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Old Aug 30, 2009   #1
Shook
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[TUT]Introduction to Pixel Art [56K ALERT]
So yeah, i'm currently pretty bored, and i feel like making a tutorial. As the title states, it's about pixel art, of which i'm sure that at least a few of you take interest in. Mind you, i assume that you know how to make a straight line, but if you don't, do tell, so i can add that section.

So without further ado, i shall begin.

1. What is it?

You've read this far, which means that you have at least a bit of interest. Good. But first, we need to ensure that you know what pixel art is. It's pretty simple to explain in rough features, but hitting the nail on the head is pretty hard.
Basically, pixel art is art where you place every pixel (or at least, most of them) manually, usually with a tool similar to the pencil tool in Paint. This is a painstaking process, but in the end, can produce quite satisfying results, even for people with a shaky pencil hand (read: can't draw for shit), such as myself, which is partly why i got into it.
Pixel art should be totally devoid of any automatic anti-aliasing, but you can still do it by hand, which i'll explain later. This often results in a pixellated look, but that's kind of the whole point about it. Y'know, making pixellated things that look good. This isn't a requirement, though, and pixel art that looks smooth can be quite spectacular.
Using certain tools, such as the fill tool or line tool, is acceptable, as long as you are unable to see the difference between the tool and a pencil. For example, if you're going to make a large, yellow square, you might as well use the rectangle tool, as the results would be identical.

In short, pixel art is made with a 1x1 pixel pencil, by placing every pixel individually, or with simple, non-antialiased tools, where you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. The former is the most flexible, but the latter is quicker. Personally i use a mix of the two.


2. The basics

The basic tool, and the most useful tool as well, is the pencil. No, not the one you might be holding in your hand, the one in Paint, or whatever program you're using. It can place a pixel individually, and as such allows for superb levels of detail and what not. But for now, we'll settle with making a simple smiley, akin to the little yellow bastards used by this forum, such as or . Y'know, just so you can get acquaintanced with the pencil and such.

Right, so. The first and most obvious part of the smiley is a circle. Circles are moderately hard to make manually, but it comes with practice. In essence, it's just four curved lines, so we'll look at how to make a curved line first. For the sake of visibility, i'll also make a x5 magnification of the images used. So, let's see an example of a curved line...



Notice how the pixels are placed. 3, 2, 1, 2 and 3 pixels. If you were to draw a diagonal line from the bottom left to the top right, then it'd be symmetrical on this line. From here, you can easily figure out the pattern required to make curves. Note that they don't have to be totally perfect to appear circular, which is pretty convenient. Now, if we make four of those in extension of each other...



We get a neat circle. Practice around with this, as it's pretty neat to be able to make good circles and curves. Now we just fill it with a color of our choice, as we won't be bothering with shading for now. I'll be using yellow, as smileys usually are yellow. Feel free to use the fill tool for this, as it won't make any difference.



No big deal there. Now, we make a face for the little guy. Let's just give him a happy face, so we can practice those curves again.



There we go. Nice and simple.

Congratulations, you now know the basics of pixel art. :U


3. Details

Being able to make the shapes is all well and good, of course, but if they're bigger than an ant or whatever, you're going to need some details, if your artpieces are going to look like what they're representing. Let's make a (flat) barrel, for instance.



Not much of a barrel, huh? It's just an outlined red rectangle, which is quite boring to look at. Now, let's add a couple of rims, and a sticker in the middle.



Still isn't much of a barrel without shading, but we'll cover that later. But as you see, it's now more interesting to the eye, due to the added details. And it didn't take a lot of work. So whenever you're making something, be sure to add a little detail, else it invariably ends up looking bland. It's worth practicing, mang!


4. Shading

Ok, so, we'd like our shapes to resemble 3D shapes, instead of flat planes. To do this, we need to shade them. Mind you, certain things don't need to be shaded, due to them actually being flat surfaces, but most things do need it. As an example, let's look at the above barrel, and give it some depth...



Now it suddenly looks much more like a barrel, eh? Now, there is a thing you should know: Shading looks best when done as if the light comes diagonally down from the left or right. You might be tempted to take the easy way, and shade from the outline and inwards, but don't do it. More often than not, it ends up looking bad, and people might yell at you for it.
But anyways, there are three shapes that you ought to know the shading process of: Cylinders, as above, cones and spheres. Cylinders are probably the easiest, so i'll start with that one.



