This is the ultimate beginners guide to creating pixel art, a pre-introduction if you will. If you know absolutely nothing, then you're in the right place. We aren't going to teach you any specifics, but rather point you in the right direction and guide you through getting started and how to improve.
What Is Pixel Art
In the early days of computers, if you wanted to display graphics, pixel art was your only option. As technology improved and allowed images with more colors and higher resolutions, pixel art became, but it was so loved by gamers and artists, that it found a (pretty big) niche that still thrives today.
It's recognizable by it's limited colors and blocky shapes, but there's more to it than that. Other tutorials will go more in depth, but here's a general definition:
pix•el art (/ˈpiksəl ärt/) n. — A digital art where pieces are created through a unique process of manipulating the individual pixels of an image document using minimal size and number of colors.
In other words, it's about having control over every pixel on your canvas, none of the pixels are generated by a computer. Once you start pixelling and come to understand the process, you'll see it's that process that makes pixel art unique, and is not simply just small images with few colors.
The best place to start is an introductory tutorial to familiarize yourself with the process, and basic terms/techniques. Below are a few we reccomend, or you can browse more here. You don't need to take notes, just familiarize yourself with the concepts and process.
Cure aka Logan Tanner is a talented pixel artist who usually hangs around PixelJoint. This tutorial covers everything you could need to know about pixel art, including a good introduction to what is and isn't pixel art.
This tutorial has been around for a long time, and moved around since the author took it down. It goes over all the basic techniques you'll need to create a sprite as it walks your through creating one.
This is a paid option, but it's well-written by skilled pixel artist Michafrar. Still a work in progress, but there's already over 180 pages and covers all the basic techniques.
After you understand the basics of the process, you could keep reading tutorials and visualizing, but I reccomend you take the leap and just start pixelling.
You can try creating pixel art for yourself right here right now!
Choose a pixel editor
When you're ready to start creating pixel art for real, you'll have to choose a program to use. Our Pixel Art Software List page gives you a quick comparison of the most popular pixel art creation programs, or you can pixel online now with the Lospec Pixel Editor.
Once you've got your editor up and running, just start creating. Pixel whatever your desires. Need an idea?
If you have trouble choosing colors and don't want to focus on them, many artists use premade palettes from old computer systems or designed by other artists. Check out our pixel art palette list which lets you download any palette into your program of choice.
Now that you're officially a newbie pixel artist, there's nowhere to go but up. Improving is simply a matter of repeating the steps below.
This is of course the most important step in improving any skill. Just keep pixelling, the more you do it, the faster you'll improve. If you're short on ideas, Pixel Dailies on twitter posts an idea for a theme every day that you can pixel.
Reading tutorials is great way to learn things you might not have thought of. Our Pixel Art Tutorals page has hundreds of tutorials which you can filter by subject or artist. The more knowledge you absorb, the more options and ideas you'll have at your disposal.
Sometimes the most valuable advice you can get is another artist examining your work and pointing out it's flaws. They'll be able to tell you what areas you are weakest in, which will help you to know what exactly you should practice in order to improve. Upload your art to reddit's /r/pixelart asking for CC and try out some of the suggestions you receive.
The biggest untapped resource for learning is simply studying other's art. Find some pixel art you find particularly well done and open in up in your pixel editor. See if you can figure out how the artist acheived certain aspects. Play around with their palette, take apart their sprites by removing colors one at a time. Try to recreate something in their style or make modifications.
You can do it alone, but there's a lot of benefit to participating in the a community! Luckily there's many pixel art communities on the net still thriving.
Twitter is great because you can gain followers and have your work seen by the most people, by breaking out of the pixel art sphere. Lots of game developers and other low-spec artists to connect with. Make sure to use #pixelart on your posts!
Reddit's /r/pixelart forum has over 100,000 members and has the potential to reach more, but most posts stay within the smaller ecosystem which is filled pixel artists new and experienced. Also one of the only places where it's really acceptable to share any pixel art you find elsewhere on the net. Great for beginners.
PixelJoint is a standalone gallery which has been around since 2004. A little outdated, but still has the biggest (and highest quality) collection of pixel art on the net. Pieces must meet the gallery's quality standards and be manually approved.
And that's not even all of them! Check out our communities page to learn about all the different places to find pixel art on the net!
Taking it further
You may eventually find yourself hitting some walls in your art in more general art principles. It can be very beneficial to pixel art to learn other at forms. Drawing is a good way to more easily learn form, anatomy, and perspective. Digital painting is a good way to practice composition, colors and shading.
Below are some free online tutorials of varied subjects that you might find useful.
Thanks for reading, and welcome to the world of pixel art! Tell us your thoughts below, and share any advice you have for other new pixel artists!