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Art & Design For digital, traditional, design, photography and mixed media art, Pokémon-related or not. Showcase or discuss anything related to the visual arts here.

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Old December 25th, 2012 (08:30 PM). Edited February 18th, 2015 by Fairy.
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derozio derozio is offline
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The Way of the Graphic Artist

Dear A&D Members,
Figured this section needed a resource + tutorials thread. Our super moderator Abnegation made a really useful thread some time ago which deals with almost every basic element and teaches you almost everything you need to know to get you started on the road to become a truly awe-inspiring graphic artist. The thread had plenty of awesome resources, to boot! So yeah, bringing it back!

Original Thread can be found here. I've made some changes in this one.
1) Got rid of dead links
2) Have rid the thread of PSP resources and tutorials because honestly, I don't see anyone use anything other than GIMP and Photoshop. :p
3) Have posted the final images of the tutorials so that you guys see what the output of the tutorial you're gonna follow is beforehand.
4) Added details on certain aspects like Color Adjustments.

Of course, I can't be lazy and just rehash a thread and be done with it. I'll update this thread time and time again. Hopefully, it'll be of help. What you read from now onwards is mostly what Gavin wrote in his previous thread so most of the credit goes to him. :]

Oh, and before you go on further, do check out the following:

Important Links
Everything an artist may need

Artist's Guide To Traditional And Digital Drawing -
Found underneath this post; contains everything you need to master the basics of traditional as well as digital art!
Feelin' chatty? Come and talk your heart out over here!
Check this out to ensure a trouble-free stay in A&D. :)
Do not have enough examples to make a gallery? Fret not; post in this thread where other users will provide you with quality feedback!

Hope you have fun!

Regards, Derozio

Okay, well I've been getting a few requests as to where to begin with graphics and graphic design and how I got to the level I'm at, which incidentally isn't a very high one but nonetheless I'm here to share my story and how I got to being able to make half decent icons, tags and large pieces. This is going to be the new tutorials and resource thread. The old one can be found here.

You may discuss what is in this thread, submit tutorials recommend things that could be added to the first post etc.

The Theory

Now I guess I best go through some terms for starters. I know some people looking here will probably be a little more advanced and won't need to read all this stuff, so you guys can skip on through!

Tags are small works intended to fit into signatures. They're often rather small in height and somewhat wide in comparison. Tags were a big internet fad for a while, or at least they were on forums and boards alike, but had died down with the popularity of larger pieces. An example of a tag would be this. Tags are always a good place to start for aspiring graphic artists as they allow you to learn about the functions of photoshop, apply flow, work with renders and stocks and so much more. In reality, the thing that makes you money through graphic design is print work. This means that tags aren't exactly money makers when it comes down to it; though they most certainly provide good practice.

Icons again, are a fad and quite a popular one too. Though web designers would see icons as something of small graphics to indicate certain options or links, such as favicons or I guess you could say dock icons. The icons I'm speaking of now were started by LiveJornal. An icon is a small 100x100 piece of graphics and is often a good representation of a graphic artist's style. They're primarily used as avatars on boards, forums and blogs. They've also been used to make themes on boards or forums. An example of an icon would be this.

Large Pieces:
Are exactly that, large graphic art. In the graphic design world, people primarily work with larger pieces for print work and such. Think about posters, billboards and advertisements; that's what large pieces would be when brought into the world of graphic design. Large pieces vary a lot. This is an example of a large piece.

Some terms we here in GFX talk with:

Flow is when the focal points' natural "flow" or direction is also represented by the effects used in the artwork. It is often created by smudging, C4D's and pentooling.

The art of pentooling the outline of an image to trace or color an image.

This is what goes into a signature, this would include the render, the background, the stocks, C4D's used etc.

Is just that, a signature with no depth is what we call "flat" which is something we'd like to avoid. Depth is often made by the background using blurring, smudging, stocks or C4D's. A tag which has nailed depth looks MUCH better than one which is flat. Monochromatic (ones with a single or a single kind of colors) tags require more depth than others.

Focal Point:
This is the part of the signature/piece in which you should be focusing on, the part that stands out and in which the entire signature/piece is created around. This is the part which should draw the viewer's attention the most. It is usually made noticeable by sharpening it and blurring other parts relative to it.

Is the light in which is created by the focal. Often made by soft brushing or a lens flare (found in your filters). Some people prefer using gradient maps for lighting as well. But, as far as the honest opinion of Derozio goes, soft brush lighting is the easiest to work with so beginners should probably try that, rather than gradient map lighting.

Where you put your stock/render, this is important while making a piece, you've got to know how to make your stock/render work with the size of the piece and where it fits best. Tags with focals in their center should generally be avoided because they go against the rule of the thirds. You can read more about the rule here!

When a signature is the same hue, tint or colour the whole way through. This can be avoided by using many colours. Even B&W tags can avoid this.

A cut out of a stock used in tags quite a lot. Often features a character or person.

A full picture.

An effect made in Photoshop/Gimp using the smudge tool. It can make or break a signature.

A cinema 4 d image. Used for effects primarily. They are pretty common in usage. And easily available as well!

= Got my vote

= Low Quality

Next up we're gonna go through some of the things that go into making a great tag.


The way of the blur

Depth is a very important technique for all graphic artists and I've seen it missed by beginners more times than I can count. Depth is what makes a 2D banner turn into a seemingly 3D piece of art when done correctly. Depth is important in almost every sig.

