A Basic Sprite Tutorial
Here’s a basic runthrough of how to turn your drawing into pixel art using some Photoshop or GIMP tricks.
Step 1: The Drawing
A tablet is nice to have for drawing directly into an art program like Photoshop. Otherwise, scan a drawing with heavy pencils or inked lines. If you want to imitate a specific game style, use an enlarged sprite as reference for body proportions and width (which unfortunately I didn’t do with this sketch). Keep details to a minimum so that you don’t clutter things up when you shrink it.
Step 2: Resizing
Find a sprite similar to the size (or pose) you want to copy. Shrink the drawing down and simultaneously make it as wide as it needs to be to match, if you didn’t work it out in step 1. Note that in this sketch, I want about the same height but a tad wider.
Time: 30 seconds
Step 3: Sharpening
Merge the layer with the resized linework onto a layer with a solid white background. Go to IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > THRESHOLD in Photoshop or the equivalent in GIMP to thin the linework down to pure black and white pixels. Make sure you’re zoomed up close to see the pixels best. Keep all your original details as understandable as possible so you don’t need to refer back and forth to your original drawing too often.
This step will make cleaning the lines and filling in color easy and save you a ton of time over cleaning by hand.
TIME: 10 Seconds
Step 4: Cleaning
Make a layer just for the lines (delete all white). Zoom in and clean up the outlines. If you ‘re in to breaking lines, this is the place to do it. It isn’t time to work on the fine details yet (again, mask and hands) – just start giving yourself anchors for the coloring. When finished, lock the layer.
TIME: 10-20 Minutes
Step 5: Fill-tool the Flats
Fill in flat colors on a layer underneath the lines. Work out details of the outfit, etc, but don’t do any shading. Light will be added after. This step really gives spriting the ‘comic book production’ feel. Special note: Some people prefer using the light area’s colors for their flats, then adding the shadows after. This will produce a different end effect, so experiment.
TIME: 2 or 3 Minutes
Step 6: The Shading
Right now you have a layer for lines and a layer for flats. Here’s where Photoshop saves you some major time. Insert two layers between the lines and flats. Change them to Overlay style and make the upper one 50% opacity. Select a 1 or 2 pixel pencil and start putting down some whites. Instant lighting through your colors.
Note: Work with the 100% opacity layer first. When you’ve got the shading down about how you like it, use the magic want tool to select the non-white areas. Then move on to the 50% layer for the mid-shading (after hiding the wand’s marching ants). You don’t want the two layers to overlap their whites or you’ll get extra highlights.
TIME: 30-90 Minutes
Step 7: Shading Check
Sometimes you need fresh eyes to check that you got the shading right.
This is what your layers should look like – the flats filled w/ black is what we’re adding right now. Copy the flats layer, lock it, fill it with black (Edit > Fill). Then change your two white layers from Overlay to Normal. You should get this:
I really can’t think of a better way to test shading than to take out all the distracting costume color and ramp it up to maximum contrast. It’s the easiest way to find little things that don’t look right, or even big things that you were too focused to notice. What’s better, correction is just a matter of fixing the whites – not changing each and every color. Try it with a black background, too.
Hmm. I think I’ll have another look at her left hand before I’m completely finished.
TIME: 90 Seconds to check; varies for corrections
Step 8: Color Lines
Now that they’ve done their b&w job overlapping for step 7, it’s time the outlines got colored in and antialiased in the light areas. With their layers on ‘lock’, it should be a snap. ALWAYS REMEMBER: Work on darkly colored (but not pure black) backgrounds when doing outline work. It helps the antialiasing.
TIME: 30-60 Minutes
Step 9: Details & Cleanups
This is the ‘subtlety’ stage. *Get the colors just right (Overlay actually does some pretty good work with coloring) *Add hard-to-pixel details (Triangle on mask, blue lines around glove edges, etc) *Finish the subtle details you saved for now (hands) *Last go around for mistakes. Note I ‘forgot’ about her yellow boots – but with this process, it’s just a matter of adding the yellow to the flats layer. It’s pre-shaded!
TIME: Varies by Perfectionist