how our colors work in a general context and how our colors relate
to one another. This also affects our perception of the silhouette of our drawing.
There’s another essential trick for every visual artists: symmetry. It is easier to
see if we haven’t drawn something straight or if some parts of our creations are deformed
if we turn our painting around. It is a simple technique, but a very efficient one.
That’s it for this video! In the past How to Game Art, we focused on general techniques,
so I thought that pixel art could make some fresh content for you. It is an art that requires
a bit of patience, a lot of patience… But also some patience! We’ll get back to it
in the future. Pixel art is very interesting for those of you who don’t have a graphic
tablet. You can do pixel art just with a mouse and a cheap computer.
If you like the tutorials, please consider becoming a subscriber. That way, you’ll
be notified whenever I release new content. That said, I want to thank you kindly for
watching. Be creative, have fun… until next time!

100 thoughts on “6 Pixel Art Drawing Techniques”

  1. Thank you for addressing how to draw curves in pixel art! I have to use a mouse, currently, but I love to do digital art. I figured trying out pixel art would be pretty fun but I couldn't find many tutorials on techniques for beginners, or how to do curves. =)

  2. I don't even know what all he's talking about…..I just wnated to know some styles for beginners…..I can't even make a pokemon sprite without copying it from a picture……

  3. This is far beyond the capabilities of games in my day. Pixel art was limited to cells, this is much more complicated than older games could have held on screen at one time. This is not what I think of when I think pixel art. I'm thinking some SNES games like FF2 (US), FF3 (US), pretty much everything on NES, and older PC games.

  4. Wow making a pixel game like this would seem hella hard/long/tasking everyyyy animating gah where do you get the paitence for that oh wait you can actually acheive your goals XDD

  5. Quick question: I run linux to make pixel art. Do you know what programs I could use to make all my sprites be indexed color having the same color palette?

  6. … I guess I've been doing everything correctly by coincidence. Although I did learn a new technique when I was doing pixel art: what I do is if it's too difficult to draw something with pixels I usually just draw it normally, then I trace it using bigger pixels.

  7. Some of these techniques aren't really that useful when drawing things equals to or smaller than 64×64.

    Also it might be easier to draw pixel art with a controller but, I don't think there's any pixel art software that properly supports it. (Guess I have to make one myself in the future, after I master Vulkan to a degree (because I chose to use Vulkan as my entry to graphics API. XD)

  8. In the 8-bit era, we didn't have such a big canvas or near as many colours to do our pixel art. sprites were limited to 16×16 pixels and we only had a 16 colour pallet to chose from (and we didn't get to pick what 16 they were). Some computers didn't even have that. The Aple II only had black, white, and either orange and blue or magenta and green.

  9. Would it also work to draw something in a decent resolution then lower than said resolution to a pixelated state?

  10. One thing you've missed in the video, and that was very visible in your drawing – limited colour palette. In the beginning of what we know now as pixel art, the colours were a technical limitation, but now it's an essential part of the style. You can often see, that the piece was done by a beginner, because it uses so many shades of the same colour. It's very hard, but important part of this type of art.

  11. As someone who has been doing this for almost 5 years already, I still learnt from this video. Great tutorial!

  12. Not bad, but given I'm currently working with actual retro hardware, there are so many constraints. XD
    Your example work for instance would easily violate palette limitations.
    Especially when considered in context of needing to appear alongside other sprites.

    You can't trivially use 3 or 4 shades of the same colour if you have to respect a set of limitations that requires that any given sprite has 15 colours, and in practice probably can only get away with maybe 5 or so of them being unique to that specific sprite. (and even then, that assumes this is a 'hero' sprite – eg, something seen frequently enough for a long enough amount of time that you can justify devoting a chunk of palette entries to it.)

    Still, the techniques are still valid, but in a real context there are a lot of additional constraints to consider.

    Another for instance that comes up on older systems is palette swaps – Re-using the same sprite but with a different palette.
    On the surface this seems easy enough, but when combined with palette constraints in general, and other concerns, there is a whole other level of potential optimisations and things that you can do if you choose your colours very carefully vs if you do not.

    I for instance managed to make a character sprite such that the clothing was distinct from the other features. To do this the apparent colour use of the default sprite isn't entirely optimal, but the upside is it allows changing the character and clothing independently, and even create looks that can appear to be quite different from the default, even though they're not.
    (for instance, having clothing consisting of two colours that have two shades each that form a pattern, you can actually set the two colours to the same thing and have a solid colour variant without making a new sprite.)

    This is a layer of additional complexity that isn't that relevant out of context if you're just making pixel art for the sake of pixel art, but it can be pretty important if the art has to fulfill some practical considerations within a game environment…

    I'm just glad I'm not making NES or 8 bit games. XD
    15 colours is already pretty tough, imagine being constrained to 3… or even less…

  13. Someone want to make game with me? I need pixel artist. I will do programming. Also I don't have idea for game 🙂

  14. should i get a tablett for this, or is it better to draw with a mouse. won't be expensive to get one i think

  15. Guys who are interested in those who work in photoshop, here's a set of brushes for Pixel-Art

  16. In photoshop you can also use multiple layers and layer masks instead of locking alpha layer, it's a better way to do it because then you can also edit various levels separately without effecting other parts of the picture.

  17. Just a few weeks back i learned how to code my own game with the engine Godot. Would any pixel art designers like to team up with me in making a game?

  18. 3 tips:
    rely on 3d principles
    use as less colors as possible
    use dithering to reproduce subtle colors

    EDIT: I can send my variant of your picture

  19. I'm not sure whether it is Youtube's quality kind of trashing the colors, but on really zoomed up parts (Like 3:44 for example)
    I notice that there are lots of colors, mostly noticeable on Link's shade or his hair, many of which are lacking contrast and not being able to be seen unless really stared into. Using too many colors often leads to unnecessary gradients and almost always- bad staircase banding. Limitation is key.

  20. OMG, you have a million apps on your hotbar!!

    let's see how many i can name…
    google chrome (ofc), FL Studio, synthesia, photoshop, krita, constuct 2, OBS, the MS stuff, spotify, skype, aseprite..
    what else?

  21. Free alternative similar to construct.


    Test the online version.






    Here you vote on the priority of the updates:


    New engine updates, read here:


    If you are a programmer Js can help.

    in developing Gdevelop 5.

  22. The beauty of this is that he human mind always fills the blanks so even if a dot is a square, from far away we still see it as a round shape.

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