This is an example of some smudging and blurring. When you plan to nail depth in a tag, you are supposed to think of how the render/stock would look in 3d. If the render is pushing forward and there's a clear indication that a specific part of the render is more forward than the rest of it; you should try blending (blurring/smudging) the back of the render with the background so that it adds that much more realism. What I've done here was make the render look like it's been swallowed by the background, this is why the arms are covered and that the head isn't so much. It's all used to create depth. Mainly what was done here was smudging. You can also add depth by blurring. You can go for any of them but blurring is, relatively, easier. Mostly because you apply whatever you see in real life. You know how stuff becomes comparatively more blurry with increase in distance from the eye, right? Just think of a tag as a real-life image which needs depth and you can do that by blurring parts which are away from the eye and sharpening the ones which are situated closer to it.

Notice how in this tag that the render's edges were blurred so that it felt as if it had been coming forward. Anything with action (meaning the render or stock looks as if it was moving and was freeze framed) always has the option to blur or smudge in the direction in which it is heading.
Depth can also be made using appropriate lighting. The lighting can either go behind or in front of the render. In this tag, the lighting behind the render creates a feeling that something is back there, behind him, which created depth in the sig. That, and the effects around him that lower in opacity as the get farther away from him.

Depth is something you should always ensure you have in abundance - it can never hurt a tag, honestly. You'll probably appreciate how useful depth can be if you view the following example:

This is the final version of the tag

This is how it looks raw. Without any kind of blurring/burning/dodging or sharpening.

Now I'll explain in short whatever changes have been made in there.

1) This is actually an area that has been darkened in order to fix the messed up lighting in the raw version. Notice how almost every part of the raw tag is bright, yeah? That's mostly a no-no. The parts illuminated by the light source are supposed to be bright. Other parts should be dark. So I have used a tool called the burn tool to burn or darken some areas of the tag which seemed unnecessarily bright. Think of a light bulb. Think of it being kept over the render's head. You'll probably imagine it illuminating a 'U' shaped or parabolic area with its light. By darkening certain parts, you are pretty much trying to simulate the light from a bulb here - except that the bulb is virtual and lighting is artificial. :p You'll also notice that area near the left '2' has been darkened as well. That was done to simulate the lighting of the tag by a real life light source too. Although I don't know how much I succeeded there, haha.

2) You can see these parts have been blurred, right? They are situated, according to me, a little further away from the focal and hence were blurred to increase depth.

3) The effects which have been encircled in here are actually situated near our eye when compared to the render. There is something called 'foreground effects' as well. Everything apart from the render ain't supposed to be blurry. If there are effects which are situated closer to your eye when compared to the focal, do not blur them. This whole blurring business is basically a simulation of depth of field that your eye provides in the real world. So yeah, stuff that's closer to the eye doesn't need blurring.


Go with the flow

Flow is the technique used to make the signature feel as if it's moving in the same direction throughout, or when everything works together (more so in composition). Flow is another important aspect of tag making.

Here the flow of the tag is represented by the arrows. It's always good to get the effects moving in the same direction as the render itself. I used this tag as it's got a clear indication of flow without using anything over complicated.


Let there be light

Lighting is another important aspect of a tag. However you must be careful with where you place it. You must place it in a place where the lighting is foremost created. It is often created by the stock or render. Have a look at where it most bright and imagine the light is coming from that area or from above it/behind it etc. depending on the angle. You can also create your own lighting using methods such as a soft brush and a lens flare. Let's take a look at this tag again:

See how the lighting is strong here? The render had a nice bright position on the arm so the lighting was intensified. But yeah, take care not to let the lighting mess up. Too much of a bright spot on a tag hurts it. So keep stuff balanced.

There are renders which have ambiguous lighting, though. You can, pretty much, induce a light source at more than one place in these kinds of stocks/renders. Example below:

As you can probably see, most of Dante's right half is being illuminated in this tag. You can conclude that you're supposed to place the light source on the right part of the tag since that's where most of the render is being illuminated from. But there are bright parts on the left side too. It would be better to position the light source so that it, in this case, looks as if it is illuminating the right part of the tag. But it works pretty well even if you place the light source on the left. Take a look!

So yes, you can experiment with almost every basic aspect of the tag and go against the conventions. But remember, going against the conventions too much might probably end up ruining your work. It works at times. Might not work most of the time.


Because everybody loves rainbows

It is really important for a tag to have good looking colors. Without proper color enhancements, any tag can look relatively dull. Colors are generally enhanced by using gradient maps and selective colors. These two are the most widely-used photoshop tools that enable graphic artists to alter the colors, and therefore the mood/atmosphere, of the tag to his/her liking. Gradient maps are used a lot more than selective colors, though. So I feel that the usefulness of selective colors needs to be emphasized a bit. Click the image below to see what I'm talking about.

See the difference? As for how to use selective colors - all it does is 'selectively' change colors, as the name implies. You can change the red in a tag to a pink without it affecting the rest of the colors of the tag. But there's no set of rules as to how to use these, tbqh. You can just mess around with them till you get the colors right. With time and some practise, you'll gain enough experience to know what to do with almost any tag you're working on. You won't need to 'think' about what to do next - you'll do it all automatically. This is coming from personal experience, so yeah. XD;

I'll add more to this. More about Placement coming soon! Also, if you still have any queries concerning lighting, depth or stuff like typography and flow, read this. Our own Zebra Thunderhead made a really useful post regarding all these so I'm pretty darn sure you'll find it really informative. Check it out! :]

PC Member Tutorial List

If you'd like your tutorial added to this list, feel free to post it in this thread or PM it to me.