Step 1: Make a rectangle, filled with a "middle" color. As in, the color in between highlight and shadow.
Step 2: Make the left half into a brighter color.
Step 3: Make the left-most line inside the outline into middle color.
Step 4: Select a dark color, take the right half of the cylinder, and color the right half of that half dark. If that made sense. Now it looks like a cylinder, but if you want it to be shiny...
Step 5: Place an even brighter line of color in the middle of the bright area.

And voila! You have a cylinder. Step 5 can be skipped if it isn't a shiny cylinder, and step 4-5 can be skipped if you want a more cartoony look.
Now, let's look at a cone.



Step 1: Make a triangle filled with middle color.
Step 2: Color the left half with bright color.
Step 3: Take a dark color, and fill the right half of the right half with it. The dividing line should have a slope that is twice as steep as the outline, so it goes 4-4-4-4 instead of 2-2-2-2.
Step 4: Do the same in the left side, but with the middle color, and the dividing line shifted one pixel to the left. So now you have a matte cylinder. To make it shiny...
Step 5: Add an even brighter line in the middle of the bright area, again with a slope that is twice as steep as the outline. If there isn't a middle pixel, go for the left one of the middle two.

And that's a cone right there. It's more complicated than a cylinder, but not as much as a sphere, which is done like so:



Step 1: Start with a middle-color circle.
Step 2: Put lines of dark color, as shown in the image.
Step 3: Fill the areas created with dark color, add an inner outline of dark color, and smooth out the "corners" as shown on the image.
Step 4: Make a really bright spot, that is located roughly half the radius in pixels diagonally away from the center.
Step 5: Encase the spot in a circle that is 2 pixels wider and taller than the spot. Then, expand that circle downwards and to the right with 2 layers of pixels.

This is about as good as you get with 4 colors and without dithering, which will be covered in the next section. Mind you, i'm not particularily good at making circles myself, so you should experiment to see what looks best.

If you're shading other shapes, it helps to either visualize the shape in a dark room, getting hit by light from the top-left/top-right corner, or bringing up a reference image to go from.

To be continued! (due to character limit and due to the fact that this post has been 2 hours under way)
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Last edited by Shook; Jan 7, 2017 at 11:20 AM.. Reason: restored images
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Old Aug 30, 2009   #2
Shook
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5. Advanced stuff

First up: Anti-aliasing. You know how i said that pixel art should be devoid of automatic anti-aliasing, right? Well, now's the time to learn how to do it manually. Let's look at an example...



That's a pretty big difference, eh? You may notice that the intermediate colors aren't exactly grey, but don't worry about that, this is due to the palette i'm using. What's important is that you should always take the intermediate color between the two colors you need anti-aliased. Once you've picked your color, you should anti-alias "away" from the line, else it'll end up wrong. Personally, i don't use anti-aliasing a lot, but then again, that might be due to me having a fixed 256 color palette, so feel free to do it. The amount of anti-aliasing needed depends on how many pixels per "segment" of a line there is, but generally, it shouldn't be necessary to anti-alias more than 3 pixels away from the line.
Another example of anti-aliasing would be this:



See how much smoother the border gets? Like previously, i've anti-aliased "away" from the border, but only with one color, as the difference isn't as big as between black and white.

Right, now that we've got anti-aliasing out of the way, let's look at dithering. Dithering generally serves the same purpose as anti-aliasing, but without using additional colors. It doesn't produce a totally clean look like anti-aliasing does, but it's quite useful if you don't want to use a gagillion colors.
Before i start rambling about something unrelated, let me show you an example of the most basic dithering...



The checkerboard pattern. Basically, you make the border between two colors into a checkerboard of the two different colors. So simple, yet so effective. However, that if you can use anti-aliasing, do so. Dithering tends to produce a noisy look, which might not be what you're looking for. Due to me working with a limited palette, i often use dithering, because there's a lack of some intermediate colors in the palette.
When you move on to lines that aren't horizontal or vertical, things get a bit more complex, though. Lemme show you...



The border appears smoother, but also more blurred. This is because that dithering is actually closer to blurring than to anti-aliasing, but since anti-aliasing is a kind of blurring, i guess it's allright. =P
Another important detail to remember, is that you should only dither if there's room for it. If you're going to dither on both sides of a color block, it needs to be at least 3 pixels wide, and if you're only dithering on one side, it should be at least 2 pixels wide. This is because of the fact that the checkerboard pattern extends (at least) 1 pixel into the color block, and if two opposing checkerboards meet, shit looks weird.
Now, i'll show you how you can extend the dithering further, to allow smoother gradients and what not.



