What is Pixel Art? Types, techniques

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Over the years, we could see how slowly the new forms of graphic and visual design in the design of icons and other elements that make up a program were replacing the old images made with the technique called Pixel Art , widely used in computer systems. of computer science and video consoles from a few decades ago, fundamentally due to the very high resolutions that modern monitors can achieve, and the rendering capacity of the new video cards. Thanks to these elements, images of surprising sharpness and quality can now be displayed. Just take a few minutes to watch some of the more modern games.

However, regarding the design, we can also see that even today it is a valid way to carry out some aspects of modern software projects, shining where the current heavy and complicated image formats exceed the specific needs required. The Pixel Art option is very useful when the image quality is not required to be superior. This provides a small saving of resources when developing software.

Pixel Art may have disappeared from the map of the technical field, but there is a trend among many artists and users who see this technique as a very interesting form of art. If you want to know everything about Pixel Art, in the following paragraphs, we will share the basic concepts of its realization, in addition to obtaining the necessary knowledge to be able to identify the different types of Pixel Art.

What is PixelArt?

Pixel art, more commonly called Pixel Art , basically consists of an artistic discipline that uses a computer and various raster image editing graphic programs to create digital works of art, which are made pixel by pixel.

The Pixel Art comes from the old game consoles, primitive mobile and computer games, however in those days they were not considered works of art, they were the only ways to create images for this type of implementation available to developers and the hardware of that time. epoch.

Pixel Art began to be considered as art many years later, after this type of image was no longer used in software design, thanks to the fact that hardware such as video cards became more powerful, and therefore capable of processing more information in less time, which included images.

For this reason Pixel Art was forgotten and replaced by much more striking and technically perfect images. It was rescued many years later by a few artists, and then massively known when retro and nostalgia became fashionable, which did the rest, making Pixel images once again in the circle of younger artists, who manage to impressive works with the tools of a design program.

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Although Pixel Art has its origin, as we mentioned, in video games, its greatest references being “Space Invaders” from the year 1978, the game “Pac-Man” from 1980 and various games for consoles such as the Nintendo or the Sega from the middle of the 80s, and it was made official with this term in 1982 by Adele Goldberg and Robert Flegal, the truth is that the concept is much earlier, from the early 1970s, when it was developed in Palo Alto, by Xerox, the “SuperPaint” system, a pioneer in video and image editing.

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Types of Pixel Art

The two categories that Pixel Art is usually divided into are Isometric and Non-Isometric.

Isometric Pixel Art is drawn almost in an isometric dimetric projection. This procedure can be observed in games where the creation of a three-dimensional environment is necessary and the required hardware resources are not available to achieve it.

In contrast, Non-Isometric Pixel Art is pixel art that cannot be categorized as Isometric, that is, Pixel Art that is drawn using front or side views, from above or in perspective.

History of Pixel Art

The concept of Pixel Art is something that currently captivates many users, mainly due to the fact that it is a simple type of art, to be carried out, but that may be able to captivate more than one viewer.

Although its limited development began due to the technical hardware deficiencies of the time, the truth is that over time it was able to establish itself as a benchmark for game playability, only because of the quality that had been achieved in Pixel Art.

The origin of Pixel Art is quite old, as it dates back to the early 1970s, and had its heyday in the 1980s, hand in hand with console video games that were very fashionable in those days. However, this description about the history of Pixel Art may fall short, which is why from this point on we offer you a much more exact and accurate chronology.

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As we mentioned, Pixel Art has been closely related to video games since their inception. As console video games have improved and evolved over time, so has Pixel Art. From those primitive arcades with super-simple graphics to modern game consoles with unthinkable hardware in the early 1970s, the one that by Of course, it is capable of displaying razor-sharp images, and everything in between, Pixel Art has also evolved, both in the technical aspect and in the artistic aspect, leaving various styles on the way, which we will be able to see and analyze next.

