Best Pixel Art Software For All OS’ (Mac, Windows & Linux)
TipsPixel ArtWritten by Josh PettyDisclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you buy something we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Our recommendations are not purely influenced by commissions(learn more)
Pixel art has seen a big resurgence in popularity. New generations of artists and designers have taken up the digital brush to create modern pixel art masterpieces.
And as popularity for the pixel has grown, so has the number of tools for making it.
Choosing which tools you want to learn can be a challenge. So to help you decide which program to pick we’ve compiled a list of the best software for creating pixel art.
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to expand your skills, our guide will help you find the best pixel art software to fit with your needs.
Price: $9.99/mo Platforms: Mac, Windows
Adobe Photoshop is the leading software for graphics editing & digital painting.
It should come as no surprise that it’s also a popular choice among pixel artists. While not made specifically for pixel art, Photoshop contains all the tools necessary to create professional quality pixel art and animations(and so much more).
Photoshop can be somewhat cumbersome for beginners as it is feature-heavy.
If you plan to create high resolution images or textures then it’s worth it to start in Photoshop so your skills are concentrated in one program. This is much better than having to learn multiple workflows for many different programs.
One of the biggest benefits to Photoshop is the volume of resources available.
There’s a tutorial for pretty much anything you could image as well as free scripts and plugins for even more flexibility.
If you’re working towards a career in game development or design then it’s worth noting Photoshop is an industry standard. Having knowledge of the software will be a big help in landing a gig at a studio.
But this is also nice if you just want to make your own indie pixel art for fun. Photoshop really is the bee’s knees for brilliant pixel art.
Krita is a free and open source professional painting program aimed at digital painters, cartoonists, illustrators, and concept artists.
With some minor configuration changes Krita can be used for beautiful & professional pixel art.
Because the program is tailor-made for painters, many artists will find the workflow is very natural and easy to learn.
Krita is perfect for those with a traditional background in painting who want to transition into digital art. In 2015 the Krita community crowdfunded for an animation feature making it fully capable of adding motion into your pixel artwork.
While not as feature-rich as Photoshop or GIMP, Krita has many tools that you won’t find in programs dedicated to pixel art creation alone.
Depending on your needs this may be a benefit.
If you’re looking for a program that can handle both pixel art and high-resolution illustration work, and even animation, then Krita might be exactly what you’re looking for.
When it comes to a digital painting program Krita is hard to match—especially for the price of free.
On the other hand, Krita’s documentation is lackluster or missing in some areas, especially those features that have been recently added. Although you can find plenty of great tutorials online for free.
As a niche tool it also lacks the robust communities that you’ll find around some other software.
But with its easy-to-use and customizable layout Krita is solid choice for beginners and experienced artists alike.
GIMP is an open source image editor probably best known as the “free alternative” to Photoshop.
It boasts a powerful set of general image editing tools and painting tools.
Because of the easy-to-use layout and highly customizable interface, GIMP is a popular choice for artists of all backgrounds and styles.
GIMP comes with all the tools you’ll need to make professional pixel art. There’s even a built-in timeline and animation player much like Photoshop.
This makes it a great choice for those who are looking for a one-size-fits-all solution to image editing. It will be easy to transfer your pixel art skills to photo manipulation and graphic design if you choose to do so.
Because of its popularity GIMP enjoys the support of a large community of creators and you’ll find plenty of tutorials for the program as well as a plethora of plugins to suit your needs.
It’s a great choice for those on a budget looking for something that can handle pixel art along with image editing, painting, graphics design, and more.
Aseprite is a very popular and highly recommended program designed for pixel art.
It’s well worth the $15 price tag for the final software. But those with some tech skills will be happy to learn that Aseprite is available for free if you’re willing to compile it yourself.
Now Aseprite is popular for good reason.
Many artists love the streamlined interface and pixel art aesthetic. It’s a lightweight but fully capable program that is extremely easy to learn.
It comes with features like onion skinning – the ability to overlay frames before and after the one you’re working on – that make animation a breeze. And the timeline itself is very accessible for beginners.
Aseprite can also automatically convert fonts to pixel art which is very handy for game development and user interface design.
There is a wrapping tool that makes it crazy easy to design tiles so that they repeat on the edges. This is a big deal in pixel art.
Aseprite has some of the best sprite sheet exporting tools I’ve seen in any software, making it a must-try for those who are serious about creating pixel art for video games.
Pyxel Edit is another popular program beloved by pixel artists worldwide.
It’s known for its ease-of-use and user-friendly interface. While there is a free version available out there, it lacks many of the features that make Pyxel Edit a worthy choice.
The elegant interface is a big selling point for Pyxel Edit.
The program contains all the features necessary for creating static and animated images, including animation onion skinning which lets you overlay sequential frames in your pixel art.
At only $9 Pyxel Edit may be the perfect choice for those working with a low budget.
Pyxel Edit is best known for its powerful tileset creation tools.
Working with tilemaps can be a tedious process for any artist, but Pyxel Edit is here to help with a set of tools designed to speed up the workflow. Tilesets can be easily imported and exported or converted to XML or JSON filetypes for use in game engines.
Game designers working on multiple tilemaps might find that Pyxel Edit saves them a lot of time and hassle. It’s just a great tool for anyone serious about(or getting into) pixel art.
GraphicsGale has an old-school aesthetic to the GUI. But don’t let that fool you since it packs quite a punch!
Not only is it available for free, but it comes with all the features you’d expect from a program dedicated to pixel art.
It supports drawing, animation, layering, palette control, and much more.
GraphicsGale can export to several file formats too. It can handle both GIFs and sprite sheets making the program flexible enough to fit most workflows.
With GraphicsGale you can preview your animations in real time, which can greatly speed up the animation process if you’re into that kinda thing.
