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How to set-up Photoshop for pixel art

Original Frog Pixel art by ILKke

The style created by limitations of past generation computer graphics is living its life to this day, and because of its inspiring nature, its popularity grows. Modern computers provide theoretically endless capabilities for creativity, resolution of images produced counts to tens of millions of pixels. However, somehow pixel art still makes its way into hearts young aspiring artists. When you are using Photoshop for pixel art, you are confronting the previous limitations with endless possibilities of today.

Why would you use Photoshop for pixel art?

Adobe Photoshop is an established picture editing software that has most picture manipulation tools. Most of them are not specific to pixel art, but it doesn’t restrict you from using them.

In short

You have to create a small size image, adjust some image interpolation and pixel grid settings, and select a pencil both as your brush and eraser tool.

Creating an image with the right dimensions for pixel art

First, you have to make sure to create an image with the right dimensions for pixel art. When just starting, I would not recommend using more than 16 pixels for each side. If you create an image that is too big for your idea, you may have trouble filling in empty spots and end up with seas of pixels that serve no purpose. Once you get the point of pixel art, you can increase it to however big you want your artwork to be.


To create an image in Photoshop go to File → New

Now you have to fill in all the details.

Width and Height specify how big (in pixels) your artwork will be. Make sure you are using pixels as measurements.

Resolution is not a critical setting when creating pixel art. Leave it at 72

Color mode determines which color space your artwork will be using. You probably will want to stick with 8 bit RGB Color.

Background Contents adds background to your artwork from the beginning. You can do this easily after (if required), so I recommend setting it to transparent.

When did all this, hit Create.

Once your image is on the screen, it will be barely visible.

To zoom in, Select Zoom tool (Shortcut Z on keyboard) and either click or hold and drag to the right to zoom in.

Setting correct settings for pixel art

When using Photoshop for pixel art, you have to adjust some settings because Photoshop is not convenient to draw pixel art by default.

Brush and Eraser

Photoshop, by default, uses Brush as the primary tool for painting pixels. For pixel art, you should use a pencil for both brush and eraser tools.

In brush settings set its size to 1 px and hardness to 100%


Pixel Grid (optional)

When you are zoomed all the way in, you may notice a grid for each pixel. It automatically disappears when you zoom out, but anyway, it can be very distracting and not letting you appreciate your artwork.

You can quickly disable it by using CTRL + H, but it will also make selections invisible. To properly turn off pixel grid, go to View → Show → Pixel Grid. Click on it to hide.

Image interpolation

When resizing/transforming your image, you may encounter blurriness. It happens because your Image Interpolation setting is not correct. When transforming something, find the Interpolation drop-down menu and select Nearest Neighbor.

You should also go to Edit → Preferences → General and switch image interpolation to Nearest Neighbor.

Exporting your pixel artwork

To export your pixel art, go to File → Export → Export As.

File Format- if your image has transparency or you want to export at a native resolution without losing quality, select PNG. If you are exporting for the web or sharing with friends, you can use both PNG and JPG.

Scale- values over 100% will increase the size of your artwork. If you want to upscale your image, increase scale by 100 (200, 300, 400), so your pixels look square and where they are supposed to be.

Resample- it is crucial that resample is always set to Nearest Neighbor when exporting pixel art. If you leave it as is, it may export a blurry image.

That’s all there is for setting up Photoshop for pixel art!

You can also check out video tutorials by these amazing creators:

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