Pixel art

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"The Gunk" - pixel art created with Microsoft Paint

Pixel art is a style in computer art that uses raster graphics and consciously emphasizes the limited resolution of screens as a stylistic device. In doing so, she refers - sometimes ironically - to the beginnings of screen graphics in video and computer games as well as the graphic user interfaces of computers in the 1980s and early 1990s.


The term pixel art was first used by Adele Goldberg and Robert Flegal of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1982. The concept itself, however, existed about 10 years earlier, for example in Richard Shoups SuperPaint (1972).

Pixel graphics "meat": Atari STFM, 320 × 200 pixels, 10 colors, April 2003

The aesthetics of the early screen graphics were technically determined by the computing capacity and storage space of the computers of the time. In the beginning the graphics consisted of pure black and white bitmaps, i.e. a defined arrangement of black and white image points ( pixels ). Gray tones could only be roughly simulated using clearly visible black-and-white grids, inclined and curved lines were recognizable as step-like steps. Over the years it has become possible to design the screen graphics in parallel with the increasing performance of the computer.

The capacity of modern computer systems allows a screen display with millions of color nuances, which are also used for so-called antialiasing , that is, a disguise of the screen resolution, which has not changed until today, by automatically calculated color and brightness gradations at the edges of contrasting surfaces, which create the optical illusion of " enable real “curves, diagonals and color gradients. The price for this is a slightly blurred image impression and an order of magnitude higher computing effort.

Pixel-Art dispenses with these new possibilities - at least in aesthetic terms - and consciously only uses the means of early screen graphics. In addition to a clear nostalgic aspect, the economy of the means and the ideal of "honesty" of these means play a role. Some forms of traditional art, such as cross stitching or mosaic , show a certain similarity to pixel art through the “construction” of images with small colored units.


Pixel art is differentiated from other forms of digital art through manual editing at the pixel level (often at high magnification and almost always without the use of graphic filters , automatic antialiasing, or special rendering modes ). In this form it is generally said that "every pixel has been carefully placed" to achieve a desired result.

Purists in the pixel art scene are of the opinion that "real" pixel art should only be created with tools that set individual pixels and that pixel artists should therefore use all other tools such as lines, Bézier curves , circles or Rectangle Tool. Others disagree that tools like line or fill are acceptable because their functions could be repeated just as easily, if not as quickly, on an individual basis.

Due to this rule, graphic filters ( blurring , alpha blending ) or tools with automatic antialiasing are generally not recognized as valid tools for pixel art, because such tools automatically calculate new pixel values, which in contrast to the precise, manual arrangement of the pixels, which is called “correct “Pixel art is connected here.

The term “pixel art” is also often used as an advertising expression for general processing of digital image data .


See also: Sprite (computer graphics)

Drawings usually begin with what is known as lineart , which is the baseline for the character, building, or object the artist intends to draw. Linearts are usually obtained from scanned drawings and are often passed on among pixel artists. Other techniques also exist, some of which are similar to painting.

The limited color palette often incorporated into the pixel art encourages the use of dithering to create different shades and colors, but this is done entirely by hand, in keeping with the nature of this art form. "Hand-made" anti-aliasing is also used.

Here three excerpts from the upper picture of "The Gunk" are enlarged; they represent some of the techniques:

Details of "The Gunk"
  1. The basic form of dithering; two colors are used in a 2 × 2 checkerboard pattern. Changing the “color density” results in different hues.
  2. Stylized dithering with randomly scattered 2 × 2 pixel squares can create interesting textures. Small circles are also often used.
  3. Antialiasing can be done by hand to smooth curves and transitions. Some artists only do this on the inside of the object in order to preserve the sharp outlines.

Storage and Compression

Pixel art is preferably stored in a file format that uses lossless data compression so that each individual pixel can be precisely saved and retrieved.

GIF and PNG are two space-saving file formats that are often used to store pixel art. If you save pixel art in JPEG file format , however, the work of art can be damaged. This is due to the lossy compression algorithm and chroma subsampling of the JPEG standard. The BMP format is also avoided due to its poor compression and insufficient support for platform independence. If the graphics are actually to be used in computer games, the de facto standard is the PCX format - based on graphics memory - which is poorly compressed, but very easy to read.

GIF file (318 bytes )
PNG file (254 bytes)
JPG file (706 bytes)
Enlarged JPG shows the artifacts



Pixel art is usually divided into two sub-categories: isometric and non-isometric .

The isometric type is drawn in an isometric -dimetric projection . Generally, this is done in computer games in order to create a 3-dimensional view without providing actual 3-D graphics . Technically, an isometric angle should be 30/45 degrees from the horizontal, but this does not give a good result because the pixels in these lines do not follow a “proper pattern”. To fix this, lines with an aspect ratio of 1 to 2 pixels are chosen, resulting in an angle of approximately 26.565 ° (the arctangent of the aspect ratio).

Non-isometric pixel art is any other pixel type that does not fall into the isometric category; such as views from above, from below, from the side, from the front or perspective views.


Pixel art was used very often in older video games . With the increasing use of 3D graphics and high resolution images in games, pixel art has lost some of its importance, but video games such as video games are still coming today. B. CrossCode in the pixel look on the market. Pixel art is still a very active area these days, both among professionals and amateurs.

In art, however, the deliberate limitation of dissolution is also accepted. The Chaos Computer Club e. V. used high-rise buildings as low-resolution displays in the Blinkenlights project , on which graphics, short films and video games were shown.

Sometimes pixel art is also used for advertising purposes. For example, a company that advertises pixel art is Bell Canada . The eboy group specializes in pixel graphics for advertising and has been featured in magazines such as Wired , Popular Science and Fortune 500 .

More forms of pixel art

In addition to its digital form, there is also pixel art made of iron-on beads , created using spray stencils or simply as a painting .

See also

Web links

Commons : 8-bit digital art  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Adele Gold Bert, Robert Flegal: ACM president's letter: Pixel Art . In: Communications of the ACM . tape 25 , no. December 12 , 1982.