Nostalgic computer users may remember a time when pixel art was the technology of the day. As the name suggests, pixel-art packages enabled you to draw bitmap images pixel by pixel. Afternoons would be wasted creating shadows and gradients, whole days could be spent anti-aliasing edges. With modern image processors this painstaking approach has largely been abandoned. Still, pixel-art images have a distinct look that Photoshop filters can’t reproduce – a look that still has something of a cult following. That’s why we’re looking at Pixen, a deliberately primitive bitmap drawing tool.
Remember MacPaint – the bitmap drawing tool that used to ship with the classic version of Mac OS? Well, Pixen is similar to that, except it has fewer drawing tools. Yes, fewer. There are selection, shape, brush, and fill buttons. You can zoom in and out of images and move selections around. That’s just about it on the tool front – but that’s all you need to create pixel art. Pixen concentrates on making the most of what it offers, with a unique toolbox configuration. With a two-button mouse, you can select one tool for each button, making it easy to switch between the two.
Pixen also has a unique colour-management system that allows you to create bespoke palettes. You can continue to edit colours in a drawing after they’ve been applied. The link between document and palette colours remains.
Pixen can also be used to create frame-by-frame animations that can be exported in GIF, QuickTime or sprite sheet formats. It’s ideal for making colourful icons, avatars, buttons and game sprites.
Pixen might not be to everyone’s taste, but for artists with patience and good eyesight, there’s plenty of potential for fun.