5 Easy Tweaks to Draw Pixel Art in Photoshop

If you’re like me, you’ve been using Photoshop for a decade. You know all the shortcuts, filters and little tweaks to optimise your workflow and perhaps you’ve adjusted your workspace with nifty extensions too. Sounds like you? If you’ve been curious how to use Photoshop for pixel art effectively then this is for you. <3 I’ll show you in 5 easy steps how to configure Photoshop for your next pixel art masterpiece.

Disclaimer: If you’re new to digital art and don’t have a Photoshop license yet, there are cheaper and easier alternatives that are specifically designed for pixel art, for example Aseprite. That being said, Photoshop is an enormously powerful tool worth learning and all my pixel art animations were created with it.

Let’s go!

At a Glance

  1. Crispness is everything
  2. Pixel goodness with pixel brushes
  3. Swatches & palettes
  4. Transforming & Scaling
  5. Exporting to the World

1. Crispness is Everything

When starting out with a fresh install of Photoshop, you’ll find it making every attempt possible to smooth out your brush strokes and transformations. That’s useful at high resolutions but for pixel art we’ll want to make sure we can polish everything down to the pixel-level. Whenever you find Photoshop drawing unwanted extra-pixels, the offending setting can usually be found in the tool bar. Let's go through all of them:

1.1 Selection/Marquee Tool

The selection tool is the simplest to configure. Make sure "Feather" is set to 0px and you are all set for crisp selections:

Screenshot of the Photoshop toolbar highlighting which settings need to be changed for the selection tool in order to select pixel-perfect areas without anti-aliasing.

1.2 Lasso Tool

The lasso tool will make a fuzzy selection by default. Set "Feather" to 0px and untick the "Anti-alias" checkbox to get a pixel-perfect selection.

Screenshot of the Photoshop toolbar highlighting which settings need to be changed for the lasso tool in order to make pixel-perfect selections without anti-aliasing.

1.3 Magic Wand Tool

For crisp selections with the magic wand, set the sample size to "Point Sample" and "Tolerance" to zero. The anti-aliasing checkbox should be unticked.

Screenshot of the Photoshop toolbar highlighting which settings need to be changed for the magic wand tool in order to grab selections without anti-aliasing.

1.4 Eyedropper Tool

Not much can go wrong with the eyedropper tool but to keep colour count low, setting the sample size to "Point Sample" is a good idea.

Screenshot of the Photoshop toolbar highlighting which settings need to be changed for the eyedropper tool in order to pick pure colours without accidentally increasing the colour count.

1.5 Pencil Tool

No more fuzzy edges: Choose the pencil brush by right-clicking the brush icon in the toolbar. Opacity should be set to 100%. Smoothing should be set to 0.

Screenshot of the Photoshop toolbar highlighting which settings need to be changed for the brush or pencil tool in order to draw pixel-perfect strokes without smoothing or anti-aliasing.

1.6 Eraser Tool

By default the eraser tool is a "Brush" but for crisp pixels set it to "Pencil". As always: Opacity should be set to 100%, smoothing should be 0.

Screenshot of the Photoshop toolbar highlighting which settings need to be changed for the eraser tool in order to remove pixel-perfect areas without anti-aliasing or smoothing.

1.7 Paint Bucket Tool

For the paint bucket tool, opacity should be 100% with tolerance set to 0 and anti-aliasing turned off. Filling areas will now be pixel-perfect.

Screenshot of the Photoshop toolbar highlighting which settings need to be changed for the paint bucket tool in order to fill areas with pixel-precision and without anti-aliasing.

1.8 Dodge Tool

Always use a brush with hard edges for the dodge tool to avoid adding a lot of colours which might make your artwork look blurry.

Screenshot of the Photoshop toolbar highlighting which settings need to be changed for the dodge tool in order to brighten selected areas without accidentally increasing the colour count.

Final Check

Make some example brush strokes with black colour on a small canvas (64×64 pixels) and zoom in really closely (800% or 1000%). If all pixels look super crisp, you’re good to go. If some neighbouring grey pixels appear, revisit the gallery to check out whether you missed a setting.

2. Pixel Goodness with Pixel Brushes

When you browse the default brushes available in Photoshop, you’ll quickly notice that most of them have round or smooth edges. Remember this ground rule: No anti-aliasing.

Screenshot of Photoshop's default brush selection tool showing a brush with hard edges that is perfect for pixel art.

Brush selection in Photoshop

So for crisp pixels, we have to use a brush with no smoothing which makes “Hard Round” a good choice. In fact, it will serve us well for most of our pixel art magic. Choose a small pixel size and make sure the hardness is set to 100% to avoid any kind of anti-aliasing when placing individual pixels.

Screenshot of the brush settings in Photoshop showing the optimal size and hardness settings to draw crisp pixel art.

