Improve your pixel art sprites!

Introduction

In this tutorial, I will explain you how to use a couple techniques I used to improve Planet Centauri’s sprites before implementing them into the game (or before animating them).
Some of the rules shown here are very easy to use, and/or are purely  methodical;
so even if you aren’t very skilled, follow those simple guidelines to make your sprites cleaner.


Colors

A lot of basic mistakes will ruin the quality of your art.
Thankfully, they’re also generally quite easy to fix with some experience, and
by paying attention.


Too many colors

Pixel art is all about constraints. When two colors are very close, merge them into an intermediate one, so you see if it improves the result.
Using a small palette will help you improving your skills much more easily, and will make creating sprites also easier.
It also will make it easier to identify unwanted artifacts (i.e. misplaced pixels).


Gradients

If you are constructing a palette with gradients, avoid at any cost independent gradients (i.e. only dimmed/lighted base colors). Use gradients that depends on each other.

You can also try to use yellow-ish or cyan-ish saturated light colors, and blue-ish and purple-ish desaturated dark colors. However, avoid using an over-saturated or an under-saturated palette.
This usually ends up bad and breaks contrasts.
You should also use gradients with outspread tints to avoid washy color contrasts.

Remember never to use more colors than necessary, and use gradients with contrasted brightness.
Feel free to try using other generic palettes on your sprite to compare it with your palette so you can improve it.


Neighbor colors

Avoid as much as you can excessive contrasts between neighboring pixels.
For example, a black line over a white background usually won’t look natural.
A line that fits the background color well gives a realistic volume effect.

This is as true for outlines, which has to fit with both the inner color and the umbrage of the surface.

NB: Obviously, this doesn’t work with any graphic style.


Pillow shading

Pillow shading is a nasty effect that occurs when the light source comes from the front.

Avoid pillow shading, unless you really know what you’re doing.


Lines and curves

Perfect line: A line that has a constant vertical and horizontal step.

Perfect curve: A curve made of perfect lines which step always depends on the other parts of the curve.

Dirty line: A line that has at least one sub-segment with more than one adjacent pixel on one end.

As you may have noticed on the pictures above, dirty lines should be avoided.
You should use as much perfect lines and curves as possible.


Clusters

A cluster is a group, a pack of connected pixels with the same color.
Cluster shapes will greatly affect the final image.
Bony and crude clusters will give a sketchy aspect.
Round and straight lines are preferred so you get a precise, smooth and nice image.

Avoid lonely pixels. If one pixel is inside of a different color cluster without
any adjacent pixel with the same color, remove it.


Dithering et texturing

Contrary to popular belief, dithering isn’t as great as it seems. A lot of dithering between heavily contrasted colors will often give a dirty and noisy image.
It is also a very bad idea to use dithering when animating a sprite, because keeping coherent dithering will be awfully hard.

If you art style lets you do it, use texturing instead (the difference is that texturing does not induce color limitations).
But don’t forget, texturing means harder animation and worse clarity.
Again, it’s a matter of style.
If you want a cartoon-ish look, do not use dithering nor texturing.


Antialiasing

Antialiasing a technique that reduces the staircase effect (aliasing) which is clearly visible on two lines between two contrasted surfaces.

Internal AA

There are two use-cases for internal AA :
Simply separating two surfaces, and using lines or curves cutting through two different surfaces.

In the first case, you may just need to insert an intermediate color where aliasing is visible to reduce it (generally, when the curve abruptly changes).

In the second case, you may just need to add a small intermediate color cluster between every horizontal or vertical sub-segment.
Its size directly depends on the sub-segment size.


External AA

External AA suffers from an important restriction, unlike internal AA: The background color in a game will constantly change, so you need to have an effect that looks good on both dark and light backgrounds.

This rule is quite easy: You only apply the effect inside of the sprite.
The end of an outline that neighbors with the background should never be modified.

In this image, the internal AA effect applied on the outer part of the sprite unveils some nasty artifacts, while external AA, even if it isn’t as efficient, gives a great effect on any background type.


The end.

Notes on Function Maturity

Immature Si: I only seek details that make me comfortable while ignoring or downplaying important details that might require me to change course
Mature Si: I prepare myself to perform well by methodically learning and attending to every new or significant detail that each situation brings

Immature Ni: I believe I know how the world works though I can’t see myself accurately and don’t know how to live my own life meaningfully
Mature Ni: I make positive progress because I possess a deep and meaningful vision of who I should be and what I contribute to the world

Immature Ti: I follow my own rules and principles without really understanding exactly how my actions influence the world at large
Mature Ti: I seek precise knowledge of what impact my thoughts/behaviors produce so as to act coherently without harm, bias, or hypocrisy

Immature Fi: I can only see as far as my own values and suffering so I can’t formulate a factual and objective understanding of the world at large
Mature Fi: I seek deep understanding of human experience in order to act with integrity and work to prevent/alleviate suffering for myself and others

Immature Se: I simply react as circumstances dictate without enough consideration for whether the direction is the right one to take
Mature Se: I seek out new/positive learning experiences and fully appreciate that the unexpected can teach me to be more adaptable to life’s changes

Immature Ne: My mind is unable to conceptualize the best ideas or grasp the most promising opportunities for making progress in life
Mature Ne: I am confident in making continual progress because I can work out many viable paths to approach any situation or difficult problem

Immature Te: I utilize power to shape the world into what I want it to be and fail to realize that my actions do not produce universally positive results
Mature Te: I utilize my strengths to get positive results for all and work to improve my weaknesses so as to minimize negative or harmful behaviors

Immature Fe: I only care about others in terms of how they affect me and fail to treat them as individuals with their own unique needs/experiences
Mature Fe: I can see other people objectively and separately from myself and respond to their needs appropriately and compassionately

2

This time I changed up the linework to a different, more sketchy brush, and I love this way more! It has a more fluid feel to it. You have Dex and his family on top, and a mysterious woman in the bottom.

Skull-Kids! © Valeria M

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