The origin of Pixel Art (1972-1983)

In the early years of Pixel Art , mainly due to certain factors such as the inexperience of the developers and the primitive hardware that was available at that time, Pixel Art was nothing more than really very simple blocks trying to take the form of the different objects to which the title of the game alluded, and the truth is that you had to have a lot of imagination to be able to see a spaceship, an alien or any other character in games for consoles such as the famous ColecoVision, the Magnavox Odyssey, or the also iconic Atart 2600.

However, the developers were experimenting and learning, and the hardware was improving, which is why the first jump was made.

The 8-bit era: Pixel Art between the years 1983 and 1987

Although the development of video games was still quite limited by the same confinements as before, that is, the hardware and the inexperience of the developers, the truth is that it was already an industry that was really very profitable, and that generated a lot of income, with which all developers and manufacturers put all their effort to improve their products.

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In this sense, and thanks to all the effort put into the objective of offering users much more recognizable characters and scenarios at a glance without needing so much of the imagination, it was finally possible to create much more attractive and interesting games than before. , with many details, which included backgrounds, hidden areas, and complicated settings, as well as other technical gadgets that shaped what would be the new games of the next generation.

Some of the developers and manufacturers involved in this process are the renowned SEGA , the well-known Game Boy console and the Nintendo console .

The 16-bit era: Pixel Art between the years 1987 and 1993

As arcades reached their peak, the technology around video game consoles had come, in technical terms, to match the quality of arcade graphics.

It is at this point that a kind of hinge occurs. Console game developers had reached the place where they could go further than arcade machines, as the technology available to create Pixel Art was much more sophisticated and the hardware was much more powerful, facts that were exploited to get out of the mold imposed by the aforementioned arcades and achieve their own style, even combining 3D techniques that had different degrees of acceptance among the public.

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It is noteworthy that according to many experts in the field of Pixel Art and console video games, many of the creations developed in this golden age such as those of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Genesis or Neo Geo , to name a few, can still face much more modern developments with a high degree of security.

This means that despite the years that have passed, its level of playability is very high, a more than important point when players are getting used to the super graphic reality with each passing day.

1993-2006: Pixel Art falls into oblivion

We could define the beginning of the fall of the supremacy of Pixel Art as the graphics of the main game consoles, at the moment when the main manufacturers began to use 3D modeling for the representation of the characters in the scenes of the games, as they did Playstation, Sega Dreamcast, Gameboy Advance and Nintendo 64 , among others.

From this point on, Pixel Art was increasingly losing popularity , except for some manufacturers who initially distrusted 3D and waited for its development to be as polished as possible, however this was not the best business choice. for these companies.

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At this time, Pixel Art stagnated, and its development stopped, and it was not able to evolve with new technologies and consumer habits, however it continued to be used in many titles, some of them very renowned.

To the rescue of Pixel Art

Currently the scenario for Pixel Art is no longer the same as it was in the mid-1980s, however, despite the fact that the graphics developments of the main modern games revolve around the technique of three dimensions, the truth is is that Pixel Art is still quite visible, especially on handheld game consoles like the Nintendo Switch, DS , and 3/DS.

Finally, after decades of comings and goings, Pixel Art technology is far from being a viable option for today’s big game developers, that is, those that generate millions of dollars in profits.

However, Pixel Art is still a widely used resource in many independent games for various platforms. A clear example of them is the well-known “Minecraft” ; a title of great success among players of many ages.

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The fact of using Pixel Art in this type of development allows the artist or designer to generate good characters and settings without having to resort to expensive 3D modeling, which also saves hundreds of hours of work that many do not translate into a result. quite correct. Instead, with the use of Pixel Art they ensure that “retro touch” that is creating so much fury today.

Pixel Art also enjoys an enviable reputation among young artists and graphic designers around the world, who see Pixel Art as a fresh and modern form of art expression and is understood by all as it is closely related to The experiences of a very wide age group, that is, between those who had contact with classic video games, and the younger ones who see in these types of games simplicity without complications, just entertainment.

Pixel art technique

Basically, the art that can be created using the Pixel Art technique consists of drawing the images that we want pixel by pixel, resembling pointillism due to the use of certain elements. Isometric perspective is used to represent these scenes or images in three dimensions. In addition, in this technique, color is extremely important, which is why the color palettes used for these creations must be conscientiously thought out, which will allow us to create scenarios, characters and others, always with a color coherence that offers us a result. realistic and capable of emulating the situations we are illustrating.