Small pixel brush at 100% hardness

3. Photoshop Swatches and Palettes

There are two types of pixel artists: Those who embrace the challenge of using as few colours as possible and those who legitmately do not care… Feel free to use an insane amount of colours like pixel artist @8pxl, neon gradients like @kryssalian or push the pixel art business even further and add light effects to your artworks like @abueloretrowave does.

If you’re new to pixel art, I do encourage you to download a readymade palette and keep the colour count to 10-30 colours. Especially if you’re coming from a background in digital art, the blending and shading techniques you’re used to will tend to make your pixel artwork look blurry.

Lospec.com is an awesome resource for palettes and lets you filter by many different tags. You can download them in *.ase format which you can import into Photoshop, or you simply download a *.png and place it into your artwork as a separate layer.


Screenshot of the palette search on Lospec which is a great resource for pixel art colour palettes.


In Photoshop, we’ll populate the Swatches menu with our palette as the default one isn’t too useful. If it’s not on your workspace, you can enable it via the Photoshop menu “Window” -> “Swatches”.

Personally, I structure my palette groups by “mood”. For example, my artwork “Rainy Night” pretty closely followed my palette of the same name (see below) that I prepared before starting to work on it. Try to stick to a fixed set of colours for your first artworks until you get the hang of it. It’s fine to purposefully add another colour to the palette when you find one is missing — just beware of shapes becoming blurry when you use too many.

Screenshot of the swatches section in Photoshop showing two named palettes with a limited amount of colours.

Custom swatches in Photoshop

4. Transforming & Scaling

Similar to the smoothing options we found in our brush settings, whenever you resize a selection, a layer or the entire image, by default Photoshop will try to soften the edges. By now you’ve probably developed a slight paranoia of anti-aliasing checkboxes, so time to introduce you to another setting you’ll frequently stumble upon: In order to keep our pixels crisp and sharp, we need to choose “Nearest Neighbor” for interpolation which will avoid all blurriness. Look out for the interpolation options like here in the Transformation toolbar:

Screenshot of the Photoshop transformation toolbar showing the interpolation "nearest neighbor" which results in pixel perfect scaling.


In order for resizing to work correctly, make sure you always use whole numbers. An example: If you double the size of a pixel (i.e. transforming to 200%), it will become 4 pixels while retaining its original shape. Avoid odd factors such as 1.5 (i.e. 150%) as it would distort the shape. A rule of thumb: Always scale in percentages and keep two zeros at the end (200%, 300%, 1500%, etc.).

Some crisp pixel shapes that originally were 10x10 pixels in size and were scaled up by an even number with the nearest neighbor interpolation method.
Original: 10px. Scaled up by an even number.

Some distorted pixel shapes that originally were 10x10 pixels in size and were scaled up by an odd number which distorted their appearance.
Original: 10px. Scaled up by an odd number and thus distorted.

5. Exporting to the World

When creating an artwork at 64 x 64 pixels, it’s much too small to show anyone. You have two options: Resizing the image or exporting the image at a larger size. My advice is to avoid resizing the original image in Photoshop because if you ever revisit it to make changes, you’ll find that one pixel will no longer be the size of one pixel. Such a source of all kinds of trouble. To be safe, use Photoshop’s “Export” option instead:

Screenshot of the Photoshop File menu showing how to reach the export function that allows to scale up pixel art.
Path to Photoshop's export functionality

On the export screen, switch the format to PNG. This is important because PNG (and GIF) are the only formats that will keep the edges of our pixels crisp. JPG will compress the image (i.e. remove some detail) and cause edges to become softer. The key difference between PNG and GIF is that GIFs support a maximum of 256 colours, so in case you used more than that – choose PNG.

There are two different options for enlarging your pixel artwork: “Scale All” on the left, or “Image Size” on the right. You can use both together or just one of them but the “Scale All” is limited to a factor of 5x (or 500%). If in doubt, use “Scale” in the “Image Size” area with “Resample” set to Nearest Neighbour as usual.

Screenshot of Photoshop's export settings showing some pixel art shapes that have been scaled up with the nearest neighbor interpolation.
Using both scaling options in Photoshop's "Export As..." dialog on a 10x10px image. The result is a 250x250px image.

That's It -- Recap!

  1. Turn off all anti-aliasing, smoothing and feather (for crisp edges) and disable transparency (for fixed colours).
  2. Use pencil brush and pencil eraser (for pixel-perfect strokes).
  3. Try to stick to colour palettes (at least initially to avoid accidental blurriness).
  4. Use “Nearest Neighbour” when transforming, scaling and exporting.
  5. Scale up by whole numbers only so all details retain their shape.

In 5 steps I’ve shown you how to make Photoshop ready for your next pixel art masterpiece. Thanks for reading and I hope you found it useful. Questions or suggestions? Leave a comment below.

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