[Guide] Pixel Art for Beginners

Discussion in 'Artists' Gallery' started by Jay2a, Jul 9, 2015.

  1. Recently, I've been noticing an increasing popularity in pixel art on EMC. Although people are taking an interest, their ways of getting or making their own sprites are less than professional. Today, I will be talking about how you can draw your own sprites, and possibly have them look better, more professional, or even less overdone.
    One note before the guide begins: I'm not a professional and my work is not the best. Though, I do know a lot about spriting from more experienced people.

    Part 1 - Programs/Getting started
    A very important part of spriting is the program that you use. Although certain programs may be more familiar, there are some that will be better than others.
    In the spoiler, I've listed some pros and cons of different more popular programs.

    -Doesn't strain the computer
    -Mostly designed for image editing and painting, but can do Pixel Art just fine
    -Very user unfriendly

    -Easy to use
    -Doesn't strain the computer
    -Supports transparency and layers
    -Very simple - Lacks advanced image editing features (However it can be extended with plugins)

    -Very powerful and can do other things
    -Has the most tutorials, plugins and all
    -Forcing it to do Pixel Art can get frustrating
    -The interface is rather complicated

    MS Paint
    -It comes with Microsoft Windows
    -Requires no setting up to start spriting
    -Not very hard to figure out
    -No transparency
    -No layers
    -No (proper) resizing
    -No advanced features of any kind
    These were just the more popular programs. If you have a different one that works for you, feel free to stick with that.

    Other than the programs, it helps to know exactly what you're going to sprite and how you're going to sprite it. It helps to look at other people's drawings to get an idea, and to look at pictures to know what you're going to draw. And yes, professionals do look at pictures sometimes.

    Part 2 - Shading/Grayscale
    This is an incredibly important part of spriting. Not only does it add depth to your drawings, it brings them to life. You'll notice that without shading, all of your sprites will look very basic and very flat. Proper shading can make your sprites look more realistic, professional, and above all, will give it a smooth look.

    Here is a relatively simple drawing I made:

    Picture #1: Basic shotgun design, no colors. Just a simple white figure with a black outline
    Picture #2: Basic shotgun, 4 colors. Eliminated the black outline for a dark shade of the main colors
    Picture #3: Shaded, now with 12 colors. 3 shades for each part of the shotgun
    Picture #4: Eliminated the grayscale, no combination of solid gray and other colors

    A tip from more advanced spriters is to NEVER mix grayscale with colors. Grayscale is the basic different shades of gray. No other colors. It often doesn't even look good to use plain gray in sprites, no matter what you're drawing. Instead, it's helpful to use a very unsaturated version of blue, red, or any other colors that would suit your drawing best.

    This next picture is made to demonstrate different forms of shading:

    Picture #1: Very light gradient shading; The most smooth of them all
    Picture #2: An example of dithering, one of the older forms of pixel shading
    Picture #3: Basic shading (I could have done so much better with this one), used most often
    Picture #4: Pillow shading; A very basic, not very professional style

    The spoiler shows all other types of dithering available

    Picture #1: Blank, no dithering
    Picture #2: Minimum (~16%)
    Picture #3: Darker (~33%)
    Picture #4: Average (50%), most commonly used
    Picture #5: Darker (~66%)
    Picture #6: Darkest (~83%)
    Picture #7: Blank, no dithering

    Dithering shown at its normal scale:

    Dithering by definition is using a checkerboard pattern of two different colors to create the impression of having more colors. This was used in old video games which didn't have a wide array of colors to choose from. An important thing to note is that the pixels in dithering should ALWAYS be diagonal, and never directly next to each other.

    Banding is an important thing to know about, and to know when and when not to use it.
    Here, I have an example of banding versus a more smooth shading:

    Banding by definition is just stacking different shades on top of each other no matter what. It can make shading look sloppy, and also give it a less professional look. It's best to avoid banding when ever possible, though I myself am sometimes guilty of it.

    Part 3 - Spheres
    This is one of the most difficult parts of pixel art (Other than animating, which I'm not going in to), and requires basically its own special shading.
    This next picture shows a side by side comparison of a sphere shaded more professionally and a sphere that was pillow shaded:

    Generally, spriters will imagine the light source shining somewhere on the top left part of a sphere, though not directly at the top.

    Part 4 - Yellow
    You wouldn't think that one color specifically could have its own section devoted to it, but this one's kind of important. Yellow is incredibly hard to pull off in pixel art, and it doesn't look very good in most combinations.
    Right here is a picture of a key I sprited for another project:

    You may not have noticed this, but the key is primarily an orange-ish yellow. This is because plain yellow is an ugly color on its own and shades don't always show up against other ones. It has really poor contrast on its own, and should only be combined with other hues (See part 5.)
    One more thing: Yellow does not look good with black. It contrasts nicely, but the overall combination of the two colors is known as sloppy, and hard on the eyes.

    Part 5 - Combining Hues
    Shading is difficult, and sometimes just looks plain awful no matter what you try. Combining hues can make shading look nicer in general, and ad a touch of professionalism to your sprites. For example:

    This is the Lava Slime from Terraria. One thing I notice about it instantly is that this slime uses red, orange, and yellow colors. They all have the same lum (Luminance, or brightness quality), but the different hue causes it to look like there's light shining on part of the slime.
    When creating something with light and shadows, try to use hue shading a lot. For example, add a touch of yellow to the lighter part of a sprite, and a touch of blue to the darker part of a sprite. Even the most subtle amounts of coloring can make a huge difference.

    Part 6 - Minecraft Skins
    I normally wouldn't include this in a spriting guide, but this is EMC and people like custom skins. There are a few different parts to skin making, though.
    1. They should be realistic
    2. The shading doesn't always work
    3. They can be overdone

    Take a look at this skin for example:

    The first thing I notice about this skin is the shading. Although a lot of people would find this to be a great looking skin, I basically see it as overdone. Every part of it is heavily pillow shaded, creating a more unrealistic look than anything else.
    A suggestion for shading skins would be to imagine how the skin would look in real life before shading the skin, and make sure the shading isn't too heavy (Meaning that the shades change too much), and try to avoid pillow shading.

    That's basically the entire guide. I will add more if more needs to be added, but for now, that's what I have to say. Remember to leave comments, feedback, or anything else you want to say.
  2. Awesome guide!!! I love it!
  3. Edited the OP to show all types of dithering (Kytula reminded me to do that)
    Kytula likes this.