Pixel art is a type of digital art that harks back to the early days of computer graphics, where there were only a limited number of pixels on screen, and so any visuals you created looked quite crude and blocky. What was once a negative, though, has now become a positive, as a generation nostalgic for the graphics of 1980s and 1990s games brings the style back to life in new and interesting ways.
Here, we've rounded up some of the best pixel art around. They range from outright tributes to beloved videogames to harnessing the pixel art approach to create something original and new. Just like with Lego art, it seems like there's no end of ways that creatives can reinvent a discipline and bring their own unique take to it.
Want to make your own pixel art? Then you don't need to spend money on expensive tools. Just check out our selection of the best free graphic design software. And if you want to make a career out of it, check out our guide to How to break into pixel art.
01. Knights of Sidonia by Johan Aronson
Studio art director at Mojang game studio, Johan Aronson is well known for his world-class 2D pixel art. This eye-catching artwork pays tribute to Knights of Sidonia, a groundbreaking space opera manga series by Tsutomu Nihei, which spawned an anime series that attracted a cult following within the game developer community.
02. Landscape by Jubilee
Jubilee is one of our favourite pixel artists right now, for managing to combine pixel art with a painterly approach and create work that feels both instantly familiar and freshly original. Inspired by the animation of Studio Ghibli, this landscape is filled with magical promise.
03. Jungle Temple by Richard Schmidbauer
A freelance games artist from Germany, Richard Schmidbauer has developed a clean style of pixel art that leans into the constraints of the medium to produce beautiful, impressionistic pieces. With its clear computer game influences, this evocative Jungle Temple scene is a great example of his approach.
04. Pixel China Mountains by Matej Jan
Matej Jan started drawing digitally on his ZX Spectrum computer in the 1990s, and now edits a blog dedicated to pixel art called Retronator. His own work ranges from images packed with witty pop culture references to detailed landscapes that push the medium to the limit, such as these delightful Pixel China Mountains.
05. The Witness by Pixel Jeff
Pixel Jeff is a pro pixel artist from Taiwan whose portfolio is varied and vibrant, ranging from cityscapes to Disney princesses. 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!
06. Corporations by Kenze Wee Hon Ming
A freelance illustrator from Singapore, Kenze Wee Hon Ming has an impressive portfolio of work on his Behance page. Inspired by the art of Romain Trystram, his art centres on different places around the world.
07. Pixel Art TV by Gustavo Viselner
Gustavo Viselner is an Israeli pixel artist, and his series Pixel Art TV captures pivotal scenes in classic TV shows, accompanied by quotes from the dialogue. The charming series journeys across a whole range of genres, from modern shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Stranger Things to old favourites like Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
08. Emotive Pixels by Prateek Vatash
This lovely geometric design forms part of an ongoing project by Indian graphic designer Prateek Vatash. Here, Vatash takes pixel art to a new dimension, moving away from flat pixels and into single-colour cubes, whilst still retaining a retro feel.
09. Pixel Britain by Holiday Cottages
Eight quintessentially British scenes get a retro makeover in this collection of 16-bit pixel art to promote holidaycottages.co.uk. The set depicts locations all over the UK, from the White Cliffs of Dover all the way up to Glenfinnian Viaduct, as if they'd been chewed up and spat out by an Atari.
Dušan Čežek is a Czech pixel artist with some super-popular 8-bit pixel projects under his belt. The GIF above is taking from his superhero collection Pixelomics, and it's quite astonishing how few pixels he needs to make his characters instantly recognisable.
11. Dark Side by Roman Gonzo
Ukraine-based animator Roman Gonzo has built a reputation for superb pixel art, which he creates using Photoshop on his Wacom. This image captures stylised versions of Star Wars villains Darth Maul, Jango Fett and Darth Vader.
12. Street Fashion Fighter by Joojaebum
South Korean designer Joojaebum first caught our attention with a splendid take on classic arcade game Street Fighter 2. In his follow-up projects Street Fashion Fighter, the artist kitted out the game's main characters in the hip threads of present-day celebrities, including Drake, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.
13. Intro to Pixel Art by Mishko
Also known as Mishko, Nevan Doyle is a videographer, graphic designer and photographer from Oregon who specialises in eye-catching abstract designs with the occasional touch of glitchy cool. His Intro to Pixel Art mixes up pixel techniques with glitches, grunge and visual feedback to stunning effect.
