1. Design & Illustration
  2. Pixel Art

Create Pixel Art with a Limited Palette in 10 Steps with Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create some 8-bit inspired icons with a limited palette, in Adobe Photoshop. However, you could easily create them in MS Paint!

1. Icon Line Art

Step 1

We'll be working in Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 (though most versions or even MS Paint will work wonderfully too). Create a New Document. My final artwork (both sets of icons) measured 113 by 13 pixels.

  1. Using the Pencil Tool (B) with the brush size set to 1 pixelZoom (Z) in 1600%, or so, and draw 3 pixels with 1 pixel on either side, diagonally, on the next row down.
  2. Draw 7 pixels on the next line below.
  3. For the neck of the bottle, draw 3 pixels in v-shapes pointing inward.
  4. For the bulk of the bottle, draw 4 pixels  in a single column on either side. For the stripe on the bottle, draw 7 pixels between the two columns.
  5. The final row consists of 7 pixels going across, allowing the two sides to meet.
Bottle lineart pixel icon

Step 2

For the sword line art, we'll split up the process into two steps:

  1. Start at the tip of the sword with 3 pixels up and 2 pixels across to the right. From here we'll work diagonally in two rows, 14 pixels each.
  2. Draw 3 pixels going upward on the right of the first diagonal line. Draw 3 pixels going to the right on the row above the end of the second diagonal line.
  3. Form a V in the center of the sword with 3 pixels. Draw 2 pixels on the right going to the right and on the left going upwards.
  4. Continue on the left side with 3 pixels to the left and 1 down. Continue on the right with 3 pixels down and 1 pixel to the left.
First half of sword pixel lineart

Step 3

Let's finish up the sword's guard and hilt with the following steps:

  1. Start in the center of the sword and draw 9 pixels going diagonally from the left the right. Place 1 pixel between the first two in the diagonal line and 1 pixel between the last two in order to make sure top points of the sword's guard. Connect the new diagonal line on the left and right with 2 pixelsdiagonally, going from right to left. 
  2. The handle of the sword is formed by forming concentric V's, working diagonally. This amounts to 7 columns total.
  3. From the tip of the handle, draw 1 pixel to the right of the handle followed by 3 pixels down. This is the start of the chain that hangs off of the handle. Draw 2 pixels, diagonally, starting in the center of the vertical line you just drew.
  4. To complete the chain, draw 3 V's in succession consisting of 3 diagonally placed pixels each.
Second half of sword pixel line art

Step 4

The final icon's line art is fairly simple.

  1. Draw 10 pixels in a single row horizontally. Draw 2 pixels on either side going diagonally and downward.
  2. Draw 8 vertical pixels followed by 12 pixels between the two sides to complete the final shape.
  3. Draw a horizontal line of pixels 6 pixels down from the top of the box. Place one pixel in each inner corner of the box.
  4. In the center of the box, draw 3 pixels down from the top line. From here, draw a box overlapping the central horizontal line that goes 4 pixels by 3 pixels. Erase the center 2 pixels with the Eraser Tool (E). Finally, 4 pixels make up the vertical lines on either side of the chest's lid. These lines are optional in your design.
Small treasure chest pixel line art

2. Monochrome Limited Palette

Step 1

The colors used below are as follows from left to right: Mint (#e0f8d0), Green (#88c070), Forest Green (#306850), and Dark Green (#081820).

  1. Create a New Layer above your bottle line art.
  2. Trace over the outer line art with Forest Green.
  3. Fill in the rest of the bottle design with Green and trace over the horizontal black lines with Forest Green.
  4. Use Mint to create vertical highlights on the bottle in groups of 3 by 2 pixels in the center and a couple pixels on the left (see below).
  5. Finally, use Dark Green to scatter a pixel or two around the corners of the design.
Monichrome bottle rendering

Step 2

Once again, the colors used below are as follows from left to right: Mint (#e0f8d0), Green (#88c070), Forest Green (#306850), and Dark Green (#081820).