Tag Tutorials:

Zoro Collab Tutorial
by BreD

Balmung Tutorial
by Zebra Thunderhead

Tears of Blood Tutorial
by Zebra Thunderhead

Wanted Tutorial
by Conman

Manga Style Tutorial
by Conman

Creative Sprite Tutorial
by Conman

Gunster Tag
by Color Me Evil

by Michii

Manga Tutorial
by Loki

timeSPLITTERS Tutorial
by Zebra Thunderhead

Stock Tutorial
by Loki

Sig Tutorial
by Chibi Phantom

Smudgetastic Tutorial
by Comic Tragedy

by Loki

Dukey Tutorial
by Dukey

Darkrai Tag Tutorial
by Nitrous Oxide

Ninja Sig Tutorial
by Renyui!

smudging tutorial
by Michii

Skater Tag Tutorial
by Reminiscing

Dante Tag Tutorial
by Derozio

Luffy Tag Tutorial Video
by Derozio

Tutorials that pertain to other things besides tags:

Rendering Tutorial by Loki
Sandro's Userbar Tutorial by Sandro™
Avatar Tutorial by Motoko
Smudge Tutorial by Comic Tragedy
Blending Effects Avatar Tutorial by Nitrous Oxide
Colour Splash Tutorial by Renyui!

Color Effects Tutorial
by Loki

by Zebra Thunderhead

I Know How Tutorial
by Abnegation

Resource Section

Here you will find a bunch of resources varying from brushes to C4D's.

Tutorial & Resource Thread #1 Resources


Please report any dead links, thanks.

Free Brushes
BioRust Brushes (need to register for free)
DeviantArt Brushes
Brush Listings
Another Brush Listings
*How to create your own brushes

Free Shapes, Patterns & Borders
DeviantArt Patterns
BioRust Patterns (need to register for free)
Shapes & Patterns Listings
BioRust Shapes (need to register for free)

Free Textures and Gradients
BioRust Gradients (need to register for free)
Big Textures by ransie3 - Some lovely stuff here. Light textures are really good. Suggested by TwilightBlade
Stocks, actions, textures by zummerfish - Good stock images. Mostly landscapes. Suggested by TwilightBlade
Various textures by 9 liters of art - A large variety of textures available here. Most are really good. Suggested by TwilightBlade.
Textures and actions by demeters - Check out the gallery folders on the left. :p Good bokeh textures. Suggested by TwilightBlade

Free Layer Styles
Layer Style Listings
BioRust Layer Styles (need to register for free)

New Resources

Websites / Communities

Fringe FX
- redirects to a forum now. But a great graphics spot. Great resources.
Planet Renders - Renders, good forum. Great resources.
Signature Stop - Great signature tutorials
Abduzeedo - For advanced users, has some great professional work and tutorials.
- Great site to start learning professional graphic design.
Gfxresources - As suggested by gir500. Looks like a good place to learn some new techniques.
SubtlePatterns - Suggested by TwilightBlade. Plenty of good looking textures. Especially for profile backgrounds or thread layouts.
Cherrybam - Some really nice patterns in there. Also suggested by TwilightBlade
Blue Vertigo - has TONS of links to stock sites. I haven't gone through them all, though.

Final Note

There is no trick to graphic design, there's so much diversity in this world that everyone is entitled to create their own style. Don't be stuck trying to be the graphic artist you see ahead of you because they get recognition or their work looks good. You can be at any level and create something astounding. Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that your style; is the only one that should matter to you. If you want to be a great graphic artist, just practice, put your emotions into the things you do, plan before you start, have an idea of where you want to, but also don't be afraid of experimenting sometimes. If you make something you think is bad, don't give in and feel as if you'll never be good. Nothing great comes without perseverance. If you need help, just ask someone, don't be afraid to seek advice, criticism or any form of input. Cherish feedback, be it good or bad, make it your goal to impress people and most importantly, yourself. Lose your right hand brain in your graphic program and enjoy what you do.

If you have anything to add to this thread or if you'd like to comment on anything, please post, I do not mind general discussion, this is not a strict thread. I will say though, any grammar, coding, spelling mistakes can be PM'd to me or add them as a side note to a bigger post. We all make mistakes but be sure you don't look like you're spamming.

As always, I'm here to help if you need to seek advice on your work. Thread shall be updated regularly.

Credit of this thread goes to abnegation and myself, derozio. Contact me if you have any queries. Don't worry, I don't bite. ;]
ThemeNakiri Alice Pair and BFF → Fairy
Reply With Quote
Old May 17th, 2013 (09:48 PM). Edited January 27th, 2015 by Fairy.
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Fairy Fairy is offline
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: in the flowers
Gender: Female
Posts: 4,868
an artists guide to
Traditional and Digital Drawing
brought to you by Fairy



Hello my lovely artists! I have decided to create my own page of artistic resources! Here, I have compiled some websites for you all to use on your journey to becoming a better traditional / digital artist! But, before anything, take a moment to view some of our other lovely amenities.

Already know what you're doing? Hungry to share you talents?

Just want to find out what other artists are up to?

Need a refresher course on your sick gfx skills?

Without further ado, please enjoy my collection of tutorials, resources, explanations, and anything that's generally art related that can help you further yourself creatively. These resources are not mine, of course, rather they have been complied on behalf of A&D. So, once you've read through all of them and practiced your skill, post a gallery!

Yours Truly,
- The A&D Team

The Seven Elements of Art
Line is defined as a mark that spans a distance between two points (or the path of a moving point), taking any form along the way. As an art element, line pertains to the use of various marks, outlines and implied lines in artwork, most often used to define shape in two-dimensional work. A line is one-dimensional and can vary in width, direction, and length as well as horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, straight or curved, thick or thin. They lead your eye around the composition and can communicate information through their character and direction.