Notice the checkerboard in the middle, and then look at how i've extended it. You rarely need to dither more than the simple checkerboard, but if you do, now you know how to do that. ;)
Also, if you're faced with a line that has segments of two pixels, you need only to place a dithering-pixel at the corner of each segment, on both sides of the line. Generally, if you're faced with the choice of skipping a pixel or extending a segment, then do the former. I'm sure you'll figure it out. Especially with this example. ;)



Now for the last part about dithering: The circle. This also pretty much includes curved lines, because as previously mentioned, circles are composed of 4 curved lines. Let's see an example:



Again, the checkerboard pattern. It really is versatile, don't you think? :U

An example of how to use the above dithering in a circle will have to wait, due to me running out of time. So i guess that's it for today's lesson. =P
<Blam|Homework> oiubt veubg
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Last edited by Shook; Jan 7, 2017 at 11:26 AM.. Reason: more restored images
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Old Aug 30, 2009   #3
Shook
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6. Complex stuff

So yeah, so far i've only showed you some pretty simple shapes, and by now, you must be HUNGERING for more. So, let's get started on it... Firstly, a sphere with a hemispherical extrusion towards the viewer. We start out by making two circles; one for the main sphere, and one for the extrusion.



Easy start, right? But now we need to shade it. Firstly, we shade it like two serparate spheres...



Then, we do something about that horrible black outline, particularily in the center, so it looks like a single object, instead of two...



And as a final touch, we add a shadow, which is caused by the extrusion.



This might seem trivial, but mind you, i've just shown you how to combine simple shapes, in order to make complex shapes.

Now, using our above object for inspiration, let us make... A mace. Y'know, those heavy blunt weapons, used to smash skulls. Let's finish up the head, by adding more of those knobs, in a circle around its center, all shaded like hemispheres...



Also notice how i've darkened the bottom entirely, due to the shadows cast by the knobs. Now, just because we feel like it, let's add some rims to the head.



I've made them brighter, so they appear more on top of the head, while still following the same shading pattern as the head beneath them. And while we're at it, let's add a small spike to the top of the head...



Eh? Doesn't look like a pleasant mace to get hit by. Now, we should make the rod that the head is attached to. 28 pixels in length should suffice, because we're going to add a handle later.



But a plain cylinder is pretty boring, right? So, let's add some rims to that as well, to keep in style with the head as well.



There. Now, let's shade the whole damn thing.



But wait, those rims don't really stand out, do they? To make them do that, we should add some shadow beneath them...



Right, looks pretty decent now. However, a macehead of that size would surely cast some shadow on the handle, so let's make it do that...



It's not a big difference, but it's there. Now, it's time for us to add the handle. We start out by making an extra bar, which is 12 pixels long...



And then, we add a handguard, as well as that bottom thingy that i can't remember what's called...



After which we add some shading...



And once again, a plain cylinder is boring to look at, so we add a spiral pattern to the handle itself, as well as a little bit of random detail to the handguard...



And finally, we add the shadow that the upper handguard casts.



And we're done! Whew, that sure took some time, huh? That's another part of pixel art: You need to be patient. If you rush things, they will look fugly. Or rather, they won't look as good as they could do.
<Blam|Homework> oiubt veubg
deviantart page | also patreon if you feel rich

Last edited by Shook; Jan 7, 2017 at 11:28 AM.. Reason: toot
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Old Aug 30, 2009   #4
Nathan
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This is very helpful. It gives me a new prospective on things.
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Old Aug 31, 2009   #5
Gorman
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very pro, looks like you have decided for me what i will be doing tonight, pixel arting!
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Old Sep 3, 2009   #6
Daggardry
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Very nice, The shading part really helped
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Old Sep 3, 2009   #7
Nobuddie
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Great Tutorial.

I have stickied this for Gods sake, may this rest for a good time.
(I hope I did nothing bad now. For serious. It just fits)

Too Bad I havent seen it before :O
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Old Sep 4, 2009   #8
DarkJak
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Shook, you are just amazing! This really taught me so much about pixel art.

(time to make them retro sets)
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Old Sep 5, 2009   #9
Nobuddie
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I felt like it had to be done and would look way better, so I copied Nathandudes post, and merged it with yours Shook. Please correct me if you dont want to have it like that. I will fix it in that case.

Great 2nd Part man.

That is awesome for everyone.
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Old Sep 10, 2009   #10
maldiluna
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So useful, thank you shook
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