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Chapter 1: The Right Tools
Bad news: you don't draw a single pixel in this chapter! (And this isn't a reason to skip it, right?) If there's one saying I can't stand, it's that "there are no bad tools, only bad workers. Indeed, I think there could be nothing further from the truth (except maybe that "that which does not kill makes you stronger"), and the pixel-art is very good evidence. This tutorial aims to introduce you to various software used to make pixel-art and help you choose the right program.
1. Any old thing
When selecting software to make pixel-art, people often think: "Choosing software? That's crazy talk! All we need to make pixel-art is paint!" Tragic mistake: I was talking about bad tools, here is one. Paint has one advantage (and only one): you already have it if you're running Windows. On the other hand, it has boatloads of disadvantages. This is a (non-exhaustive) list:
* You can't open more than one file at a time
* No palette management
* No layers or transparency
* No non-rectangular selections
* Few keyboard shortcuts
* Terrible ergonomics
In short, you can forget about Paint. Now we'll look at some real software.
People then thing: "Well ok, Paint is far too limited for me, so I'll use my friend Photoshop (or Gimp or PaintShopPro, it's the same thing), which have thousands of possibilities." This may be a good or a bad thing: if you already know one of these programs, you can make pixel-art (by disabling all the options for automatic anti-aliasing and shutting down most of the program's advanced functionality). If you don't already know how to use these programs, then you'll spend a long time trying to learn them even though you don't need all the functionality, which will be a complete waste of time. In short, if you've already use Photoshop / PSP for a long time, you can make pixel-art (I personally use Photoshop out of habit), but otherwise it;s much better to use a program that specializes in pixel art. Yes, they do exist.
3. The Cream of the Crop
Programs dedicated to pixel art are more numerous than one might think, but we'll only cover the best here. They all have very similar features (palette management, preview repeating tiles, transparency, layers, etc, etc.). The difference lies in usability ... and price.
Charamaker 1999 is a nice program, but the distribution seems to have stopped.
Graphics Gale is a lot more readable and easy to use, and it comes for a price of around $20, which isn't too bad. That said, the trial version isn't time limited, and comes with enough options to make perfectly good graphics. The only thing it leaves out is .gif image management, which isn't much of a problem, since .png is better anyway.
The software most often used by professional pixel artists is Pro-Motion, which is (apparently) more ergonomic and faster than Graphicsgale. Ah yes, it's expensive! You can purchase the full version for the modest sum of ... 50 € ($ 78).
Let us not forget our friends on the Mac! Pixen is a good program available for the Macintosh, and it's free. Unfortunately, I can't tell you more because I don't have a Mac. Translator's note: Linux users (and, for that matter, everyone else) should check out JDraw, and GrafX2. I urge you to try them all of the demo versions and see which one suits you best ergonomically. Ultimately it's a matter of taste. Just be aware that once you get used to a program, it can be very difficult to switch to something else.