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    • Pixel art can be an incredibly fun and rewarding practice, but you’ll need to know a few basics before you hit the ground running. For this tutorial, I’ll be focusing on the most important step: setting up your pixel art canvas.

      There are a lot of great apps out there for creating pixel art, but I’ve found Adobe Photoshop to be the most versatile. Having a working knowledge of Photoshop will help a lot, but isn’t required for success. Just make sure to follow the steps carefully and you’ll be good to go.

      And of course, if you’re unsure about something, or have any questions, please feel free to post in this conversation!

    • Before you even get into Photoshop, you’ll need to make a couple key decisions. The first, and most important, is deciding how detailed you want your pixel art project to be.

      Below are a couple guidelines I like to follow when creating a project. You can, of course, make your pixel art canvas as large or small as you like. Naturally, the larger you go, the more pixels you’ll have to manage.

      To help keep the look and feel of each project in lock-step with some of the pixel art traditions I’m interested in, I like to base a lot of my projects on the original resolutions of 8/16 bit games. Below are some examples.

    • Once you’ve given some thought to how detailed you want your pixel art to be, you’ll need to decide on the aspect ratio.

      There’s no “correct” aspect ratio for pixel art but there are some things to keep in mind:

      What are you making?
      If you’re going to be doing a landscape or environment, then a horizontal aspect ratio might be best. If you’re going to be doing a character design or portrait, perhaps consider a vertical aspect ratio.

      Where will this artwork live?
      If it’s going to be a phone or desktop background, then you’ll probably need 16:9 (horizontal) or 9:16 (vertical). If you’re thinking about posting it to Instagram or Dribbble, you’ll probably want choose a 4:3 aspect ratio or something close to that. Will you be framing it and putting it on the wall? If so you'll need to pick an aspect ratio friendly to printing and framing. If you want to use it for multiple purposes, you’ll have to choose an orientation that’s flexible and allows you to adjust the artwork for each application.

      Do you want to match the aspect ratio to a particular console or game?
      Most 8/16 bit games are 4:3 or close to it. Some of the earlier ones are more square. Just do a little research and find some unaltered screenshots of the particular game(s) you’re interested in and see what the pixel dimensions are (google image search works well for this). Not every game for each console has the same screen resolution — some SNES games are much more pixel dense than others — so just find the game/style that works for you.

    • Ok, now we’re ready to get into Photoshop. Go ahead and launch the app, and go to File > New to start a new project. Make sure to follow the directions carefully to optimize for sharp/clean pixel art.

      Enter the pixel dimensions you’ve decided on and make sure the unit is set to “Pixels”

      Set this to 72 Pixels/Inch

      Color Mode
      Set your color mode to “RGB Color” and “8 bit”

      Color Profile
      Choose “Working RGB: sRGB IEC61966.2.1”

      Click the Create button!

    • Next you’ll need to set up your pencil and eraser tools so you can create/erase individual pixels on your canvas. We’ll start with the pencil.

      Find the icon in the toolbar that looks like a brush (or press B). If you press and hold, or right click on the icon, you should see a menu appear. Select the Pencil Tool.

      Now that you have the pencil tool selected, look for the brush settings (usually at the top of the screen). In the brush preset dropdown, select 1px for the size and 100% for the hardness. Make sure Mode is set to “Normal”, Smoothing is set to 0%, and change the Opacity as desired.

      Note: You’ll probably keep the opacity of your pencil tool at 100% most of the time. The only time you’ll perhaps want to adjust it is if you want some pixels to be slightly transparent. I try to avoid this if possible, but if I need to fine tune the contour of a shadow, I’ll only ever do 50% increments to keep it simple. Too much subtle variance or gradation in your color palette and shapes will tend to make your pixel art look a little “blurry”. What you're essentially doing by decreasing the opacity of a pixel is introducing a new color (a mix of the pixel color and the color underneath it).

    • Finally, you’ll need to set up your eraser. You want your eraser to be a pencil and not a brush, but instead of right clicking on the icon in the toolbar like you did in the previous step, you’ll need to go to the top of the screen in the eraser settings. Under Mode, you’ll see an option for Brush, Pencil, or Block. Choose Pencil.

      (Photoshop sometimes has little inconsistencies like this in their UI/UX patterns that have me scratching my head!)

      Just like you did with the Pencil Tool, you’ll need to change the eraser size to 1px, and 100% hardness. Similarly, keep your Smoothing at 0% and change your opacity as desired.

    • That’s it, you’re ready to rock! Your canvas will most likely look super tiny (because it is!). Just zoom in several times until it takes up most of the screen. Select that Pencil Tool and start painting pixels!

      Keep an eye out for future tutorials on layer / color management, using the Timeline tool for simple pixel animation, and more!

    • Oh there is one final step that's probably relevant here. When you've completed your pixel art, you'll want to export it by "Saving for Web". To do this, you need to go to File > Export > Save For Web (Legacy)....

    • You will see this menu appear, and because your canvas is so tiny, you'll need to export it much larger. Choose the image format you want. It's the dropdown at the top of the right sidebar (set to JPEG here).

      Also, in the bottom of the right sidebar, you'll see a section for Image Size. Increase the size as desired (I've increased mine 500%).

      Important -->
      Make sure to only increase the size in 100% increments! If you go anywhere in between 100% increments (125%, 250%, etc), your pixels will either look blurry, or not square. You also must have the Quality setting to Nearest Neighbor. This means that as you resize the image, it will maintain hard edges and lock pixels into the pixel grid. If you don't choose Nearest Neighbor, your shapes will potentially sit in between the pixel grid and look blurry.

    • Man....that makes a person REALLY appreciate your labor and artistic talent. I used one of my photos as a bottom layer template.....I will probably have this as a real project for a rainy day....but, I produced this in 15 minutes. I suspect a 3 y/o amped up on three jars of Gerber could do better. LOL

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