Shape pertains to the use of areas in two-dimensional space that can be defined by edges, setting one flat specific space apart from another. Shapes can be geometric (e.g.: square, circle, hexagon, etc.) or organic (such as the shape of a puddle, blob, leaf, boomerang, etc.) and are defined by the other elements of art.

Form may be created by the merging of two or more shapes or as a three-dimensional shape (cube, pyramid, sphere, cylinder, etc.) and illustrate the height, width, and depth. Examples of these are sculpture, theater play and figurines. Form is the external appearance of a clearly defined area.

Value, or tone, refers to the relative degree of light and dark, shade and highlight, in an artwork. Some people also refer the lightness and darkness in an artwork as tints (light) and shades (dark). Black-and-white photography depends entirely on value to define its subjects. Value is directly related to contrast.

The texture is the quality of a surface, often corresponding to its tactile character, or what may be sensed by touch. Texture may be used, for example, in portraying fabrics. It can be explicitly rendered, or implied with other artistic elements such as lines, shading, and variation of color. It is also about the different patterns and types of lines and shading e.g.: rough, smooth, soft.

Color pertains to the use of hue in artwork. Defined as primary colors (red, yellow, blue) which cannot be mixed in pigment from other hues, secondary colors (green, orange, violet) which are directly mixed from combinations of primary colors. Further combinations of primary and secondary colors create tertiary (and more) hues.

Space is the area provided for a particular purpose. Space includes the background, foreground and middle ground, and often refers to the distances or areas around, between or within things. There are two types of space: positive and negative space. Positive space refers to the space of a shape representing the subject matter; while Negative space refers to the space around and between the subject matter. Space is also defined as the distance between identifiable points or planes in a work of art.
Illustration Programs

I assume most of you reading this already have some sort of illustration or design program. However, this is probably the best place to begin an introduction to drawing. These are all free, online programs for budding and veteran artists alike.





Color Theory

The Dimensions of Color by David Briggs
[The Dimensions of Color]
This is probably one of the best resources on serious color theory. It covers in detail everything from the basics of light and shade to subtractive color mixing. Not only will it teach you the "dos and don'ts" of color theory, but it will teach you how to apply it best through your respective art program / canvas.

Color Scheme Designer 3
[link to page]
Having a hard time deciding what colors would compliment your existing ones? This fun little tool will help you decide!



The Breakthrough Figure Drawing Course by Riven Phoenix
[Beginner : "Invention to Human Skeleton"]
[Intermediate + Advanced : "The Structure of Man"]
Beginner tutorials cover skeleton frames and muscles, while the intermediate and advanced lessons span from gesture drawing systems to conceptual illustration drawing techniques. It's a little difficult to navigate the website, but it's worth it. Be prepared to watch a lot of videos.

Drawing Hands by 'majnouna on deviantART
[link to image]
It's a gigantic image, but it's a really comprehensive tutorial about the basics of hand drawing down to the different kinds of hands, dramatic poses, and the general "dos and don'ts". 'majnouna really breaks down hand drawing without being too preoccupied with Da Vinci-esque anatomy.

How to Draw Hands by Drawn in Black
[link to page]
Another tutorial on hand drawing, only this one includes an excellent collection of drawn and photo references. Definitely worth looking at if you're having a problem identifying what pose is best for you piece.

[link to page]
Posemaniacs has a gigantic list of image thumbnails for you to choose from if your having trouble creating that dramatic emphasis!

[link to page]
This awesome, interactable page breaks down the individual muscular structures of the face. While it doesn't put any particular emphasis on shading or lighting, it will make sure that all of your facial expressions and anatomy is spot on. Versions available for both novice and advanced artists.

How to Draw Fight Scenes by koizu
This video was brought to my attention by Derozio and is an excellent tutorial on how to draw dynamic, epic battle scenes. A must watch for all artists!



[Perspective Assignment]
Conceptart.org is probably one of the best resources out there, but I really didn't want to overload you guys with it. This thread covers different assignments where artists test theories of perspective. It touches on pretty much everyone one needs to know about perspective with visual examples.

The Perspective Tutorial by ~sashas on deviantART
[link to image]
~sashas, also featured on conceptart.org, created a great 101 crash course on perspective. It's an easy read, but will teach you how to really flex backgrounds and foregrounds.

Perspective Drawing - Linear and Aerial Perspective
[link to page]
This awesome little site gives a comprehensive definition of perspective and covers everything from one, two, and three point perspective to picture and ground planes. It's definitely worth checking out if you want a refresher course on the subject. Just follow the links provided for different articles.


Shading & Lighting

Manipulation Secrets #3 - Shading and Lighting by Andrei Oprinca
[Photoshop Tutorial]
This tutorial is aimed directly at photoshop users, but I figured it deserved a place in here. It's great for understanding what "that button" does as opposed to "this tool" and how to use them both effectively.

Giant Shading Tutorial by *TamberElla on deviantART
[link to image]
While showcasing animals, this tutorial still covers different styles of shading with multiple light sources (including none) from different angles along with various colors. It's usefulness can be applied to human anatomy, as well.

Artist Daily's "Shading Techniques Beyond Cross Hatching"
[link to PDF]
This nifty little PDF won't teach you how to identify what kind of shading looks right according to where the light is positioned.. but it will tell you appropriate pencil gradation and value. It's definitely worth reading if you're a little heavy handed.


General Art; Communities

PSG Art Tutorial
[a little bit of everything]
Can't put your finger on why your drawing looks weird? Check out this art tutorial. It'll help you prioritize your thoughts and really get the ball rolling on your artistic basics.

