How to use The Gimp to make pixel art from any image


I’m always fascinated by pixel art. You can think of it as a mosaic, or as a close look at early gaming graphics. It catches my eye and that’s why I’m getting ready to do a pixel art project to hang in my house. But to do so I really needed a plan to work from. In this tutorial I’ll show you the way that I use the open source image editing software called Gimp to make a digital version of what I plan to reproduce in real life.

For this demonstration I used a drawing of Samus Aran from the Metroid game series. This was just a convenient image I used as a test. You can find the original at Only HD Wallpapers but beware that they have some pretty intrusive pop-up ads.

the-grue-pixellate-slidesGimp is good at this sort of task because it is a full-featured piece of software. It allows you to limit the number of colors, which is important if you’re going to be hand assembling something from the resulting digital image. It will also let you try out different colors based on what you have to work with.

My tutorial covers a few different techniques. You can use the Pixelize filter built-into The Gimp. I show you how but ultimately chose not to do this because I didn’t think the results looked the best.

The other method I use is to change the image to an indexed mode. This limits the number of colors used; I went with just twelve. The software will select the best twelve colors based on what’s in the original picture. I also resize the image, matching the number of pixels I plan to use in my upcoming art project. You will get different results by scaling first then indexing the image versus doing things the other way around. Try out both to see what you like best.

The final tool which you should consider is the ability to export your image as a header file. As I explain in the video, this results in a long list of numbera corresponding to your color palette. You have to reassemble the list into the width and height of your image (it defaults to 16 pixels wide) but once you do each pixel will have a number corresponding to one color in your palette. In other words, if you use twelve colors each pixel will have a number between 0 and 11 — just like paint by numbers!

Keep watching The Grue for an update where I’ll use an image created in this way as a guide for my real life art project.

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1 Response

  1. Jeremy Cook says:

    Really cool idea. I use GIMP all the time, but hadn’t really fooled with this technique.

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