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

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, in Adobe Photoshop, I'll show you how to create some 8-bit inspired icons with a limited palette. 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 PaintWill work wonderfully too). Create a New DocumentMy final artwork (both sets of icons) measured 113 by 13 pixels

  1. Using the Pencil Tool (B)With the brush size set to 1 pixel Zoom (Z)In 1600%Or so, and draw 3 pixelsWith 1 pixelOn either side, on the next row down, diagonally
  2. Draw 7 pixelsOn the next line below
  3. Draw , For the neck of the bottle3 pixelsIn v-shapes pointing inward
  4. For the bulk of the bottle, draw4 pixels  in a single column on either side. Draw , For the stripe on the bottle7 pixelsBetween the two columns
  5. The final row consists of 7 pixelsGoing 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 upAnd 2 pixels acrossTo the RightFrom here we'll work diagonally in two rows,  14PixelsEach
  2. Draw 3 pixelsGoing upward on the right of the first diagonal line. Draw 3 pixelsGoing to the right on the row above the end of the second diagonal line
  3. Form a VIn the center of the sword with 3 pixelsDraw 2 pixelsOn theRightGoing to the RightAnd on the LeftGoing Upwards
  4. Continue on the left side with 3 pixelsTo the left and 1 downContinue on the right with 3 pixelsDown and 1 pixelTo 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 pixelsGoing diagonally from the left the right. Place1 pixelBetween the first two in the diagonal line and1 pixelBetween 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 pixels DiagonallyGoing from right to left.  
  2. The handle of the sword is formed by forming concentric V'sWorking diagonally. This amounts to 7 columnsTotal
  3. Draw , From the tip of the handle1 pixelTo the RightOf the handle followed by 3 pixels down This is the start of the chain that hangs off of the handle. Draw 2 pixelsStarting in the center of the vertical line you just drew, diagonally
  4. Draw , To complete the chain3 V'sIn succession consisting of 3Diagonally placedPixelsEach
Second half of sword pixel line art

Step 4

The final icon's line art is fairly simple

  1. Draw 10 pixelsIn a single row horizontally. Draw 2 pixelsOn either side going diagonally and downward
  2. Draw8 vertical pixelsFollowed by12 pixelsBetween the two sides to complete the final shape
  3. Draw a horizontal line of pixels6 pixels downFrom the top of the box. Place one pixel in each inner corner of the box
  4. Draw , In the center of the box3 PixelsDown from the top line. Draw a box overlapping the central horizontal line that goes , From here4 pixels by 3 pixelsErase the center 2 pixelsWith the Eraser Tool (E) , Finally4 pixelsMake 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 (#e0f8d0Green (, )#88c070Forest Green (, )#306850), and Dark Green (#081820)

  1. Create a New LayerAbove your bottle line art
  2. Trace over the outer line art with Forest Green
  3. Fill in the rest of the bottle design with GreenAnd trace over the horizontal black lines with Forest Green
  4. Use MintTo create vertical highlights on the bottle in groups of 3 by 2 pixelsIn the center and a couple pixels on the left (see below)
  5. Finally, use Dark GreenTo 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 (#88c070Forest Green (, )#306850), and Dark Green (#081820)

  1. Create a New LayerAbove the sword line art
  2. Using Forest GreenSkip a diagonal row, and do the same in the middle, line the left side of the sword with diagonal pixels. Repeat on the right side of the blade with Dark Green
  3. Fill in the blade with MintOn the left side and GreenOn the right. Start to add pixels of Forest GreenAnd Dark GreenIn the guard of the sword. Note the Dark GreenToward the blade and Forest GreenToward the outer edges
  4. Use Forest GreenOn the outer edges of the sword's guard and MintOn the first diagonal line within the guard
  5. Fill in the rest of the guard with GreenAnd trace the line art of the guard with Forest GreenPlaceForest GreenIn the center of the handle
  6. Dark GreenGoes on the right side of the handle while GreenGoes on the left. Essentially, each a different color going from light to dark, the hilt is comprised of three diagonal lines
  7. Use , For the chainGreen , on the rightMintIn the center of each chain link Forest GreenAnd , on the top leftDark GreenBetween each link shape
Monochrome sword rendering

Step 3

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

  1. Create a New LayerAbove your small treasure chest line art.  
  2. Trace the outer line art of the chest with Forest Green
  3. Use Dark GreenOn the center horizontal line and the bottom of the chest's clasp. Use Forest GreenOn the 4 pixelsThat form the top of the clasp
  4. Draw 3 pixelsIn the lower corners of the box in Dark Green Use GreenTo 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 MintAnd a pixel of Forest GreenOn either side below the split in the treasure chest
  6. Use Forest GreenTo draw two vertical lines on the top half of the chest. Concentrate MintOn 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 (#f8dd92Lime (, )#9bbb0eSage (, )#73a067And Dark Forest Green (, )#0f380e)

  1. Create a New LayerAbove the original bottle line art
  2. Line the outer edge of the bottle with Dark Forest Green
  3. Fill the bottle with CreamEither using the Pencil ToolOr the Paint Bucket Tool (G)
  4. Line the bottom edge of the bottle's neck and the horizontal stripe with Sage
  5. Use LimeOn the horizontal line above the SageLine.  
  6. UseLimeAs 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

From left to right, Once again, the colors are Cream (#f8dd92), Lime (#9bbb0eSage (, )#73a067), and Dark Forest Green (#0f380e)

  1. Create a New LayerAbove the original sword line art
  2. Use the , To speed up the processMagic 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 LimeTo fill in the center of the chain, and the center diagonal line of the blade, the top edge of the sword guard
  4. Use SageOn the right edge of the sword blade and the rest of the sword guard
  5. Finally, use CreamFor the top edge of the sword's blade
Four color palette sword rendering

Step 3

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

  1. Create a New LayerAbove 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. FillThe chest with LimeAnd the center of the chest's clasp With CreamUsing the Fill Bucket Tool 
  4. Once again using the Pencil ToolConcentrate , as it's our main tool in this tutorialCreamColored pixels along the top and left edges of the box. Skipping every other pixel, Stagger pixels, in order to create a slight dithering pattern along the highlight edge
  5. Use SageTo 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

Read more: Create Pixel Art with a Limited Palette in 10 Steps with Photoshop

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