[link to forum]
These guys are really great. There's so much information here (well more than what I've gathered for this thread) as well as an entire community of artists. They offer lessons, critiques, events.. pretty much everything you need! It's also worth mentioning that mostly everything from this tutorial and more can be found at ConceptArt.

Rate My Drawings
[link to forum]
It's exactly what it sounds like. Only these guys include some great tutorials along with a solid critiquing community.

[link to community]
Everyone knows about this one, but I'm honor bound to include it.

Compiled by Abnegation. These links showcase the works of different groups of artists. If you're looking for inspiration -- this is where you want to go.





Digital Resources

Photoshop Brushes
Here you can download a plethora of Photoshop brushes.







Photoshop Tutorials

This covers a little bit of everything when it comes to using Photoshop effectively. Use these links to search for tutorials on exactly what you're looking to do / improve on.




[noupe : ultimate photoshop toolbox]

So, get started!
I encourage you all to post your resources here! Share whatever websites or applications you use to help you draw and I'll add them to the list. And please remember to bare with us while this thread is expanding and evolving. I want to do my best to represent Art & Design as well as our younger artists, so please -- get involved!

If you have any questions, comments or grievances please contact :
Abnegation or Fairy

Thanks for reading!

m4t3spr1t3s - f4m1ly - tw1n - st4rdust - p4rtn3r - coll4b
4rt h1ve - tutor1ng - clubstuck - fr13nd cod3 - gpxplus - d3v14nt4rt
Reply With Quote
Old April 16th, 2014 (04:58 PM). Edited May 24th, 2014 by Fairy.
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Fairy Fairy is offline
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: in the flowers
Gender: Female
Posts: 4,868
The Pixel Art Tutorial
So, I was browsing a few different places, and I found the most incredible pixel art tutorial I've ever seen. And, after trying for some time to make my own, I realized that authoring a novice, static perspective on pixel art would be a disservice to everyone. This tutorial explains everything notable about pixel art in a clear and uniform way, and teaches even the most basic concepts in a completely new light; one I feel even the most seasoned of artists can learn from. But first, it must be officially stated that I do not own, nor did I make this tutorial (besides fixing a few formatting issues and omitting things not relevant to this forum). This tutorial is completely owned by Pixel Joint user cure. Their work should be inspected under the most respectful and critical of lenses, as the massive amount of work that went into this tutorial is nothing more than staggering. So, read it, study it, and learn something. I know I did.

Table of Contents

I. What is pixel art?
1. Why not all digital art is pixel art
2. Why it's not just about the tools

II. Where do I Start?
1. Tips
2. Programs
3 File type
4. Beginning the image

III. Terms To Know
1. Anti-aliasing (AA)
2. Dithering
3. Pixel clusters

IV. Things to avoid
1. Bad AA
2. Jaggies
3. Bad dithering
4. Banding
5. Pillow-shading
6. Noise
7. Sel-out

V. Creating a palette
1. When should I worry about colors?
2. Color counts
3. Saturation, hue, luminosity
4. Hue-shifting
5. Color ramps
VI. Community-made sprite resources

I. What is Pixel art?
Judging by the name, we might assume that pixel art is any art that's made up of pixels.
But not every digital image is pixel art.

This photograph is made from pixels, but is not pixel art:

Alright, so no photographs. But if I make my art on the computer, then it's pixel art, right?
No. Pixel art is a very specific sub-category of digital art. It isn't what it's made of so much as how it's made.

For example, this digital painting is art made on the computer, and it is made of pixels, but it is not pixel art:

If the pixel art loses the sense of the importance of the pixels which construct it, then I don't think it can be called pixel art. It is when the pixels hold importance to the nature of the work which defines it as pixelart.
- Alex HW
Why not all digital art is pixel art

Pixel art is set apart from other digital art forms by its focus on control and precision.
The artist has to be in control of the image at the level of the single pixel, and every pixel should be purposefully placed.

When pixel art is done purposefully, offsetting just a few pixels can have a dramatic effect on the image:

The features of this parrot change drastically, but only a few pixels are different.

Other digital art forms use many tools you won't find in pixel art. The reason pixel artists don't use these tools is because they place pixels in a manner that the artist can't predict. These automatic tools blur, smudge, smear or blend the pixels. Any tool that places pixels automatically (which means the computer makes decisions about the placement of pixels rather than the artist), is generally frowned upon in pixel art. Remember, pixel art is all about control.

An automatic tool has been used to blur the edges of this grey blob

You'll often hear people complaining "This isn't pixel art, it has too many colors!" This isn't because there's some unwritten rule in pixel art that says "It's only pixel art if it has [X] number of colors", you're allowed to use as many colors as you want. The main reason that people complain about color count is that a high amount of colors can indicate the use of dirty tools. Dirty tools create a lot of new colors in order to achieve their blurring, smudging, or transparency effects. People also mention high color counts because larger palettes are more difficult to control, but we'll get to that later.

Why it's not just about the tools

So if I don't use any blur effects or filters or fancy tools, it's pixel art, right? Anything made in MS Paint will be pixel art?
No. It's not the program that determines whether or not it's pixel art, it's how it is made.
For example, this image was made in MS Paint, without any fancy tools:

But it isn't pixel art. This is what we call oekaki. If you can create the image without zooming in, chances are it isn't pixel art. If you're using the line tool and flood-fill most of the time, you're not paying attention to the individual pixels, just the lines and shapes that the pixels make up. The same goes for rough sketches made with the pencil or brush tools. These methods ignore the importance of careful, deliberate placement of the individual pixels.

While the most common misconceptions about pixel art are due to too loose of an interpretation of the medium, there are some who have too strict a definition of what makes pixel art.

