Pixel-Based Websites: Resources, Tutorials, And Examples
Designing a web interface using pixel-style artwork is relatively obscure compared to modern trends. You really need to dig through a handful of websites on the Internet to find some good examples; it’s hard but not impossible.
In this article I’ve collected a mega-compilation of everything you’ll need for pixel-based website design. There are dozens of healthy tutorials for beginners and experts alike. I’ve also included some handy tools and resources which you can play around with to explore the topic further. If you’re at all interested in video game graphics or isometric pixel artwork then you will love this collection.
Recommended Reading: 30 Excellent Pixel Art Tutorials For Pixel Lovers
These are some unique development resources for web scripts and digital graphics. As you delve into creating pixel-website layouts you won’t always feel the need to follow everything to the dot. This collection of web-based resources may very well come in handy time and time again.
I have grown accustomed to working with open source code. That’s why finding a jQuery plugin like Spritely is always an exciting situation. You can include this script into your website for quick dynamic sprite animation and scrolling backgrounds.
The current stable release version is 0.6.1 which is moderately updated. The animation effects are compatible with Opera, Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 6+. Also any smartphone browsers running on Android or iOS should render perfectly.
This is a powerful open source sprite script developed by Matías Martínez. FatPixels only requires the jQuery library to run properly. Although I would say that Spritely is a more complex animation library, FatPixels does have a niche in the market for web developers.
You can easily build animated sprites without creating a .gif image. In fact, you’ll be able to export all the images as .jpg, and create a queue of sprites for one long animated effect. The FatPixels homepage has an excellent demo along with the block of jQuery code used to build it. If you’re looking for something lightweight to animate your sprites then FatPixels is the way to go.
When using the word "sprite" there are a couple of different meanings to it. Video game characters or animated sprites are generally smaller images rendered with very few pixels. However in CSS, the term sprite refers to a single image which acts as a sheet of icons for your website.
The reason you should use a single sprite sheet instead of individual images is to cut down on server resources. It’s much quicker to download a larger image holding all your icons instead of many smaller but separate images. But putting all these icons together in Photoshop can be a real hassle; not even necessarily difficult, just repetitive and time consuming.
Thankfully the SmartSprites CSS Generator is a fantastic resource for this situation. You can quickly generate a pixel-perfect sheet with all your images in either GIF or PNG format. Additionally you can quickly determine what your
background-position x/y coordinates should be for each individual icon.
Designing a good set of repeating background images is very difficult. It can take days before you can create seamless images. But thankfully there are resources online for downloading free background tiles.
The Squidfingers Patterns gallery is one such resource. It offers over 150 different pixel-style patterns which you can download and use on your projects. The styles are very dynamic and colorful, and for such a variety, it’s an excellent resource to keep handy. The download links are in .zip format which makes them smaller and easier to transfer between computers.
I cannot say enough great things about The Spriters Resource. It’s a website where you can search through all the various gaming systems for sprite sheets. These can include maps, buildings, menu screens, character sprites, icons, and pretty much anything!
They have been online since 2001 and the catalog of video games has grown tremendously. There is a whole community behind TSR with graphic designers who can rip these different gaming sprites. If you’re interested in any form of video game design or online fansites, you’ll have to check out this amazing gallery.
Even more interesting are some of the sister websites which spawned off TSR. Gaming fans also helped with ripping base textures and rendering character models. Overall it’s a really great community very supportive of working with sprites in digital artwork.
This is a really cool web app which doesn’t provide an essential value, but it’s definitely neat. 400 Pixels lets you create a pixel document online and store the image in their grid. The site is designed in a similar fashion to the million dollar homepage with each picture taking up a square block in the overall image.
You can play around in their web interface creating some really goofy artwork. It’s not something you’ll pick up right away, but it is fun to play with once you get the hang of it. And it’s a nice tool that you can work with from any computer which has Internet access.
In a similar vein as 400 Pixels you can use Major Output as a personal online studio for pixel artwork. It’s still in the early stages of development, but all the core user functionality is already available. You can register for a free account and start creating pixel art right away.
Each image is stored locally on their servers which you can hotlink on websites and forums. Many of the images are open to the public and you can check them out by clicking through different authors or tags. There is also a search box, but I feel the quality of search results isn’t always great.
Major Output seems like another community tool that’s fun to know about, but probably can’t offer much education value for pixel artists.
On halfshag.com you’ll find a very bizzare isometric pixel art webapp. For an online tool, pixelArt is a very powerful example of a browser-based software. Some of the older archives are simply mind-blowing when you consider how these bits of artwork are created. If you have an interest in anything isometric then give this resource a few minutes of your time.
