Pixel Tool Pixel Art in Pixelmator

Tools: The Art of the Pixel Tool



Difficulty: Intermediate


Pixel Art takes us back to a time when console games and computer graphics had a lower resolution and limited colors. These graphics were completely hand drawn, shaded and colored. Many retro artists like to mimic this unique look but put a modern stylish spin on it.

The guys from Eboy have been perfecting pixels since the late nineties and are famous for producing mind blowing, large scale 3D pieces, even working on a project for up to a year to produce what you see below. Amazing isn't it!

eboy newyork

While you and I won't be churning out something like that yet, we'll show you the basics of using the Pixel Tool to get you started and you just might get addicted!

We will learn:

  • Tool and Grid Setup
  • Isometric and Non-Isometric Pixel Art
  • Dithering or Shading
  • 1:2 Pixel Ratio Lines
  • Building small objects into Bigger scenes

Step 1 - Tools and Setup

First let's get Pixelmator set up for Pixel Art! Open a new canvas of any size and go into Preferences > Rulers and down under Grid set Gridline every 1 pixel and Subdivisions at 1. You can change the color of the gridlines too, but i find the default dark grey works fine.

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Now back to our canvas, we'll need to turn on our grid from the Menu. Go to View > Show Grid. Now using CMD +, zoom in to about 1200-1600%. Now we can effectively see and manipulate our pixels.

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Now let's take a look at our Pixel Tool and it's options. When we select the Pixel Tool we see the options are displayed in the new tool options bar at the top of the canvas. We can change the size, color, blending mode and opacity. The gear icon reveals some other options; round brush and eraser mode. To see what the round brush does, you need to set the diameter to 3px or greater. Because we are using the pixel tool it will still have jagged edges as shown below.

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The eraser mode simply turns the Pixel Tool into an eraser, but going up to the gear icon every time you want to erase some pixels is slow and cumbersome. What I do is set up Pixelmator's erase tool with a 1px hard brush, opacity at 100% and choose pencil mode under the gear icon. Now using Keyboard shortcuts, P for Pixel Tool and E for eraser you can switch back and forth with ease!

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Step 2 - About Pixel Art

There are two types of Pixel Art, Isometric and Non-Isometric. Non-Isometric is simply any flat graphic viewed directly straight on rather than angled or having a perspective. Like Mario here, he's flat as a pancake, but he's still awesome. Feel free to try and draw him, looking at this example.

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Isometric Pixel art is essentially 3D or has a perspective. True Isometric angles are 30 degrees and shows the true size of an object on all sides. This has become the industry standard for parts manuals, technical proposals, patent illustrations and maintenance publications.

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Pixel Art is "near"-isometric because it uses a 26.65 degree angle or 1:2 pixel ratio. Uh what? Yeah, look at the image below you'll see the 1:2 ratio is a cleaner line than an actual 30 degree line. This doesn't mean it's the only angle used, just the most common. You can see some examples of the other line types.

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What is Dithering? It's the process of blending or shading using varying scattered pixels or a pattern of pixels. You can see an example of this on the green sewer pipe and the shading on this box.

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Step 3 - Wine Bottles & Crate

So let's get making some stuff shall we? Now we'll learn to make small parts into bigger scenes or objects. It's very much like playing with legos and building whatever you can imagine. We will work on a 3D Wine Factory!

First we will start with a crate. Build this side piece shown below, notice we are using 1:2px ratio lines. The colors I'm using are: #B58949 main tan color, #FFC067 highlight, #674E29 dark tan.

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Next, on a separate layer, let's add the front part of the crate.

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Then using black, make this inner shadow and turn the opacity down to around 16%.

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Now on a new layer build this single wine bottle. The colors I used are #4A0A11 for the main red, #2C060A for the dark red, and #FEF7EA for the off-white label. Feel free to add more to the label if you want.

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Duplicate the bottle layers until you have six bottles and set them behind the crate as shown below. Go ahead and group all the bottles and crate part layers into one Group.

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Step 4 - Make a Box

Next let's move on to building a box. First build the outline as shown.

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Now choose the magic wand tool and under the gear icon in the tool options bar, uncheck "Smooth Edges". Now on the outline layer pull the magic wand to select all of the inside of the box, and on a new layer fill with #E3DFCE.

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Then add two white highlight lines just as shown below.

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I turned off the grid for a moment so we could see better. Turn down the opacity of the white highlight layer to 40%. Then on a new layer add two white pixels right in the corner for a bit of shine.