Every pixel does not literally need to be placed by hand
The job of the pixel artist is not to manually place each and every pixel. You aren't expected to behave like a robot, filling in large areas with thousands of single-clicks of the pencil tool. The bucket tool is fine. The line tool is fine. What's important is that the artist has control of the image at the level of the single pixel, not that you create the image one pixel at a time.

II. Where do I start?

Pixel art is about the pixels- that's as simple as it gets. These tips share a common goal: to make sure your focus is on the pixels.

Start small- The larger the image you're trying to make, the more time and work it's going to take to complete it. Don't make this tough on yourself, use a small canvas. Pixel art can convey a lot of information for its size, you'd be surprised how little room you need if you control the pixels properly.

Use a limited palette- If you can't make a good sprite in 4 colors, using 40 colors isn't going to help. Using a small palette is especially good for beginners because it forces you to focus on pixel placement and the relationships between groups of pixels.
The original, 4-color GameBoy palette is a good choice for beginners, as you'll only have to worry about value, and not hue or saturation.

There are plenty of good programs out there for pixel art, many of which are free. I use Grafx2, but GraphicsGale, Pro Motion, Photoshop, Pixen, and MS Paint are all common choices. Some are more user friendly than others, which is why I choose something with keyboard shortcuts like Grafx2 over MS Paint, it has saved me many trips to the toolbar (and makes for much easier palette management).

File type
A common mistake that new pixel artists make is saving their art as a JPEG/JPG. While this file type might be fine for other types of images, it causes compression, which destroys the quality of a piece of pixel art.

Never, ever save as JPG. Instead, save as PNG or GIF. Be careful though, as some programs (such as MS Paint) don't properly support the GIF format, and will ruin your image. In these instances, you'll need a file converter (such as Giffy) if you want to save your image as a GIF.

But how do I start the image?
It's completely up to you. Some artists prefer to create the line art first, then go in and add color:

Other artist prefer to 'block-in' the major forms with a larger brush, then continue by refining the image until it has a pixel-level polish:

Both methods are fine, it all depends on what you're comfortable with, or the specifics of the project. Line work might be a good method if you're tracing a scanned image (such was the case for the sea monster example above). If you're beginning the image in your pixelling program, and it isn't a tiny sprite, blocking in the forms with a larger brush may prove more useful.

III. Terms to Know
Anti-aliasing (AA):
[In addition to the information found in this section, check out this image by Ptoing.]

Anti-aliasing is the method of making jagged edges look smooth. You may be familiar with anti-aliasing already, because a lot of programs and tools do this automatically. When we're talking about pixel art, however, anti-aliasing means manual anti-aliasing. Manual AA means smoothing the jagged areas by hand-placing pixels of a different color to ease the transition. Here's an example:

without AA with AA added

There are several pitfalls often encountered when applying anti-aliasing, which are discussed in the "Things to avoid" section.

Dithering consists of different patterns of pixels. It's typically used to ease the transition between two colors, without adding any new colors to the palette. It's also used for creating texture. In the days of CRT monitors, dithering was especially useful as the screen would actually blur the dithered area and obscure the pattern. Now that crisp LCD monitors are the norm, the patterns are no longer as easy to hide, meaning dithering is not as versatile as it once was. Even so, dithering still has its uses.

The most common form of dithering you'll see is a 50/50 dither, also known as a 50% dither or a checkerboard pattern.

As shown in the example above, you can create various other patterns to further buffer between a full color and a 50% dithering pattern.
These patterns are often easier to spot than a 50% dither though, so be careful!

Stylized dithering is another technique, and is characterized by the addition of small shapes in the pattern.

Interlaced dithering allows for two dither regions to hug each other. It is called interlaced dithering because the two dithers weave together at the borders. This type of dithering allows you to blend dithers together to form gradients.

Random dithering is a less-common form of dithering, and isn't generally advised, as it adds a lot of single-pixel noise to the image. While it has some usage in very small doses, random dithering is something you'll often want to avoid.

As useful as dithering is, it's often misused by inexperienced artists. Bad dithering is discussed further in the Things to avoid section.

Pixel Clusters:

The cluster of pixels is made from single pixels. However, a single pixel is most of the time near-useless and meaningless if not touching pixels of the same color.
The pixel artist is concerned with the shapes that occur when pixels of similar color touch each other and convey an opaque, flat, shape.
Most of the defeats and possible triumphs of pixel art occur in that exact moment where the artist makes a cluster of pixels.

I stress the importance of placing individual pixels, but these are rarely independent pixels. A single pixel, isolated, is a speck on a screen- it’s noise. But pixels aren’t usually found alone, instead they exist as part of pixel clusters- groups of pixels of the same color that together produce a solid color field. While the single pixel is our basic building block and smallest unit, the pixel cluster is the unit on which much of our decisions about pixel-placement will be based. And while it’s important to realize individual pixels aren’t independent, it’s just as important to realize pixel clusters aren’t independent. Like puzzle pieces, the borders of a pixel cluster determine the shape of the pixel clusters it borders.
Here is an example of how rearranging the shape of a pixel cluster can have dramatic effects on its neighbor clusters:

While lone pixels often read as noise, a lone pixel of a color different than the field it touches, if used as a buffer (AA), reads as part of that cluster, and is thus unproblematic:

IV. Things to Avoid:
Bad AA:

Too much AA (over-anti-aliasing)- You only want to use as much AA as is necessary to smooth the edge. If you use too much, the edges can look blurry, and you lose the crispness of the line.

Too little AA- Here the artist has used single pixels to ease the transition, but he has only succeeded in blunting the jagged edge a bit. He could have made a much smoother transition by using longer lines of pixels to show a more gradual transition:

AA banding- When segments of AA line up with the lines they're buffering, AA banding occurs. For a better understanding of AA banding, be sure to read the section on banding.

