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How to Make Pixel Art in Illustrator – The Definitive Guide

How to Make Pixel Art in Illustrator – The Definitive Guide

Remember those times when we were all playing video games together, in the same room? A whole family playing a Super Mario game and laughing? Now when you are about to become an incredible designer, do you wonder how those games were designed? 

The answer is Pixel Art!

And the thing with the Pixel Art is that it will always look cool.

So, do you want to design a Pixel Art game? Come up with the best design for an ugly sweater?

You’re in the right place because we know everything about Pixel Art!

Let’s begin!


What is Pixel Art? 

Pixel art is a form of digital art. It’s not just art made of pixels, it’s the art that brings to mind the look of early computer and video game representation. It is defined with a unique visual style, individual pixels are used as the building blocks to create the image. The effect of pixel art is comparable to mosaic art and the art form of cross-stich.


How to make Pixel Art?

The Pixel Art images are created and edited at the pixel level using graphics editing software, such as Illustrator. You can create the pixel images using the Rectangular Grid Tool and the Live Paint Bucket Tool.

There are perks when Pixel Art is created in Illustrator. For example, you can scale up your art without losing any quality.


How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator 

Create a grid using the Rectangular Grid Tool. Adjust the number of horizontal and vertical dividers in the Rectangular Grid Tool menu. Use the Align Tool to center your grid on the canvas. Choose the Live Paint Bucket Tool, click anywhere on the grid to make it a Live Paint Group. Get creative!


How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator – Step-by-step Guide


Step 1:

Create a New File in Adobe Illustrator. Open your Adobe Illustrator and create a new document by clicking on the “Create New” button. The window “New Document” will pop up, feel free to choose any size of the canvas. 

In this tutorial, the dimensions of the canvas are set to square, 900x900px. Set your document name, set chosen “Width”, and do the same for “Height”. Click on “Create”, and let’s begin.

The shortcut for creating a new file: CTR + N (Windows) or Command + N (MAC). 

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 1


Step 2:

Creating the Grid. In the tool menu, on the left side of the screen, find “Line Segment Tool”, open the drop-down menu and choose “Rectangular Grid Tool”.  Simply click on the canvas and the window “Rectangular Grid Tool Options” will pop up. 

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 2


Step 3:

Adjusting the Size of the Grid, and the number of Horizontal and Vertical Dividers. First of all, adjust the “Default Size” of the canvas, in this tutorial canvas is set to square dimensions 900x900px, therefore both boxes, the “Width” and “Height” are filled with 900px.In the “Number” boxes, you will input information on how many dividers you want. For each pixel to be a physical pixel, you’d have to put 900 for Horizontal dividers, and the same for Vertical Dividers. Because this environment is too small to work in, for both dividers, you should input 90. If you are using a different size of canvas, you will input a number of dividers compared to your canvas size. After adjusting the number of dividers, press the “OK” button and the grid will appear.  

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 3


Step 4:

Moving Grid. You need to make sure that the grid lines up with Artboard – Canvas. To adjust your grid on your canvas, select the grid and on the top tool menu, find the “Center” button which will help you to move the grid to the center of your canvas. If you can’t find this option, open the “Window” drop-down menu and select “Align”, the shortcut is Shift + F7.  

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 4


Step 5:

Improving Visibility of the Grid. To change the visibility of the grid, you need to change or add the color of grid lines. Make sure that the grid is selected. To change or to add the color to the grid lines, you will use the “Stroke”. Menu with colors will pop up, choose the color that you like and think that you can spot it easily. In the tutorial, the color that was used is light gray. 

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 5


Step 6:

Live Painting. Select the grid, press the letter “K” (Windows and Mac) on your keyboard, this action will bring a “Live Painting Bucket tool” or find it in the Toolbar under the “Shape Builder Tool”, the shortcut is Shift + M (Windows and Mac), and when you click anywhere on the canvas, the grid is transformed to “Live Paint Group”. Each of the boxes is now pixel and now you can start creating your pixel art. Deselect the grid, select the color and start filling the grid spaces. You can click and drag along your grid to fill in multiple spaces in one go or click one grid space at a time.

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 6


Step 7:

Drawing the Christmas Tree. The goal is to draw a simple Christmas tree with few ornaments. You will need two shades of green, light, and dark for the Christmas tree and for stoke, the shade of brown that you prefer. Also, for the ornaments, you will need three colors red, yellow, and purple, or any other colors. Start drawing the tree with light color. Do each row, one by one. 

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 7


Step 8:

Drawing Shadows on the Tree. When you finish with light green, use dark green to add shadows to the tree. On the bottom of the tree, add a trunk with brown color, to look more realistic.

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 8


Step 9:

Adding Ornaments. Choose the color, for example, red, and start adding the ornament on the tree as presented in the tutorial image. The ornaments can be of different sizes and colors. Create them as you desire. Also, you can always add tinsel to your tree, it is up to you. For a Christmas Tree to be completed, it needs a Star on the top. Choose the color of your star and draw it. Check if your tree is completed or if you are satisfied with how it turned up. If there is something not drawn correctly, you can always delete it.

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 9


Step 10:

Deleting Pixels. In the same menu, where you found the “Live Painting Bucket tool”, is placed “Live Painting Selection Tool”, the shortcut is Shift + L. With this tool, you can remove unwanted pixels, by selecting it and pressing “Delete” on your keyboard. It can’t be faster or simpler.

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 10


Step 11:

Ungrouping. When you are satisfied and finished with your Pixel Art, the next step is to right-click and ungroup. Then go to “Object” > “Live Paint” > “Expand”, this action is turning your “Live Paint Group” into objects.

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 11


Step 12:

Removing empty, unfiled Grid Spaces. For dividing Grid from pixel art, use the “Pathfinder” panel. To open it go to “Window” > “Pathfinder” or use the shortcut Control + Shift + F9 (Windows), or Command + Shift + F9 (MAC), and the panel will pop up. On the panel, select Divide, and it will separate filled spaces from the grid. To select the stroked grid use the “Magic Wand Tool” and remove it by pressing the button “Delete” on your keyboard.  

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 12


Step 13:

Changing Colors. The easiest way of changing colors is to “Copy” and “Paste” the grid design before you extract your vector-based pixel art icon from the rectangular grid. Then you can easily refill Live Paint spaces. The shortcut for Copy action is Control + C (WINDOWS) or Command + C (MAC), and for Paste is Control + V (WINDOWS) or Command + V (MAC). The second option is to select a design, go to “Edit” > “Edit Colors” > “Recolor Artwork” and change the tones of your selected object. It is the quickest way of changing an object’s colors. In the end, you will have Pixel Art for the most cheerful and festive Christmas tree.

How to make Pixel Art in Illustrator Step 13