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As we can see, although Pixel Art seems like a simple technique, the truth is that it is a discipline that requires certain knowledge. Pixel Art is divided into three basic categories that differ from each other fundamentally by the number of pixels, responsible for achieving the necessary realism.

These categories are 8-bit Pixel Art, 16-bit Pixel Art and 32-bit Pixel Art, which obviously, the higher the number of pixels, the better the result obtained, depending on the use we need to give the image.

The Pixel Art images that we create generally start from an image called “Line Art”, with which we will outline the characters, the settings and everything else that we need to place in the work. Nowadays Line Art images are scanned after being drawn with the traditional method of tracing with pencil and paper.

We mentioned above the simplicity of the development of Pixel Art, but that it was also a technique that required certain knowledge, which if we do not have it, it can complicate us and lead us to frustration due to the poor results that we will obtain. Some of the problems that we can run into when making our own Pixel Art are for example, the limited color palette that we have to work with, which requires us to manually make the effect that we usually achieve through the use of a technique called “Interlacing”. ”.

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Another problem that we can find in the “Antialiasing”, or having to smooth the edges of the images manually. Fortunately, these problems, and many others as well, are explained in the following paragraphs.

Anti-Aliasing and Pixel Art

As we know, in the field of graphic design and image processing, Anti-Aliasing refers to the processes that allow Aliasing to be minimized, an effect produced when different signals cannot be displayed correctly when they are sampled digitally. The application of Anti-Aliasing in this type of images is usually done manually, which allows avoiding unwanted points by smoothing curves and color transitions.

This technique, also called “Anti-aliasing”, is widely used in Pixel Art to counteract the inherent “grain” of computer screens, the grain that results from their Cartesian nature. Despite the fact that there were other types of data visualization systems, the truth is that the industry opted for the system of pixels arranged in a rectangular shape, for which Pixel Art must use the Smoothing or Anti-Aliasing technique in order to be displayed on the screen correctly and without distortion.

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Basic Shapes of Pixel Art

According to some experts, Pixel Art offers some similarities with the pointillism technique, and can also be traced in some of the most popular forms of artistic representation such as embroidery and mosaic arrangements. These types of expressions are similar to Pixel Art in that they are basically designed by joining small dots together, grouping them, or separating them by color. These dots could be thought of as the pixels on modern screens.

The most commonly used way of creating Pixel Art style images uses two colors that repeat a sequence of 2×2 pixels in area. To achieve different tones, the density of each color must be adjusted.

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Another way to create interesting effects in the work is the use of circles, it is also possible to obtain attractive effects through the use of the stylized interlacing technique, which should be distributed randomly.

As we can see, Pixel Art is made up of geometric figures and given this limitation, the artist who creates this type of image usually places great emphasis on the use of contrasting and vibrant colors, with the aim that their creations can also stand out and be dominant part of the game. In fact, the use of bright colors is an inseparable feature of Pixel Art also in those artists who do not develop this discipline in the field of software.

How to start in Pixel Art?

Although, as we mentioned from the beginning of the article, Pixel Art is a simple technique to carry out, always depending of course on the project at hand, the truth is that it can take a long time because we have to accommodate each point with its color in the right position, and if the image we want to create is very ambitious and has a lot of detail, it can take us a long time to finish it.

To understand why Pixel Art exists, we have to go back in time to when monitors could display little else besides text. In other words, the definition that they could process and offer was really low.

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For this reason, the graphics of games and other software applications were developed from a pixel unit that is multiplied proportionally until the necessary definition value is reached. The effect that this causes is that if we look closely at a monitor with these types of images, we will not be able to distinguish much. On the other hand, if we move away, the panorama changes, being able to observe a complete image without distortions.

Keeping everything mentioned in mind, from this point we will show you everything you need to start making our own Pixel Art designs, and feel like video game artists, or perhaps start with an artistic career that can even be very profitable.

