Pixel art is a type of digital art where artists specify the location of individual pixels, and uses these to build up a bigger design. The result is a retro-style creation in a limited colour palette, which harks back to the 8-bit graphics first seen with the release of gaming consoles in the early '80s.
Developing pixel art doesn't require expensive photo editing software or lots of fancy equipment, you just need time, focus and a bit of patience. The method can be used to create everything from intricate scenes and game backgrounds to character designs (recently, it's becoming increasingly popular to animate your pixel art to create GIFs). In this post, we've rounded up some of the best pixel art around.
If these stunning examples inspire you to make your own pixel art, check out our selection of the best free graphic design software.
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01. Jungle Temple
Richard Schmidbauer is a freelance games artist from Germany, who was first blown away by pixel based graphics in titles such as Xenon 2 and Super Time Force.
Working mainly in Cosmigo Pro Motion NG and Asperite, Schmidbauer has developed a clean style that leans into the constraints of pixel art to produce beautiful, impressionistic pieces. See how his computer game influences and working methods come together in this Jungle Temple.
02. Pixel China Mountains
Matej Jan started drawing digitally on his ZX Spectrum in the '90s, and now he edits a blog dedicated to pixel art called Retronator. His incredible work ranges from images packed with witty pop culture references, to detailed landscapes that push the medium to the limit, such as these Pixel China Mountains.
03. Pixel Jeff
Pixel Jeff is a pro pixel artist from Taiwan. His portfolio is varied and vibrant - from cityscapes to Disney Princesses. His most recent piece The Witness is a pixel art tribute to the Netflix series Love, Death and Robots, and has the feel of an action-packed video game we can't wait to play!
04. Kenze Wee Hon Ming
A pixel art hobbyist from Singapore, Kenze Wee Hon Ming has an impressive portfolio of pixel art on his Behance page. Based on places around the world, the student's art is atmospheric and intricate. Hon Ming credits his inspiration to the work of Romain Trystram.
05. Pixel Art TV
This charming series captures pivotal scenes in TV series, accompanied by quotes from the dialogue. It takes you on a nostalgic journey through the best TV moments across a whole range of genres, from modern mainstream sensations (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Stranger Things) to sci-fi hits (Doctor Who, Star Trek) to old favourites (Friends, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).
Creator Gustavo Viselner comments on his Behance page, “Pixel art… is a foundation stone of video gamer’s folklore. For me, pixel art is no longer just a graphic tool for games, but a form of art that can stand out without having a video game to support it.”
06. Emotive Pixels
This project takes pixel art to a new dimension, moving away from flat pixels and into single-colour cubes, whilst still retaining a retro feel. The geometric designs form part of an ongoing project by graphic designer Prateek Vatash.
07. Pixel Britain
Eight quintessentially British scenes got a retro makeover in this collection of 16-bit pixel art. The set includes locations all over the UK, from the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent all the way up to Glenfinnian Viaduct (made even more famous by its feature in a Harry Potter film), via Manchester’s Castlefield Canals, Borough Market, Blackpool pier, Glastonbury Festival, the Angel of the North, and Snowdon. Take a look here to see all eight famous locations looking like they’ve been chewed up and spat out by an Atari.
Dušan Čežek is something of a pixel art pioneer, with a few super-popular 8-bit pixel projects under his belt now. He started in 2013 with Pixelwood (a reduced take on Tinseltown’s most iconic movies) before creating the comic-book themed Pixelomics the following year (the above GIF is taken from that project), and rounding it off with an 8-bit homage to Queen Amidala’s fashion choices in 2016. When he’s not engrossed in pixel art projects, Čežek forms one half of creative studio Fuchs+Dachs.
09. Dark Side
Ukraine-based Illustrator, animator and indie developer Roman Gonzo has built a reputation for great pixel art, which he creates using Photoshop and a Wacom Intuos. This cool project captures a stylised, gaming version of Star Wars baddies Darth Maul, Jango Fett and Darth Vader.
10. Street Fashion Fighter
South Korean designer Joojaebum caught our attention with a splendid take on classic arcade game Street Fighter 2. In this project, the artist kitted out the game's main characters in the achingly hip threads of modern celebrities. Check out Street Fashion Fighter to see the full results.
11. Intro to Pixel Art
Also known as Mishko, Nevan Doyle is a videographer, graphic designer and photographer from Portland, Oregon, who specialises in eye-catching abstract designs with the occasional touch of glitchy cool. And it's this extra bit of glitch that drew us to Doyle's Intro to Pixel Art; while it lacks the painstaking intricacy of much pixel imagery, his project mixes up pixel techniques with glitches, grunge and visual feedback to create some stunning artwork.
12. Science Kombat
Diego Sanches is a Brazilian illustrator based in São Paulo, who has a great sideline in pixel art. We particularly love the animations he created for Science Kombat, a browser-based beat-em-up game for Superinteressante magazine.
It features eight playable scientists, including Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie and Sir Isaac Newton, each with their own basic and special attacks, plus a final boss: The Divinity, able to take the form of various gods.
Based in Taipei, Taiwan, Pixel Jeff has been making pixel art since 2013. Most of his work is inspired by movies, video games and animation, and his Tumblr page is a treasure trove of animated pixel joy. As well as this colourful take on Disney's Moana as a video game, Jeff has turned his talents to Guardians of the Galaxy, a number of different Star Wars films, The Incredibles, and many more.
