How to Setup Photoshop for Pixel ArtIntroduction
This guide isn't going to tell you how to make pixel art, sprites or even how to draw. It's here to help you learn the ins and outs of a very powerful program, that gets a lot of unnecessary flak for being bad at pixel art (face it guys, ms paint sucks balls).
For all of my examples, I am using Adobe Photoshop CS5. Previous versions should have the same options as far as I know.Workflow
The absolutely most important thing in workflow is learning the hotkeys to all of your most used tools and options. Here is a reference table listing the most important hotkeys:
There are a few things to note about hotkey usage:
- Almost all of the important hotkeys are reachable with your left hand. This includes all modifier keys (Control, Alt, Shift), brush, eraser, and fill. This lets you keep your right hand on your mouse/tablet pen.
- Don't forget about the basic ones like save (Ctrl+S), and save as (Ctrl+Shift+S). Always back up your work, so you don't rage if anything goes wrong.
- I find that for general spriting, the brush, eraser, eyedropper (alt modifier), move canvas, and history hotkeys are my most used. Mastering these makes spriting so much easier.
Here's a really useful hotkey that I set manually (Edit>Keyboard Shortcuts>Shortcuts for Application Menus>Image>Crop):Tool SettingsBrush (aka pencil):
Very basic settings here. You'll want to make sure it's a 1 pixel size pencil, or 2 if you're doing GG2-style double resolution sprites (but I'll show you an easier way to achieve that).
If you have a tablet, you'll want to turn off pen pressure on the size control. If it's on, it gets really annoying because you have to press down with a certain force in order to even get anything to come out. It's counter-intuitive to have pen pressure when doing pixel art.
- Master the increase and decrease size hotkeys to have greater control
- Master the eyedropper tool; it makes selecting from nearby palettes much easier
Pretty much the same settings as the brush.
- The increase/decrease size is even more important here than it is for the brush tool. Typically for drawing, you want 1 pixel control, but often you need larger erasers to take out larger mistakes, etc.
Make sure anti-alias is turned off. Leaving contiguous checked means that only adjacent pixels of the same color are filled in. Here's an example:
Contiguous is on:
I filled in the firebug's mask with purple. It only filled in the surrounding color.
Contiguous is off:
I did the same thing, but it filled in all of that color on the image.
You can use this to quickly recolor (you sick bastards) sprites, or for on-the-fly palette changes (very useful when unifying palettes).
You will usually want to leave the style to "Normal" so you can control the size, but I just wanted to note that fixed size has a lot of utility when working with sprite sheets. You can use a fixed size to select the exact sprite size you need (ie. Gang Garrison sprites are 64x64 px).Program SettingsImage Interpolation:
Basically what image interpolation is, is how the program determines what to put in the spaces where the pixel is undetermined. This occurs when a rasterized bitmap is resized, transformed or rotated. In layman's term, it's the reason why images tend to get blurry or fuzzy when scaled up. For pixel artists, this is very bad, because we do not want any automatic pixel processing (also why anti-aliasing is turned off for all options).
Go to Edit>Preferences>General (or Ctrl+K) to find it:
Set it to nearest neighbor. By default it is on Bicubic. Here's an example of the difference it makes when resizing images:
Here's the source image
Shitty ass Bicubic resizing. Note the blurriness and general pixel muddiness. The program interpolated the color between pixels of two different color and blended them together. The results are less than satisfactory.
Nearest neighbor interpolation. Perfect 1:1 ratio. It works because the program does not interpolate any extra colors (only using the nearest neighbor color), so it creates a uniform rescaling.
This is how you can turn 32x32px GG2 sprites into perfect 64x64 ones with no bitmixing.Grid:
Edit>Preferences>Guides, Grids & Slices
You can adjust the color and style of the grid. Personally I prefer a solid neutral gray line because it is a definitive division and doesn't interfere with the image's palette (color neutrality).New Window:
Window>Arrange>New window for [name of document
Very, very useful for displaying real-time edits to a 100% sized version of your image, while you work on the zoomed-in version. You don't have to waste time turning off the grid and zooming all the way out just to get a preview. All edits happen to both images simultaneously, and saving one will save all versions of it.Conclusion:
I hope this helps any aspiring artists learn this daunting program, and dispel any myths that Photoshop is not fit for pixel editing. Later posts may have stuff on layer manipulation, useful tricks and other shortcuts. Remember that this guide is only to help you learn a tool; it will not guarantee that you will be a better artist. For the latter, all you need is dedication and practice.