Jaggies occur when a pixel or group of pixels are out of place, interrupting the flow of a line. Jaggies can also occur when a line lacks anti-aliasing. Jaggies get their name from the jagged lines that they create. More broadly, jaggies are the result of any bad pixel technique, but they are most often discussed in reference to line work, so that is the context in which they will be discussed here.
How to fix jaggies:

Changing the length of the lines

often times the problem is just that a segment of the line is too short or too long, and it creates an awkward jump. Using a more uniform length of pixels to smooth the transition is the solution here.


Unless your line is perfectly horizontal, perfectly vertical, or at 45 degrees, the edges of your line segments are naturally going to be a little jagged.

This is because the square nature of the pixel and the grid pattern we're restricted to makes angled lines and curves difficult to portray. AA is the correct counter-measure in these situations.

Bad dithering:

There are several common ways dithering is misused. The most common mistake is simply using too much dithering. If dithering is covering half your sprite, it'd probably just be better if you added a new color to the palette. Dithering should ideally be used to taper the ends and edges of an opaque field of pixels. When too much dithering is used, the dithered area turns into a field itself:

At this point dithering is no longer serving as a buffer between colors, but creating unwanted texture. Creating texture can be a useful aspect of dithering, but only when used correctly. If you're trying to buffer and are instead adding texture, then dithering isn't working out.

So how much dithering should you use? Well, it depends on how big your palette is really- or more precisely, the contrast between the two colors you're trying to dither with. The lower the contrast is between the two (in hue or in value), the less harsh the dithering will be:


Banding, most simply, is when pixels line up. When neighbor pixels end at the same x or y coordinate on the underlying grid, the grid immediately becomes more evident, the pixels are exposed, and the apparent resolution becomes less fine.

Here are several instances of banding, all of which occur because the pixels have lined up. These names aren't common lingo, but will work for the purposes of this tutorial:


Here an opaque field of color has been outlined by a row of pixels. It's fine to use outlines, but make sure the outline and the shape it contains don't line up and reveal the grid.

Fat pixels:

Fat pixels can occur alone in small squares, together as fat lines, or multiplied as large bands (staircase banding).

Skip-one banding:

Even if there is a negative space between two bands, the mind will fill in the gap and banding will remain.

45 degree banding:

Though the rows of pixels lining up are only 1 pixel thick, banding is still present.


Shading by surrounding a central area with increasingly darker bands. Pillow-shading is bad because it pays no attention to the light source, and conforms to the shape of the area rather than the form it represents of how light affects it. Pillow shading is often, but not always, combined with banding. The way to fix pillow-shading is simply to pay attention to the direction light is coming from:

The reason pillow-shading is wrong is not because the light source is frontal (from the viewer's direction). You don't have to place the light source in the corner. The reason pillow-shading is incorrect is because it follows flat shapes rather than focuses on how the three-dimensional forms are lit.
So, it is possible to use a frontal light source, so long as you pay attention to the forms:


Much of the time, independent pixels (pixels that do not belong to a pixel cluster) are unable to convey sufficient information by themselves, and their inclusion usually only creates noise. Noise is any sort of information that does not contribute to the piece and serves only to interrupt the area it inhabits and distract the viewer. In pixel art, noise is often composed of independent pixels. For the purposes of this tutorial, single-pixel noise will be what I’m referring to when I use the term “noise”. The reason one must be careful when using a 25% dither (or any dithering, really) is because of the noise all the independent pixels create.
Single pixels expose the underlying grid by revealing the resolution of the image. Remember, in the wild, pixels travel in packs. It’s the nature of a pixel to long for a place in a pixel cluster. For this reason, independent pixels should only be used for very specific and purposeful reasons.

Justifiable instances of independent pixels include:

Use as specular highlights

Independent details call a lot of attention to themselves, but sometimes this is precisely what you want. For bright specular highlights, single pixels will often work just fine. For an example, see the white pixel used on the monster's nose below.

Portraying small but essential details

Usually this will only matter for details on very small images, like the eyes on a small sprite, or the beak of a tiny bird. Or stars, or little bubbles.

Sel-out (broken outlines)

Sel-out (short for selective outlining, also known as broken outlines) is anti-aliasing an outline to a background color. This means sel-out is really a type of bad AA, but the term has become popular enough to warrant its own section.

The idea is usually to darken the outline at the contours to approach a darker color, so that the sprite will read well on any background, instead of melting into a similarly-colored background. Sel-out is not shading an outline according to a light source. A full outline with light variation won’t create jaggies as badly as a broken outline will:

Perhaps this is a simpler example. The half-circle on the left is shaded according to a light source (again, coming from the top left corner). The top of the half-circle on the right has sel-out applied:

Sel-out works if it is created for specific scenarios, such as in a game where you know the background will be consistently dark.

V. Creating a palette

When should I worry about colors?

Well essentially what it comes down to is, what colors does the piece need to have? then, as I go, how far can I get with those (until of course I need to add more shades). That's when the mixing occurs.

This is a common method of creating a palette for a piece. Here's an example of what he's talking about:

As the piece gets more complex, it becomes necessary to create additional colors to achieve more advanced shading, or to color new image elements or details.

Another method is to create the piece in shades of grey, then add color later. This is possible because relative value is a greater concern than hue, because hue can be more easily altered later on, after value relationships have been established.

Personally I find it easier to keep up with colors as the piece progresses, so I prefer the first method.

Color count

You may find that pixel artists often advocate a low color count. You might assume that this is just a tradition leftover from the olden days of pixel art, back when video game consoles could only display a certain amount of colors.

