A few weeks ago, I got frustrated working on a piece of pixel art in Photoshop. Photoshop has a lot of shortcomings when it comes to pixel-sensitive detail work; you have to customize all kinds of settings for snapping behavior, image interpolation, and grid size and repurpose tools designed for photo manipulation.
I reached out to my favorite working pixel artists, Neven Mrgan, David Lanham, Pranav Pramod, and Shaun Inman to ask what tools they use, and to my surprise, I heard back from all of them.
A summary of responses:
- Almost everyone uses Photoshop but dislikes the experience. To quote Neven Mrgan, “There is, sadly, no other good option.”
- People develop hacks and workarounds to make Photoshop accomodate fine pixel work. For example, Neven leaves his image interpolation setting on “nearest neighbor,” and uses the anti-alias checkbox in the transform options when needed.
- Daniel Bogan (who arguably knows more about people’s stacks than anyone else on the internet) and Pranav Pramod mentioned Pixen, but Neven warned that Pixen has a bug that causes colors to shift around when you save, and recommended against it.
I also got a response from a developer named Cadin Batrack who showed me a beta of his pixel editor, Pickle. Pickle, now at v1.0, is a great tool for working on games - creating a new image sets up a tile, animation, or terrain (in the Flixel format) file for you. Pickle is dead simple to use, but it’s missing a few features that prevent me from using it instead of Photoshop (I’d like the option to work on a non-repeating canvas, and support for multiple layers). Pickle suffers from none of the color-shifting issues that affect Pixen, and I’d recommend it for creating simple game assets quickly and painlessly.
Personally, I’m kind of a fan of a web app called Piq (pictured). It’s sloppy, but it strikes the right balance between simplicity and features, and has a relatively intuitive UI. It even has a few handy and unexpected features that I use all the time: horizontal and vertical symmetry, and the ability to change the size of the grid on the fly.
I think there’s still a need for a great pixel editor, and the market is wide open. If anyone has a solution for working with pixel art that I didn’t mention here (or has a project they want me to check out), let me know.
EDIT: David Cole (!) adds, “Awesome post. Piq has some rad features (Only draw on blank canvas, Isometry mode). I use PS as I rely heavily on Smart Objects.”