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Now we are going to shade the sides slightly. On a new layer fill this area with black and turn the opacity down to 16%.

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Next fill this second side with black and turn the opacity down to 10%. Notice we leave open the two pixel section in the middle. The great thing about shading in this way is whatever underlying color we choose for the box in the future it will be shaded the same.

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Again on a separate layer create this outline of an entrance opening in the box.

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Add this white line to show an edge.

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Now let's dither a shadow. Again I used black and then turned down the opacity to 16%. Finally I added a second dithered layer for the darker part, using black, setting opacity to 10%. This allows the shadow to be gradual but still retains that original pixel art style. Finally put all the box layers together in a group.

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Step 5 - Build a Conveyor

Ok, let's move onto something else. We want to build a roller for a conveyor. The colors I used were black for the outline, #E6E6E6 for the middle, and #989898 for the end.

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On a new layer make another black 1:2 px ratio line.

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Then to speed things up, duplicate the line layer several times to lengthen it, then merge the duplicated line layers together.

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Now go back to the roller layer and using the line as a guide, duplicate the roller layer 12 or 13 times, setting them apart evenly. Make sure to group all of the roller layers together.

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I turned the grid off again so we can see whats going on. Next duplicate the line, moving it behind the rollers and set in the position shown below.

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Duplicate the line again and move it down to start creating the sides of the conveyor. Select and merge these three line layers into one.

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Next add some ends to the side area to close them in. Use the magic wand tool to select the inside of the this section and on a new layer fill with #CBCBCB.

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I turned off the rollers group to see a little better. Go back to the lines layer and box in the ends of the main deck. Use the magic wand tool to select the inside and on a new layer fill with #E6E6E6.

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Now let's create our side rails. Draw a new line in black, then to save time, CMD click on the thumbnail of this layer to get it's shape and on new layers fill a white line and a grey (#656565) line. Bring the three layers together as shown below, hiding the white line behind the grey slightly. Merge these three lines into one rail.

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On a new layer build a side support using black and white.

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Next duplicate the side support and place them evenly apart. Once you have them set just right merge these four supports with the rail layer.

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Duplicate this newly merged rail layer one time and move it behind and under the other conveyor layers. Position it as shown.

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Step 6 - Put it all Together!

Now that all of our parts are done, lets build! Start by turning on the rollers group.

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Next move our box and box opening layers into place behind the conveyor.

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Now duplicate just the box layer without the opening and place it in front of the conveyor as shown below.

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Finally place the crate and bottles we made just above the conveyor and our simple Pixel Art scene is complete!

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This is just one example of how to use the Pixel Tool in Pixelmator 2. You can see how building simple objects can lead to building a more complex scene or art piece. Have fun with Pixel art and try your own ideas! I had fun with this tutorial and came up with this final piece by duplicating, flipping objects and adding to the complexity, hope you enjoy! Stay tuned for more on Pixel Art in the future.

pixel art factory
pxm coffee
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  • MarekZeman91 says:

    amazing tutorial! thank you soo much :-)

    • Gamrcobe says:


      Thanks man! I’m going to add the Mario Level I did (pxm) later tonight. You’ll be able to download it at the top of the post.

      We got something cool we are working on regarding Pixel Art we hope to share soon!

  • kimti leung says:

    very good.

  • AJ_X says:

    Great tutorial!

  • Matej Jan says:

    Hm, but there is no way to open a secondary window (to have at 100% view, or to move around the full picture really easy)? I find that essential when I do large (e-boy style) images.

    • Gamrcobe says:

      I agree, it’s tedious to constantly zoom in and out. If you hold the option key and scroll or swipe up and down you can target an area with the pointer and zoom in and out more fluidly. Pixelmator may not be the ultimate Pixel Art Tool but we’re showing it can be done with it. Hopefully improvements are made in future updates!

  • Unavoidableart says:

    If this is constructed in Pixelmator does that mean that you could make it vector easily?

    • Gamrcobe says:

      Currently there isn’t a way to turn raster graphics into vector with one click. You have to start with vector and build it again. I’m sure there will be updates to the vector tools at some point, we’ll just have to wait and see!

  • Such a excellent piece of learning. Good to design with pixel skills. Thanks

  • tori says:

    thank you so much!

  • Anders says:

    Awesome! The example you gave is a skin on my laptop! Great tutorial and freak coincidence!