How to Draw People in Pixel Art

Written by ty flowers
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How to Draw People in Pixel Art
Pixels are assembled in pixel art to create a digital mosaic of an object using small coloured squares. (High-tech pixelated backdrop. image by artcalin from

Pixel art is a method of creating digital pictures through the use of minimalistic raster graphics software, such as MS Paint or Photoshop. Pixels are assembled to create images in a similar method as that used in 8-bit and 16-bit video games of the 1980s and 1990s. The method has gained a recent following due to a modern-day appreciation of its retro aesthetic, and due to the work of pixel artists such as Paul Robertson and eBoy. Creating caricatures of people in pixel art is a simple and rewarding process, which many a novice will find success with after only a few attempts.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Computer
  • Raster graphics software (MS Paint, Pixen, Photoshop)

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  1. 1

    Boot up your computer and open your desired raster graphics program, such as MS Paint, Pixen and Photoshop.

  2. 2

    Select the Pencil tool and change the thickness to 1 pixel. This process can be different in various programs, so look for a text window with a number next to it that appears when you select the Pencil tool. It should look like "1 px" when you have completed this step.

  3. 3

    Draw a rough outline with the pencil tool of the person's face in black. For diagonal lines and contours, use a combination of two horizontal pixels for every vertical pixel, to give the illusion of continuity. Use a photograph for comparison if you are attempting to draw a true likeness of the person's face.

  4. 4

    Fill in the face with black pixelated details, such as a nose, eyebrows, a single dot for the pupil of the eye, and a line for the mouth. Be creative by exaggerating certain details like expressive eyebrows. Pixel art works best when it is kept simple. Draw the outline of the person's body connected to the face by a neck. The body isn't terribly important in pixel art, since the face is the most representative and recognisable feature of a person. Use either a simple body of straight lines for a thin person or a simple body of mostly oblong shapes for the body of a heavier person. Make clear dividing lines between the legs and torso, torso and arms, feet and legs, and other body parts.

  5. 5

    Select the paint bucket tool and use it to fill in colour. Choose a desirable skin colour. and use more contrasting colours for clothing and hair. Blue is fine for trousers, black for shoes, white for a shirt. Contrasting colours will help your image stand out when viewed from afar.

  6. 6

    Select the pencil tool again and use it to make details. Use contrasting colours to make T-shirt designs, creases in trousers, shoelaces and other features. You can apply shading effects to areas such as the forehead or trousers by selecting a slightly different shade of colour, and drawing a small oval wherever you would imagine a light source would be illuminating the person. Pretend that there is a light illuminating the subject from a set angle in front of the person, and keep the angle of that light in mind when creating shadows. Brighter parts of skin should represent points where the light would presumably be most focused on the person (such as the forehead). Add details of a slightly darker colour than the surface within areas of skin to create texture, such as creases in a forehead or contours in a bicep.

Tips and warnings

  • Save your work constantly; many of these programs do not have autosave features.

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