Another great feature is the ability to import images directly from a scanner or a camera using TWAIN imaging. This is great for artists who prefer to lay out their ideas on paper and then digitize them.
Unfortunately GraphicsGale is only available on Windows. It’s also missing some hotkey support compared to other programs.
This could be a problem for some artists but if you’re on a Windows machine then GraphicsGale is worth checking out.
GrafX2 is a bitmap image editor inspired by Amiga Deluxe Paint. The original version was released over 20 years ago but the source code was later released as an open source project.
It has since been rebooted for contemporary machines and updated with brand new features.
GrafX2 is a fan favorite not only because of its retro origins, but because it boasts a powerful toolset and an intuitive interface.
It has everything you’d expect in a drawing program plus many unique features that make it a popular choice for artists.
There’s a “Spline” tool which allows for drawing perfect curves and a “Merge” tool which merges colors based on averages.
The “Histogram” tool will show a pallet of all colors used in an image and how many pixels they populate.
GrafX2 is scriptable in Lua which allows for automation and custom functionality. It also has features for working with repeat tilesets.
Because of its age, GrafX2 also has a large community and plenty of learning resources on sites like YouTube.
Not only does GrafX2 have a wide set of tools and effects, but its supports frame animation as well.
And despite having so many features GrafX2 is very easy to learn. Beginners can be up and running in a matter of hours. The software is also totally open sourced meaning it’s free to use, copy, and modify on all platforms.
The only complaints I’ve seen of GrafX2 is that the user interface looks ancient.
Personally I find the retro aesthetic charming and suitable to the art of pixel design, but that’s just me. Even with that drawback, the amount of features you get with this free program make it a must-try for any pixel artist.
iDraw is another simple pixel art editor that is mostly used by the RPG Maker community.
It comes with all the basic features you’d expect: selection tools, drawing tools, a customizable palette, etc. iDraw is popular among pixel artist who work mainly in the JRPG style that was popular in the 90’s.
Many years ago it was not unusual to see people using pirated copies of RPG Maker 2003 and iDraw to create their own RPG’s with custom sprites.
Now that RPG Maker 2003 has been revamped and released on Steam for $5 bucks, I suspect some users will want to download iDraw to complete their nostalgia.
As far as pixel art editors go, iDraw isn’t bad. But it lacks modern features for animation and the user interface is clearly dated.
This will probably turn off a lot of newcomers looking for a more contemporary program.
On the plus side, the RPG Maker community is alive and still going strong. So you’ll find tutorials for using these programs together all over YouTube.
I expect to see a bunch of these old-school RPG’s as people rediscover the joys of RPG Maker with iDraw.
Tile Studio is a graphics editor made for tile-based game art.
It contains a bitmap editor for creating tiles as well as a level editor for designing tile maps. Tile Studio will work with just about any programming language and can be customized to output maps, animation sequences, bitmaps, and color palettes to use with your own code.
This makes Tile Studio especially useful for level designers and game studios.
The program is open source and available for free on Windows.
With Tile Studio you can import tiles for existing images making it possible to reuse tiles from other programs. While the level editor is the main draw here, it also contains a fully capable bitmap editor complete with drawing tools and special effects.
Creating animations is easy and intuitive although it lacks some features compared to bigger programs.
After creating your frames you have the options of exporting them as either a sprite sheet or a tile sequence, which can be super handy for game developers.
While most of Tile Studio’s features are easy to use, some of the advanced tools can be difficult for beginners. Luckily the documentation is detailed and complete with tutorials to get you up to speed.
If you’re looking for a program designed to make tile-based level design as painless as possible then Tile Studio may be just what you’re looking for.
Piko Pixel is a free and open source application for creating pixel art on Mac and Linux.
The program is both easy to use and offers several features including a customizable canvas, unlimited undos, hotkey-activated popup panels, and layering.
It’s a good alternative to some of the Windows-only programs in the pixel art world.
While there are a few demos available to help you get started, the interface is so simple that I doubt you’ll need them.
Everything is self-explanatory and uncomplicated. This is very common with Mac programs but I’m surprised how well it works on Linux too.
While it lacks the advanced features of other pixel art programs, Piko can produce quality graphics in the right hands. Decent for beginners but maybe a little better for semi-experienced pixel artists.
Pixilart is much more than a drawing app. It/s marketed as a free online social platform for creative minds and game enthusiasts who want to learn about creating digital art.
It boasts over 10,000 new users a month, offers art contests, and provides a strong community geared toward getting young people involved in game design.
Founded in 2013, Pixilart set out to become THE social networking site for pixel art enthusiasts.
Even without the social aspect, Pixilart is worth checking out.
The drawing app is a delight to use with a sleek and modern interface. It packs all the basic features you’d expect from a pixel art program as well as some advanced tools like pixel-perfect drawing, easy dithering, frame animation, pixel text support, full screen mode, an autosave feature, and so much more.
With a plethora of settings and options Pixelart is highly customizable to suit any workflow.
Despite being geared to children and beginners, Pixelart is capable of professional work too.
In fact some pro artists will love the simplicity of the design. And because of the social aspect of the application it’s easy to find help others.
Also there’s tooltips you can toggle to guide your learning in case you’re having trouble.
Overall I found Pixelart to be one of the most impressive web-based pixel art apps available. I highly recommend it to beginners and advanced users alike.
Josh is an artist and game developer who specializes in sci-fi, fantasy, and abstract art. His work employs vibrant colors and combines elements of glitch art, outrun, retro-gamming, neo-geo, and conceptual art. He trained as an oil painter before picking up 3D modeling, animation, and programming. He now runs Brain Jar, a small game development studio that focuses on experimental, narrative-driven content. You can learn more on the website or on Twitter @brainjargames.