  1. Create a New Layer above the sword line art.
  2. Using Forest Green line the left side of the sword with diagonal pixels, skip a diagonal row, and do the same in the middle. Repeat on the right side of the blade with Dark Green.
  3. Fill in the blade with Mint on the left side and Green on the right. Start to add pixels of Forest Green and Dark Green in the guard of the sword. Note the Dark Green toward the blade and Forest Green toward the outer edges.
  4. Use Forest Green on the outer edges of the sword's guard and Mint on the first diagonal line within the guard.
  5. Fill in the rest of the guard with Green and trace the line art of the guard with Forest Green. Place Forest Green in the center of the handle.
  6. Dark Green goes on the right side of the handle while Green goes on the left. Essentially, the hilt is comprised of three diagonal lines, each a different color going from light to dark.
  7. For the chain, use Green on the right, Mint in the center of each chain link, Forest Green on the top left, and Dark Green between each link shape.
Monochrome sword rendering

Step 3

Once more, the colors used below are as follows from left to right: Mint (#e0f8d0), Green (#88c070), Forest Green (#306850), and Dark Green (#081820).

  1. Create a New Layer above your small treasure chest line art. 
  2. Trace the outer line art of the chest with Forest Green.
  3. Use Dark Green on the center horizontal line and the bottom of the chest's clasp. Use Forest Green on the 4 pixels that form the top of the clasp.
  4. Draw 3 pixels in the lower corners of the box in Dark Green.  Use Green to draw vertical stripes on the lower half of the treasure chest with two rows between each green section.
  5. Fill in the gaps in the lower half with Mint and a pixel of Forest Green on either side below the split in the treasure chest.
  6. Use Forest Green to draw two vertical lines on the top half of the chest. Concentrate Mint on the top left of the chest's lid.
  7. Fill in the rest with Green.
Monochrome treasure chest rendering

3. Four Color Palette

Step 1

This palette differs in its hue offering: incorporating cream and lime into the forest greens of the previous palette. From left to right, the colors are Cream (#f8dd92), Lime (#9bbb0e), Sage (#73a067), and Dark Forest Green (#0f380e).

  1. Create a New Layer above the original bottle line art.
  2. Line the outer edge of the bottle with Dark Forest Green,
  3. Fill the bottle with Cream either using the Pencil Tool or the Paint Bucket Tool (G).
  4. Line the bottom edge of the bottle's neck and the horizontal stripe with Sage.
  5. Use Lime on the horizontal line above the Sage line. 
  6. Use Lime as a highlight on the bottle's label, and a shadow on the bottom of the bottle.
Four color palette rendering for the bottle

Step 2

Once again, from left to right, the colors are Cream (#f8dd92), Lime (#9bbb0e), Sage (#73a067), and Dark Forest Green (#0f380e).

  1. Create a New Layer above the original sword line art.
  2. To speed up the process, use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the original line art and use the Fill Bucket Tool (G) to fill in the new selection on the New Layer.
  3. Use Lime to fill in the center of the chain, the top edge of the sword guard, and the center diagonal line of the blade.
  4. Use Sage on the right edge of the sword blade and the rest of the sword guard.
  5. Finally, use Cream for the top edge of the sword's blade.
Four color palette sword rendering

Step 3

Once again, from left to right, the colors are Cream (#f8dd92), Lime (#9bbb0e), Sage (#73a067), and Dark Forest Green (#0f380e).

  1. Create a New Layer above the small treasure chest's original line art.
  2. Trace the outer edge and horizontal line in the center of the chest with Dark Forest Green.
  3. Fill the chest with Lime and the center of the chest's clasp with Cream using the Fill Bucket Tool
  4. Once again using the Pencil Tool, as it's our main tool in this tutorial, concentrate Cream colored pixels along the top and left edges of the box. Stagger pixels, skipping every other pixel, in order to create a slight dithering pattern along the highlight edge.
  5. Use Sage to draw vertical lines throughout the chest design and around the treasure chest clasp.
Four color palette treasure chest rendering

Great Job, You're Done!

Three icon designs and two color palettes later, and we've got ourselves a great start in using a limited color palettes within pixel art. What else can you create with these palettes? How about other color combinations? Show us below in the comments!

Final limited color palette icons
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