Pixel Avatar Tutorial
Part 1 - Making an Avatar
By RoseSagae

You're here because you'd like to see how I make avatars (obviously... you're reading my tutorial...). Well have no fear, because I'm here to lay it out step by step in the easiest way I can. Luckily for us, avatars are fairly easy to make! They're very small and, with practice, they go really fast! So hold on to your seats - we're going to make a pixel avatar following the steps I do!

I'll be using MS Paint for this tutorial just because it's a very generic program and most people have it. Also, because if you can learn how to do something in MS Paint - you'll have an easy time figuring it out in any other program x) I also do all of my art with my trusty mouse - no fancy tools here!

Start by opening MS Paint and changing the size of your palette by going to Image -> Attributes. Change the size to 50x50 pixels if you want to make an avatar for AIM, DA, or for a Neopets Petpage patch. If you want to make an MSN or LJ icon, make your palette 100x100. Don't worry about any other numbers here (DPI, Resolution or whatever), the only numbers you need to be concerned with are the width and height - both of which just need to be set at either 100 or 50. (example to the left)

Right now, I'd save your image. Most sites will allow a .png, .jpg, or .gif image. Check with your site first to see what types of images they'll allow to be uploaded. I'd suggest saving yours as a .png if you can just because .png images have a lesser tendency of messing up. Save it now to begin with and save it frequently throughout the entire process!

You have a few options on how you may want to get started here: you can either resize a picture and pixel over it (Example A) or draw your own and go from there (Example B). I'll walk you through both options for good measure ;)
Example A
Pixelling Over a Re-sized Picture

I'm in the mood to pixel my pets, so that's what we're going to do. This is Libby, she'll be helping us out on this side. I re-sized her original picture by going to Image -> Stretch/Skew and sizing it down to a smaller percent (50%, 25%?). Once I got it down past 50 pixels, I adjusted the image attributes to be 50x50, letting her fit comfortably in the 50x50 generic avatar size!

We'll start off by coloring over her picture. But first, in order not to put anyone in pixel blindness, we need to zoom in. Do this by going to Image -> Zoom and then go down to Custom. I always zoom custom so I can use the "800%" option. Their "large size" just isn't big enough for me x)


Now that's more like it! Next, we'll start coloring over her picture. Unfortunately for me, Libby has a lot of different colors going on in her coat. I'll want to select as few colors as I can. I'll just color right over her, staying as close to the "edge" of her picture as I can. I'll also want to make sure I leave little markers to let me know where certain things belong - like the shadow under her ears, or where her front leg bends. That way I can address those parts later on when we shade :) You can do these "Reminder" spots in a color like neon pink or green to remind you to come back to them later.

To color, you'll need both your eyedropper: and your pencil: . I selected a color with the eyedropper (this puts that exact color as the color you're using) and then you can draw with that color with the pencil.

Here's what it looks like after I've started coloring over her:
And after I delete the background:

I deleted the background simply by coloring all over it with white xD You can also use the eraser tool if you'd like :) That one looks like this: . You'll see, after the eraser is selected, you can change the size of it to suit your needs. I also decided to make my background navy for now - since Libby has a lot of white in her, I didn't want her to blend in with the background, so it will be navy for now!

Once we're finished with our flat, simple coloring, we can start shading it. Because we're doing a more realistic look for this step and don't have lineart, shading will be done a little differently than it would have been done if we had been using lineart. Because we don't have clear lines to mark things off, we have to make sure our shading sets things apart. I'll wait and go into that step below - give Example B Followers a chance to catch up ;)
Example B
Pixelling Your Own New Image

This method is a lot easier - and the one that I use the most. Rather than pixel over an image and having to deal with all of the extra colors or backgrounds, I'd rather just draw my own from scratch. To start with this, I use the pencil tool: and select a random color. I usually draw in neon green or neon pink just because they stand out x) In order to draw, of course, you'll need to be able to zoom in on your image so that you can see what you're doing. That step is bolded and underlined in the section to the right :)

Before I start drawing, I'll make some guidelines for myself ahead of time if I need them. I want to pixel my turtle (her name is Sasami) so I may draw some orange lines to show where the middle of the canvas is (where to center her shell) and I may draw a line across the bottom so I know what I want her to be resting on. These will just help me out as I'm drawing. Since your space here is so limited, it's easy to accidentally draw your picture too big - sometimes the guidelines help with that! Another trick you'll see me do is keep my "sketch" in two colors - here, it's green and pink. The green is my original lineart and the pink just marks out the detail on her shell for when I go back to color that :)

Another helpful drawing tip is to select your sketching color with the left mouse button and to select the color white with your right mouse button. That way, if you make a mistake while you're drawing, you can easily draw over it in white with the right button and keep moving!