If modern computers can easily display hundreds of colors, why shouldn't you use them all? In truth, using small palettes isn't an outdated tradition of pixel art, and there are very logical reasons behind this practice.

Cohesion- When you're using less colors, the same colors will reappear throughout the piece more frequently. Since the different areas of the work share the same colors, the palette ties the piece together, unifying the work.

Control- The smaller the palette, the easier it is to manage. You may, and probably will, want to change adjust a color later on. If you've got 200 colors, it's going to take you a lot longer to make the adjustments, because by changing one color you've thrown off its relationship with the colors neighboring it on its color ramps, and adjusting them means changing the relationships between those colors and their neighbors! You can see how this quickly adds up to a lot of work. With a smaller palette, the effect of changing a single color is more substantial, and there are less micro-relationships to worry about.

Hue, Saturation, and Luminescence

Hue refers to the identity of a color. Whether a color is defined as blue, red, orange, etc. depends on its hue:

In the above picture, hue is represented along the x-axis.

Just as you can change how bright or dark a color appears by surrounding it with lighter or darker pixels, the perceived hue of a color depends on its environment. Here we have a completely neutral, medium grey:

In this picture (a detail of this piece by iLKke) the green in the trees is actually not green at all, but the same grey as the previous picture:

Because the background is so purple (which is the opposite of green on the color wheel), the grey looks greener than it actually is.

Hue will be an important concept later when we discuss hue shifting.

Saturation is the intensity of a color. The lower the saturation of a color, the closer the color gets to grey:

The most common problem new artists encounter is regards to saturation is using colors with too high of a saturation. When this happens, the colors start to burn the eyes. This can be a problem in any media, but because the colors in pixel art are made up of light, instead of pigment as in paint, the potential for colors being too bright or irritating is much higher. Notice how the colors in the second image are much easier on the eyes:

Luminescence (brightness):
Luminescence (also known as brightness or value) is how dark or light a color is. The higher the luminescence, the closer the color gets to white. If the luminescence is 0, then the color is black.
Here's a palette arranged as a luminescence scale for you visual learners:

low luminescence (darker colors) on the left, high luminescence (brighter colors) on the right

In a given palette, you'll want to have a wide range of values. If you only have colors in the same range of luminescence, then you won't be able to create good contrast- a full range of values allows you to use highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. The difference between the brightness of two colors is known as contrast. A common problem newer artists exhibit is not having enough contrast. Here's an example of an image for which the contrast is too low:

And that same image, adjusted so the values are spread out more evenly from light to dark:

The value of a color is a set number, but colors can appear lighter or darker depending on their background. For this reason, you won't always want to use your brightest color for every highlight. A color that makes a good highlight on one object might be too bright to use on a darker object.

Luminescence is especially relevant to pixel art: The brightness of a pixel or line determines how thick it appears:

The first example is a simple black line. The width of the line looks consistent. Below that is a line with pixels that vary in brightness. Notice how the line appears thinner toward the center at 1x.

Color Ramps

A color ramp is a group of colors that can be used together, arranged according to luminosity. A palette can consist of a single ramp of many different ramps.

Here's a palette:

And here's that same palette, arranged according to its color ramps (of which there are two):

It isn’t necessary that you actually create a model like the one above (though some artists find it useful). What is important is that you understand what your color relationships are- that is, what your ramps are.

It isn't necessary that a color be restricted to a single ramp. Often, ramps will share colors. Frequently, the darkest or lightest color will belong to most or all of the palette's ramps, as in the example above, in which both ramps share the same darkest and lightest shades.

It’s also possible for mid-tones to work in multiple ramps. In these cases, the versatile color takes the place of two or more separate colors, aiding in palette conservation. In the case of multi-ramp shadows and highlights, the extremes in luminescence allow the color to be flexible (because they approach black or white). Since mid-tones are not afforded this advantage, they are often more neutral colors, meaning they are closer to brown or grey.

Here is a palette that uses one shade of grey to bridge the gaps in several ramps:

You also have to be careful about having colors in a ramp that don't fit. If a color doesn't belong in the ramp, then it has the potential of punchingthrough the image, which is a priority issue in which the color, rather than work as part of the image, seems separate from it, and looks almost like it is sitting on top of the image. This is usually due to the saturation being too high, or because the hue clashes with the neighboring hues, and thus creates eyeburn.

The above image shows eyeburn created by a color with too much saturation.

...and in this image, eyeburn is created by the green clashing with the purple. The hue should logically follow its neighbors in the ramp.

Hue shifting

Hue-shifting refers to having a transition of hues in a color ramp. A color ramp without hue-shifting is known as a straight ramp. In straight ramps, only the luminescence changes, while in hue-shifted ramps both hue and luminescence will (usually) change.

The first color ramp is a straight green ramp. The second image is a green ramp with hue-shifting applied. When using hue shifting, bend your highlights toward a certain color (yellow, in the example above), and move the darker colors toward a second color (I chose blue in the above example). Hue-shifting is used because straight ramps are usually boring and don't reflect the variety of hues we see in reality, and hue shifting can add subtle color contrast within a ramp.

V. Community-Made Sprite Resources

The DS-style 64x64 Pokemon Sprite Resource (Gen I - V)

Credit to cure for compiling this tutorial and all persons mentioned, as well as the artist's whose works are showcased above. Thanks you guys.


m4t3spr1t3s - f4m1ly - tw1n - st4rdust - p4rtn3r - coll4b
4rt h1ve - tutor1ng - clubstuck - fr13nd cod3 - gpxplus - d3v14nt4rt
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