How to create our own Pixel Art

If you are thinking of developing the interesting discipline of Pixel Art, the first step we have to take is to create our first Sprite. But for this we need to take a series of steps that include the selection of the program to use, the preparation of the conditions of the drawing canvas and others. All of this is well explained below these lines, so let’s get started.

Step 1: Select the program

The first step is, of course, to download and install a suitable program to make Pixel Art. Although we mentioned above that Paint is a tool that can be used for such purposes, the truth is that if we can get an app that makes our work more comfortable , better. To stop this, we can see the section “Applications to make Pixel Art” further down in this same post.

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Step 2: Select the drawing tools

Although the mouse is a tool that can be very useful for us to create our own Pixel Art, the truth is that any device that can help us with the task is going to be welcome. One of these tools is a digitizing tablet, which can save us a lot of time.

In the market there are various models of digitizer tablets, some cheap and others of great value, however at this point, the cheapest of them will serve us, since we are just starting. In any case, this device is not really necessary.

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Step 3: Prepare the drawing program

Once we have installed the drawing program, the first thing we have to do is prepare it to create our Pixel Art. In this case, for the illustrations we have used Photoshop, but the procedure does not vary much from app to app.

The first thing is to activate the grid view. This will allow us to see in a simple and simple way how each pixel will be located. To activate this function, at least in Photoshop, we must click on “View> Show”.

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It is also likely that we will have to configure the size of the grid, so that each square represents a pixel of the image. To do this we move to “Edit> Preferences> Guides”, grids and sectors. Note that this may change from app to app.

Step 4: First practices of Pixel Art

Now that we have the grid configured, it remains to create a new image. It is noteworthy that pixel images do not require them to be extremely large. With 72 x 72 pixels we will already have enough to start with a simple figure. In the case of wanting to draw a larger stage, we must take into account that the measurements do not exceed 250 pixels. At this point, it should be noted that the resolution for Pixel Art images must be 72 pixels.

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Once the image is created, we enlarge the screen with the Zoom tool to be able to work more comfortably with the grid and pixels. A standard magnification percentage for these types of designs is between 700 and 800 percent of the original image.

The next step is to select the appropriate drawing tool. This should be the “Pencil”, which should be only one pixel in size, which will allow us to capture individual pixels in the drawing.

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At this point, we have all the things we need to start creating our own Pixel Art. However, we also need to pay attention to practicing with the pen tablet or mouse.

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Although it may seem like simple advice, practicing lines is the only way to gain confidence and pulse. Practicing both straight lines and curved lines has many benefits , since they will allow us to get rid, with experience, of all the errors that will later overshadow our work.

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This is because any pixel misalignment in this kind of work is immediately visible to the eyes of others, even those who have no experience in the field.

Do we need a special program to create Pixel-Art?

The answer to this simple question also has a simple answer: No! In this sense, any graphic design program that has certain tools can be the right option for us, whether it is paid programs or free applications, even Microsoft Paint, with all its limitations, can be a useful tool to create our own Pixel Art.

At this point, any drawing program will do, including GIMP, the aforementioned Paint, Photoshop or Paint.net, among many others. However, to lighten the burden of having to search for programs to make Pixel Art, below these lines you will find an important list with the best applications to create Pixel Art, both free and paid.

Apps to make Pixel Art

From this point, we will find a list of the best design applications to make Pixel Art with which to start taking our first steps. Although some of them, such as Photoshop and Gimp, are complicated to use, if we are not graphic designers, the truth is that they are also the ones that offer the best results.

The rest of the tools are a bit simpler, and therefore easier to understand, so if you’re just starting to experiment with Pixel Art it’s a good idea to start with some of these.

GIMP

Known as the alternative to Photoshop, GIMP is one of the best design apps out there for creating Pixel Art.

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If you want to know more about this tool, you can do so by clicking on this link.

Paint.NET

Apart from being an excellent image editor, Paint.NET is also a fabulous tool when it comes to creating Pixel Art, thanks to its simple yet powerful features.

Among the options offered by Paint.NET are the possibility of working with layers and working with effects, among other features.

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If you want to know more about this free image editor, you can do so by clicking on this link.