As you'll see by my sketch above, it pretty much looks awful right now... mine always do at this point: they're sloppy and awful-looking. But that's okay because now we're going to outline it! That said, take your black pencil and start working on those outlines - go over your original lines, but clean them up. One thing that I always try to do is to avoid "doubling-up" on your lines or making them thicker than you have to (shown below). You'll see the good example has pixels separated while the bad example has them connecting and looking sloppy.

Good
Bad

Another thing that will help when going over curves (like her shell) will be to line by counting... I like to add one pixel at a time to make the curve smoother. You'll see in the picture to the right it goes 1-1-2-2-3-5? That smoothes the curve out and makes it turn a little easier. I'll also jump once to help it out a little... I may count as 1-1-1-2-1-2-2-3 - with the extra two added in there just to soften things up a little. A lot of 1s in a row can look really sloppy and adding an extra two in there can make the line look more realistic.

Once you've got the picture lined, erase all of your colored sketch lines. An easy way to do this is to select the color you don't want anymore (my green) with the left click and then select white with the right click. Now, if you grab your eraser: you can erase using the right click button - rub the eraser over your entire picture and it will only erase the green lines. Cool, huh? Here's my lined picture:

Now I'll just want to take my Paint Bucket: and color my picture! This tool is super easy - all you have to do is select the color you want and click the white spot to fill it! Don't forget to fill the single pixels that sometimes get cut off from the rest! Add in any detail you may need to such as spots, stripes, or markings and then we'll catch up below to learn how to shade. Here's how she looks so far:

Now we're ready to move on to how to shade it. Shading's hard to get the hang of and is really just something that comes with practice. Try to think to yourself where the shadows would go. On my dog, we'd need to shade under her face where her head is over her arms and we'd need shading under her ears and behind her left elbow. On the turtle we'll need to focus shading under her head where her body is inside the shell, we'll need to shade her neck folds and behind her head. The first thing I want to do before I start shading, though, is to get the colors I'll need. Select the color you want to shade first and go up to the menu to hit Colors -> Edit Colors. That will pop up a colorful box with some button options. Hit the button that says "Define Custom Colors" and another window will swing out to the right. You'll see an example of this in the picture.

All you need to do is grab that little black triangle (that my obnoxious red arrow is pointing at) and drag it down enough to get a slightly darker color and then hit "Okay". Now you can use that color to start adding in some shading to your picture!! You'll have to repeat that with all of your colors, sometimes going darker, sometimes going lighter. Sometimes I'll keep a collection of all of the colors I'm using on the bottom of my image out of the way - just so I can come back to it when I need them.

Below are three examples of shading. The first one is how I usually shade - it's simple and easy. The second one is a shading style called "Dithering". That's when people use fewer colors but add little pixels to merge into the other color and to soften the blend between them. I usually use this style when I'm pixelling something larger - just because I can stretch the shading out that way. The third style is really irregular - that's kind of how I shade when I'm shading something like fur or grass. That's the shading style I'll be using on my puppy to keep her looking furry! My turtle will be shaded with the first style most likely - I may add in some dithering to her shell to smooth it out. I've added the "actual size" circles above the enlarged ones so you can see how they look once they're re-shrunk :)

Well, those are pretty much the best tips I can give you on shading other than to look closely at how other people shade their pixels to give you an idea of how you'd like to do it - experiment with a few different things and find a style that works for you!

Anyways, here are my two finished avatars!! You'll see that with Libby (dog) I had to be careful with the shading enough to define her features without lineart. This is especially obvious under her ears, under her chin, and where her legs meet. With Sasami (turtle) I had lineart to follow - and I even re-colored it to a darker brown/gold in the end to make things look a little better:


And... now you're done!! :o Of course, you can add some text, you can add a border... or you can take it into another program and animate it or make the background transparent (unfortunately, Paint won't let you do that :( However, you can always changed the background color to make your avatar look like it's transparent! If you want to use your avatar on a site with a purple background, just change your avatar's background to match that purple!). Once you're finished with any tweaks and changes, go upload it and show it off for the world to see!

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