Clicking the "Get Started" link will launch the tool on a new popup window. Register a new account, or login to an existing one, before starting on a project. Alternatiely, you can try out the demo as a guest, but you won’t be able to save any work or export designs. Registration is totally free so it’s worthwhile to create an account if you’re interested.
Now that you have the resources, let’s take a look at the tutorials provided by the many education centers and helpful blog posts scattered throughout the Internet. I have put together a small set of really handy pixel art tutorials for beginners and intermediate designers. Many of these tutorials gear focus towards Adobe Photoshop, but you can follow along with nearly any advanced image editor.
Obviously there are tens of hundreds of pixel-sprite tutorials on Google but this particular tutorial on Derek Yu’s website goes through many different steps in educating how you create pixel sprites. Much of the process has been streamlined and explained in a way that allow beginners to quickly jump into the action.
Video game fans will love this tutorial since you get a behind-the-scenes peek at creating these specific graphics. I love finding a website layout with video game pixel artwork littered throughout the design. It provides a unique sense of nostalgia, and it’s something you don’t find everywhere. Anybody looking to create their own pixel sprites for whatever reason can start on Derek’s 10-step tutorial series.
Here is another perfect tutorial geared towards beginners in the field of pixel artwork. The blog post is written by Brandon Treb who is a fantastic designer and mobile developer. You can find all sorts of useful information in this detailed guide to pixel-based Photoshop art.
You must know how to setup preferences in Photoshop so that your pixel artwork will not appear awkward or lose quality when you export. You may be surprised to learn much customization is required to really get a nice picture quality.
Here is another amazing tutorial full of techniques for hand-drawn pixel art in Photoshop. This collection of pixel art techniques is simply astonishing. Anybody who skims through the content will most likely find something they hadn’t known before.
There are detailed explanations about creating texture on grass and bark; also on how to clone pixel artwork that you’ve drawn and turn it into an icon design. It all comes down to practice and precision in every area. Those who are truly passionate will stick it through and within a few months find a solid technique for their pixel-style ideas.
Here’s one tutorial from Smashing Magazine on how to code a gaming portfolio with CSS/JS which utilized many sprites from the Pokemon game series. The author is Daniel Sternlicht who also happens to run his personal portfolio on this gaming-based layout.
The website acts as an RPG world where you control a character sprite with the keyboard. You can enter different buildings which then bring up information such as contact details and portfolio entries.
This small website gas13.ru has some of the most eccentric and professional pixel tutorials I’ve ever seen. In the isometric pool tutorial you’re introduced to creating shiny blocks and water texture. Additionally you’ll find resources for all the other isometric pixel tuts in the sidebar.
There’s so much to learn: you can design a storefront, pixel sprite, or even detailed textures for video games and website backgrounds. I’m not sure if this author is still actively publishing content, but the existing articles are more than enough for beginners to learn the basics.
Now that I’m listing all the best pixel tutorials I would definitely include this right towards the beginning. This whole tutorial on pixel artwork is a great follow-up article to newbies. You’ll be introduced from the very beginning to open source software like GIMP or Paint.NET.
You’ll learn how to export images and the many facets of pixel design such as dithering and anti-aliasing. There are so many different techniques to follow along with. You should pick up some design ideas by looking into retro 8-bit and 16-bit video games.
Author Kevin Chaloux credits Derek Yu’s pixel sprite tutorial (listed earlier) and mentions that this as a source of inspiration when he first got started.
Web designers often forget that a favicon (favorite icon) image is a huge part of any branding scheme. All the most popular websites can be recognized by their 16×16 favicon. When you are working with such a limited canvas, you are forced to deal with pixel-dense artwork and illustrations. This favicon tutorial from OXP does an excellent job of combining both ideas.
From this tut, you can understand why pixel art is so beneficial when creating favicons. There are also tools and solid techniques for exporting an .ico file. Also included is a small showcase of popular favicons from around the Web.
This is another resource which I feel can benefit all web designers. It’s empowering to educate yourself on creating a favicon and working with strict pixel limitations.
I’d like to close up the article with a nice gallery of pixel-styled website designs. I’ve included 40 examples of various layouts with many diverse artistic visions. The trend of pixelated artwork is only just beginning to re-emerge within mainstream websites. I hope this distinct showcase of pixel sites can offer a source of inspiration for web developers all around the world.
Author: Jake Rocheleau
Jake is a user experience designer for both web and mobile platforms. Having over 4 years of freelance projects under his belt, he frequently writes articles on topics of modern design trends and social media. You can check out some of his work on Dribbble or follow his tweets @jakerocheleau.