Pixel art is a form of digital art that makes use of individual pixels in order to show an image on a screen. When these individual pixels are grouped together, they can create practically any form or image, albeit with some limitations. In this article, we'll show a condensed version of veteran artist Simon Hunter's pixel art tutorial.
In 1978, an arcade game, entitled Space Invaders was released. Its mechanics involved players shooting at waves of aliens with a laser gun in the quest to gain as many points as they can–one of the earliest shooting video games ever released.
Interestingly, this game was also one of the first games that had ever used pixelated art.
Eventually, plenty of other arcade games, like Pac-man or Circus, soon follow suit and were also released with pixelated art.
Pixel art has gotten so common that Space Invader aliens are now a popular gaming icon, and most gamers (and even non-gamers) who lived during its time can easily recognize it from anywhere.
In simple terms, pixel art is a form of digital art that makes use of individual pixels in order to show an image on a screen. When these individual pixels are grouped together, they can create practically any form or image, albeit with some limitations. The limitations include the lack of rounded corners, since pixels are all basically tiny squares. But back then, when artists and developers were limited by 8-bit and 16-bit, there was basically no other choice but pixel art.
Nowadays, a lot of people view this form of art as ‘retro’ or even ‘outdated’, but many people still enjoy playing and making games in pixel art. Some of the most recent, and most prominent, releases using pixel art are Terraria (2011), Fex (2012), and Papers, Please (2013).
Simon Hunter, an artist who has been working on comics and more recently, games, since 1988, shares a pixel art tutorial for those who are interested in creating their own pixel art game.
The tutorial is very comprehensive, covering important points from start to finish. We’ll discuss each point briefly in this article.
Step 1 – Pick your colour palette
Use a pencil tool on your drawing software and pick your color palette. Remember to keep it limited.
Step 2 – Draw a rough outline
Do an outline of what you want to draw. Pay attention to all the lines and edges.
Step 3 – Trace over with a solid colour
With a new layer, start tracing over your lineart with a solid color. Make sure that your lineart is well-connected to ensure that the fill tool will work properly.
Step 4 – Establish your light source
Figure out the light source of your drawing. Start shading in darker colors for the shadowy areas of your art. If you’re using Photoshop, use the anti-aliasing tool (or a similar tool for other software) in order to soften the rougher lines and edges. Don’t use too much of it though, or you’ll risk losing the usual pixel art look.
Step 5 – Add highlights and shading
Once you get all your shadows down, it’s time to add in the highlights! Keep in mind your light source from earlier. Also, different textured items will have different highlights, as well.
Step 6 – Create blends between colours
Blending time! In pixel art drawing, this is done through a method called stippling, which involves using numerous dots to create shades in your art. This gives pixel art its signature, dotted look.
Step 7 – Add more highlights for surface detail
If needed, add in more highlights. In the case of this tutorial, Hunter was trying to create a bronze armor, so he had to add highlights to make his drawing ‘shine’.
Step 8 – Add your finishing touches
Lastly, add some finishing touches. Again, in this specific case, the bronze armor needed to have metallic finishes, which was achieved by using more highlights.
If you wish to delve in to this with more detail, check out Simon Hunter’s very helpful tutorial on his blog!
Here are a couple of reminders before you get going:
- Set your canvas resolution size to 320×200. The largest you can go is 512×512. Any more than that and your art won’t feel like pixel art anymore.
- Make sure you use a limited color palette. If you’ve paid attention to games that use pixel art, you’ll see that most of them use only a few shades for their coloring. In order to stick to the pixel art style, you should use no more than 10 colors in your work.
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