14. Bopping Pixels
Ever wondered what your favourite characters would look like if they were to be reduced to pixels and bounce up and down? Wonder no longer, because pixel Illustrator and GIF-maker extraordinaire Ivan Dixon has turned his attentions to everyone from Prince Geoffrey to Tin Tin in his weirdly mesmerising Bopping Pixels project (the former even has his satisfyingly grizzly death incorporated into his GIF journey).
15. Star Wars
Despite some dodgy new entrants to the Star Wars canon of films, enthusiasm amongst fans continues unabated. Graphic designers and illustrators galore have been inspired by the films, with some harking back to the old favourites – like this pixel art tribute by Gustavo Viselner. The artist has also created pixel art for Back to the Future, Aliens, Lord of the Rings and more.
16. Pixel Dalies
Ben Porter loves pixel art so much that back in 2014 he launched Pixel Dailies, an online club for pixel art. Each day, Porter would tweet out a theme, and others would get involved creating artwork on that topic. The results would be shared on Twitter and via a Tumbr account. Porter himself took up the challenge in a big way, producing a new piece of pixel art every day for the whole year.
Web developer Nasc spends his spare time creating pixel art, including his Bugroid project pictured above. In it, Nasc turns popular characters into cute pixel art creations that are half-bug, half-android. Everyone from Simpsons to Care Bears have had the Bugroid treatment so far.
Waneella produces these wonderful pixel based visual landscapes with fantasy possibilities. Her love for pixels is evident and her moving pixel worlds are a great example of how a combination of colour, squares and movement can be combined to create original and dynamic worlds.
19. Pixel Pour
Visual artist Kello Goeller, who is based in Portland, took the concept of the pixel and worked around it a real-life concept. Her water-flowing pixels were installed around the city, offering citizens a playful visual and imaginary context to bring both worlds together.
20. Fine Pixel Art
John O'Hearn is another visual artist who works with tiny elements to create impressive and life-size scale works by exploiting the potential of colour, elements and illusion. Watch his Fine Pixel Art in action with the video above.
21. Metin Seven
The work of Metin Seven combines design and pixel art with 3D elements, with dynamic and detailed results. Along with this Steve Jobs reinterpretation, he has produced a series of characters based on square elements combined.
22. Cristian Zuzunaga
Cristian Zuzunaga provides an original take on pixels, combining them with fashion, textile design and furniture. His beautiful use of colour and pattern with squares inspires great creative possibilities and explores new areas of pixel art.
23. Talk to me
Back in 2011, MoMA used simple square combinations to create a vivid and interesting pattern mural based on objects from its exhibition, Talk To Me. The use of simple black and white strips it down further, creating an interesting and dynamic overall feel.
24. Ben Fino-Radin
This is a great example of the way pixels can inspire and drive various areas of design to create original and innovative pieces of work. This life-size hand-embroidered piece of design by Ben Fino-Radin is part of a collection that explores ideas of size and shape to create these life-size mouse icons.
25. Mario Sifuentes
Mexican designer Mario Sifuentes created this interesting and beautiful interpretation of a pre-hispanic God. The piece was inspired by the style of '90s visual video games and is based on the combination of pixels and simple colour.
Some of the most well-known creators of pixel art are Kai Vermehr, Steffen Sauerteig and Svend Smital, aka Eboy. Eboy creates reusable pixel objects and uses them to build complex artwork. Famous for illustration, web design, fonts, and toys, Eboy has created work for many leading brands, including Adidas, Nike, Pespi and Renault.
27. Paul Robertson
Australian artist Paul Robertson is a pixel art master. His intricate illustrations include everything from family friendly pieces to some which are really NSFW. Even if you're not familiar with the name, you might recognise his work; he was the lead artist on the 2010 Scott Pilgrim videogame and worked on the American animated TV series Gravity Falls.
28. Army of Trolls
Army of Trolls is the portfolio of London-born videogame enthusiast and artist Gary J Lucken. Based in Bournemouth, UK, Lucken works from home, surrounded by Japanese toys and piles of old 2D videogames to inspire him. The artwork this talented artist is directly influenced by his love of videogames, toys and pop culture.
29. Rod Hunt
Award-winning London-based artist Rod Hunt has built a reputation for detailed character-filled landscapes for everything from book covers and advertising campaigns to iPhone apps and art installations. Hunt is also the illustrator behind the bestselling Where's Stig? books, created for the BBC's TV show Top Gear.
30. Sven Ruthner
Freelance pixel artist Sven Ruthner has received international appreciation for his pixel artwork. Based in Germany, Ruthner uses limited colour palettes when developing his work, similar to the offerings of early home computers, such the ZX Spectrum. This particular piece, titled CGA Faces, was created using just 16 colours.
The pixel artist known as Fool in the community was originally born in Moscow and is currently residing in Ohio. A self-taught artist, Fool is known for his highly intricate pixel art creations.
32. Tim Wesoly
Tim Wesoly is the lead developer of 3D pixel art modeller Qubicle. When not working on his software, he spends time using it to create awesome pixel art, such as this cool Robinson Nerdo character. The illustration is deceptively complex – you'll find yourself noticing new things each time you look at this piece.
33. Denise Wilton
Currently head of content, design and research at BULB, artist Denise Wilton has many skills, one of them being the creation of pixel art. Her talent has attracted the attention of many big clients during her career, including The Financial Times, the BBC, Lynx and Nokia.
34. Simon Anderson
Simon Anderson, aka Snake, is a Norwegian game developer and artist by trade. The co-founder of D-Pad Studio, Anderson's fascination with tiny squares began at a young age, when he began drawing pictures and figures using his mum's cross stitch and knitting grid pattern designs.