3 Major Mistakes Pixel art Beginners make and how to avoid them

    Pixel art can look deceptively easy. You might think because it's low resolution it will hide the fact that you’re an ametur artist. This is not the case, more experienced artists can spot a noob from miles away. 

    There are three main short-comings that beginner pixel artists make that I will go over plus some tips and tricks to help you along on your pixel art journey. 

    Let me start first by saying I'm not claiming to be a pixel art master by any means. I only recently started doing pixel art for game development so what I'm sharing with you isn't strictly my own advice but advice I picked up on by reading many pixel art tutorials which I will link to at the bottom of the page. 
    As a game developer I know how precious time is so I'm going to try to condense down what I found to be the most important, useful information from these sources so you don't have to read through them all, (but you probably should anyway).

Egregious Pixel Art Sin #1: Noise

    No I don't mean sound. I mean randomly placed pixels. Look at this grass tile I made as a bad example. This is a recreation of some grass that I made a few years ago by scribbling randomly with some grass colors. 
    This is what I mean by noise. It just looks messy and chaotic, it catches your eye in a bad way. If you put this in an RPG you wouldn't be able to focus on anything else because you would be too distracted by how loud this grass is. 

    Now let's look at a better example of grass. Here you can see the individual blades. Each pixel has intention and conveys meaning in some way. Just like in music when they say the spaces between the notes are the most important, here it's the same concept. When you let the pixels breath they can tell a whole story. 

    You may be surprised that the color pallet is the same for these 2 pictures because of how different they feel. This lower one just "feels nice" it's comfortable to look at because it's not clawing for attention. 

    One way to avoid creating random noise is to use clusters of pixels. Create groups of pixels that each represent something, with their own highlights and shadows, and copy and paste them to fill an area. 
    Avoid using single pixels, sometimes referred to as "orphan pixels," These rarely convey meaning on their own and usually just add noise. 
    Sometimes you may want to make noise to convey a certain feeling, which is fine, just know when and where it is appropriate. As with everything in art there are no real "rules" just guidelines to help you learn. Eventually you should start experimenting and breaking rules to start developing your own style.

Appalling Pixel Art Sin #2: Oversaturated and Flat Colors

    This one is more a failure of beginner artists in general not exclusively pixel artists. Color theory is a big topic and I don't want to go over it in detail becuase there are much more qualified people out there with much better recourses for you to learn from. I'm just going to focus on the mistakes I see the most in pixel art and other digital art on the internet. 

    The first mistake is too much saturation. In this image we have the same picture with the same colors except I've turned the saturation levels all the way up in the left one. As you can see this changes the tone of the image quite a bit. The one on the left feels aggressive, the colors burn your eyes. It's difficult to look at it for too long. 

    The one on the right seems a lot more calm and cheerful in comparison. With digital art you should be careful not to oversaturate your colors unless you want to go for a specific style. 

    Many old games in the 80's and 90's had very oversaturated pallets because the computer engineers who chose the colors for their machines didn't know much about color theory. 

    The next mistake is more subtle. It has to do with choosing a palette. Many beginners will choose colors without knowing what they are doing and end up with clashing colors or really flat boring color ramps. 

    A color ramp is where you start with a base color and then take several tints lighter to do highlights and several shades darker to make shadows. A good color ramp is dynamic. 

    The tree on the left has a very flat color ramp. The hue and saturation stay the same as it gets lighter and darker. The colors on the right tree "pop" they feel more alive and natural and are in general more interesting to look at. This is because the shadows are shifted towards blue and the highlights are shifted to the yellow end of the spectrum. 

    Another tip would be to avoid using solid black in your piece, or only on rare occasions. Solid black is jarring and looks out of place next to most colors, just use dark greys instead. One exception to this rule would be when you're making a scene in space and you want to emphasize how astonishingly cold and empty the dark void of space is.
    As a beginner if you have trouble with colors like I did (and still do), you can always borrow a palette from an expert. There are many beautiful palettes on lospec.com to choose from and there's no shame in using them as long as you don't claim them as your own. 

Outrageous Pixel Art Sin #3: Jagged Lines

    Lines seem to have more nuance than you might expect in pixel art. If you want a straight line that's fine, most editors will draw a straight line without issue. The problem comes from drawing complicated curves and edges. 

    The first problem that normally arises is called "jaggies." These are random little sharp edges that catch your eye and make your smooth curves look blocky. There are a few techniques you can use to fix these. 

    You can use anti-aliasing where you take the color of the line and the color of the background and find a color in between these two and apply that to the sharp edges. Be careful with this however because too much anti-aliasing can make your art look blurry like it's out of focus or like you just shrunk down a larger image.    

    Another method is to just manually smooth out the line by adding and removing pixels until it looks right. This is probably the most common method. Some pixel art programs like Aseprite will draw pixel curves smoothly automatically saving a lot of time in the long run. 

    The last thing I want to mention is outlining. It's easy to go overboard with outlines. As a beginner you might want to make every detail as clear as possible by explicitly drawing dark lines over every edge in your piece. This can end up looking really messy as you can see on the left cupcake here. 

    Remember, subtly is what separates the master craftsman from the apprentice. You want to leave something to the imagination of the viewer. You can hint at lines and depths with color changes and leave dark outlines for defining really big changes in depth. 

    Some pixel art styles don't use outlines at all or very sparingly. Others use white outlines to great effect. A lot of artists use a darker shade of the object as a border. There's a lot of choices to experiment with. 


    Remember to take this advice with a grain of salt because not only am I not an expert, but in the field of art there are always exceptions to every rule. If you want to do some more reading, here are some links to lospec.com where you will find links to many different types of pixel art guides and tutorials as well as a database of amazing palettes for you to choose from.


  1. I am dying inside ;)

  2. I'm not a beginner, but this helped me look at some mistakes that I was making. My art looks a lot better now.

  3. I can try to improve but idk

  4. I just use the paint brush when do art.

  5. thank you, this is a good and informative tutorial because i just began doing pixel art today

  6. lol

    this is fun i am getting the hang of it

  7. exactly the kind of tutorial a beginner needs to see. It's important to get those basics down! Also I'm a beginner not an expert lol.


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