14. Science Kombat by Diego Sanches
Diego Sanches is a Brazilian illustrator based in São Paulo with a great sideline in pixel art. We particularly love these animations, which 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.
15. Moana by Pixel Jeff
We love Pixel Jeff's work so much, we couldn't just limit ourselves to one entry on this list. So here's his colourful take on Disney's Moana, beautifully reimagined as a video game that we'd love to be able to actually plan. Scroll down his blog post and you'll see further fun takes on blockbuster movies.
16. Bopping Pixels by Ian Dixon
Ever wondered what your favourite characters would look like if they were reduced to pixels, and bounced up and down? Wonder no longer, as pixel Illustrator and GIF-maker Ivan Dixon has turned his attentions to everyone from Prince Geoffrey to Tin Tin in his weirdly mesmerising project, Bopping Pixels.
17. Star Wars by Gustavo Viselner
Another great piece by Gustavo Viselner, this is one of his many tributes to a galaxy far, far away. Opinions may be split on some of the prequels and sequels, but every Star Wars fan can get behind this scene from the original 1977 movie, as Obi-Wan trains Luke and Chewie and C-3PO play holographic chess.
18. Pixel Dailies by Ben Porter
Game developer Ben Porter loves pixel art so much that he launched Pixel Dailies, an online club for pixel art. Each day, he'd tweet out a theme, and others would get involved creating artwork on that topic. He kept this up for a whole year, and the results can still be see on the dedicated Twitter account.
19. Bugroid by Nasc
Web developer Nasc specialises in Flash development and Android, and creates pixel art in his spare time. We love this Bugroid project, which turns popular cartoon characters into cute pixel art creations that are half-bug, half-Android: everyone from the Simpsons to the Care Bears.
20. Night by Waneella
Background artist Waneella produces pixel-based visual landscapes with fantasy-inspired possibilities. Titled 'Night', the subtly animated scene shown above is typical of her work, and showcases her ability to combine seemingly basic colour, squares and movement to create original and dynamic worlds.
21. Pixel Pour by Kello Goeller
For her Pixel Pour project, Portland-based visual artist Kello Goeller took the concept of the pixel and cleverly worked around it into the real world. Her water-flowing pixels were installed around the city, offering citizens a playful visual and imaginary context to bring both worlds together.
22. Fine Pixel Art by John O'Hearn
Visual artist John O'Hearn works with tiny elements to create impressive and life-size scale works by exploiting the potential of colour, elements and illusion. His Fine Pixel Art video, shown above, offers a great example of his creative genius.
23. Steve Jobs by Metin Seven
The work of Metin Seven combines design and pixel art with 3D elements, with dynamic and detailed results. This depiction of Steve Jobs reinterpretation is an marvellously appealing example of what he's capable of.
24. Rug by 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 in this stylish rug takes pixel art in a refreshing new direction.
25. Talk to Me mural at MoMA
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. Featuring icons created by YooIn Cho and Samuel Sherman, there's a dynamic feel to this design that really got visitors excited to see the main event.
26. Mouse icon by Ben Fino-Radin
This life-size, hand-embroidered piece of design by New York-based artist Ben Fino-Radin is part of a collection that explores ideas of size and shape through life-size mouse icons.
27. Quetzalcóoatl by Mario Sifuentes
Mexican designer Mario Sifuentes created this interesting and beautiful interpretation of Quetzalcóoatl, a pre-Hispanic God. Inspired by the visual style of 1990s video games, this piece takes simplistic elements and creates something quite complex and magical.
28. Berlin poster by Eboy
Australian artist Paul Robertson's intricate illustrations include everything from childlike, family friendly pieces to some which are really NSFW. Whether it's candy colourful, like the piece above, to bizarre, dark and disturbing, everything he touches seem to pixel art gold.
29. Pixel Art Land by Gary Lucken
British videogame enthusiast and artist Gary J Lucken is influenced by Japanese toys, old 2D videogames and pop culture. His blog Army of Trolls is packed full of his evocative and magical pixel art works.
30. CGA Faces by Sven Ruthner
Based in Germany, freelance pixel artist Sven Ruthner has received international appreciation for his pixel artwork. He's known for using limited colour palettes, similar to the offerings of early home computers, such the ZX Spectrum. This particular piece was created using just 16 colours.
31. Robinson Nerdo by 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 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 it.