How to Create Classic Pixel-Art

Working with Qubicle is pretty similar to creating pixel-art. So, if you want to learn Qubicle it’s a good idea to learn some of the pixel-art basics, too. This tutorial covers golden rules and tips for creating pixel-art with Photoshop.

In the next steps we will show you how we built the logo for the video Qube Race.

Adjusting Photoshop's settings

Turn off automatic anti-aliasing

Anti-aliasing is normally a great thing, because it allows for the smooth curvature of circles. However, it is extremely rare in classic pixel art. This is because the video game consoles of the late 80s and early 90s could not display many colors or semi-transparent pixels, both requirements for anti-aliasing. Likewise, Qubicle doesn't display semitransparent voxels, so anti-aliasing is taboo!

With default configurations Photoshop has the habit of drawing nearly everything anti-aliased. So before you start, you should make the following adjustments:

Set image interpolation to “nearest neighbor”

Picture interpolation is used whenever areas are scaled, distorted or rotated. By selecting nearest neighbor in the general Photoshop preferences Ctrl + K the color for a pixel will be directly taken from the neighbor pixel instead of a computed intermediate value.

Pa Preferences interpolation.gif

Set ruler units to pixels

The default unit of Photoshop is cm (or inch). But with pixel-art it’s all about – guess what – pixels. So if you want the width and height of your selection displayed in pixels change the ruler units to pixels.

Pa Preferences units.gif

Adjust the tool options

The tools you will need – pencil, paint bucket, eraser, rectangular and elliptical marquee tool, magic wand, polygonal lasso – should be adjusted in the options panel as follows:

Pa Tools.gif


At first we needed the letters for the logo. We used a bitmap with the complete alphabet instead of a pixel-font. If you use a pixel font be sure to set the size to it’s original size (normaly 8-12 pixel) or a multiple – and again disable anti-aliasing.

Pa Alphabet.gif


The target size of the logo had to be about 600×300, so we had to scale the words. When you want to transform areas you should always select a region whose height and width are even numbers to avoid unwanted interpolation errors.

Pa Scale.gif

Avoiding Jaggies

The most important thing of all: avoid “jaggies”. Jaggies are small breaks in straight lines. In order to avoid jaggies use perfect lines.

Pa Straight lines.gif

Fast 45° lines

To draw a 45° straight line simply mark a square region (keep the Shift-key pressed while selecting) draw one pixel with the pen into one corner and shift-click into the opposite corner.

Pa 45 degree line.gif

Because the logo had to imply speed, we skewed the letters horizontaly by -18,4°. That corresponds to the principle 1 pixel to the right and 3 upward. Unfortunately Photoshop can’t produce a perfect result. So we had to fix some parts.

Pa Skew.gif

Perfect roundings

To make the logo more catchy we rounded the lower right corners and extend the two E’s, so that they look like wings. To obtain perfect roundings it is important to avoid jaggies. You simply have to make certain that the steps become continuously smaller or larger. Like in the example 4 > 2 > 2 > 1 > 1 > 2 > 3

Pa Roundings.gif

Coloring and dithering

This step surely takes the most time and has very much to do with your own taste and the length of time you are ready to invest. If you want to work with layer effects, don’t forget to create layers out of those effects to fix the anti-aliasing issues.

The last thing we would like to show you is a technique called dithering. With the help of dithering you can create flowing transitions between two color values even though you are limited to a handful of colors. The letters Q and R are filled with standard gradients produced by Photoshop. The remaining gradients are dithered. Dithering naturally takes more time, but produces a very unique style.

One last tip: use as few colors as possible. Qubicle isn’t limited to a maximum number of colors, but you will make your life much easier if you use as few colors as possible.

Pa Dithering.gif

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