Adobe Photoshop

There is not much more to say about this image editor, except that it is perhaps the most suitable alternative when it comes to creating our own Pixel Art, fundamentally due to the quality and quantity of tools and options that it offers.

If you wish, you can learn more about Photoshop by clicking on this link.

MOAI

MOAI is one of the best-known tools among artists dedicated to Pixel Art, since it offers a number of options and features with which to work on our design with the best quality.

Basically, MOAI is a reconstruction of an old application from the 90s, called “Animator”, from the developer Autodesk, but with some modifications in the options that allow it to be used on modern computers and operating systems, such as the possibility of exporting images in JPG or PNG format, in addition to the LBM format, original to the program.

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However, far from just remembering past times, the app is current, and offers a number of modern and interesting tools with which to get a professional job of the best possible quality.

If you wish, you can download MOAI for free by clicking on this link.

Grafx2

This tool stands out above the rest fundamentally because it is an application designed specifically for the creation of Pixel Art with the tools used in the golden age of this technique. However, it also offers support for more modern features such as layers and transparencies, so that we can carry out our work with the best possible comfort.

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If you wish, you can download Grafx2 by clicking on this link.

PyxelEdit

Another interesting image editor for creating Pixel Art is PyxelEdit, which offers a good number of tools, as well as a careful selection of design options. Among the most notable features of this Pixel Art editor are, for example, the possibility of incorporating layers into our design and the option of being able to reuse mosaics, among others, all features aimed at being able to carry out our work in a much more comfortable way and easy.

The only problem, depending on how you look at it, is that this Pixel Art editor requires us to have installed the runtime environment developed by Adobe, Air, which is currently very outdated.

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However, to avoid this problem, we have a portable version of this Pixel Art editor available, which will save us a lot of trouble.

If you wish, you can download this free Pixel Art editor by clicking on this link.

Pickle

Although in its beginnings Pickle was developed as a specific application for the design and creation of Tiles, also called mosaics, that is, those figures that allow us to repeat them and form scenarios for games and others, the truth is that it also offers the necessary tools to create Pixel Art or animation sprites.

With Pickle we will be able to create professional quality Pixel Art images in a short time, however, the biggest problem is that Pickle also, like PyxelEdit, requires that we have Adobe Air installed, which quickly becomes a problem, since it does not offers portable version. In addition, it is not free, for which there are other more convenient options, we advise you to try them.

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If you also want to try this Pixel Art editor, you can do so by clicking on this link.

Aether Resources Editor

Finally, we have Aether Resources Editor, which is an application that can serve as a complement for the creation of Pixel Art, since it is capable of editing frames, without a doubt its best feature, creating images, animations and even audio with much ease.

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If you wish, you can download Aether Resources Editor for free by clicking on this link.

Edit Pixel Art Online

Piq

As we know, the option of being able to use the services provided on the Internet offers truly fabulous advantages in many areas, such as online storage, document creation through office suites, file conversion and many other activities. .

How could it be otherwise, the world of artists is benefited by this number of services, including all those who are dedicated to the discipline of Pixel Art. In this sense, if we are looking for a tool to create our images of Pixel Art online, one of the best ways to do it is through Piq, a magnificent image editor that offers us an excellent number of features and options, with which to achieve high-quality results in a simple and fast way.

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The service is divided into two modes: Standard mode and Advanced mode. In the first mode, we have what we need to start making our Pixel Art, and in the Advanced mode, we already have many more options, more professional and powerful.

Undoubtedly, a tool that will allow us to come to fruition wherever we are, the fundamental characteristic of all online services.

If you wish, you can access this online Pixel Art editor by clicking on this link.

Pixel Art Saving and Compression

Preferably works made with Pixel Art should be stored in a file format that uses lossless data compression, such as GIF or PNG. The JPEG format should be avoided because its lossy compression algorithm is designed for smooth continuous-tone images and introduces visible distortion in the presence of dithering.

conclusion

Starting with a new style of art can be complicated, that is why it is recommended not to stop practicing and try not to focus on a single result, but to carry out many works until your technique is polished, since you will discover it as you go. improvements.