Pixel Art – Spider-Man 16×16

Pixel Art "Spider-man" by Chris Sanyk 16x16


  1. I’m less happy with this one than I was with Batman or Superman. I think it is recognizable as Spider-man, but only just.
  2. If this figure were doing Spider-Man like things, like web swinging or wall crawling, it would still work. But, just standing there, you might not recognize who he’s supposed to be.
  3. A lot of the details in his costume are not able to be represented at this resolution.
    1. The fine linework needed for the web pattern on the red part of his suit is not possible.
    2. I can’t even do a decent spider emblem for the chest.
    3. And there aren’t enough pixels at 16×16 to allow for proper eyes.
    4. Adding any of these would make the costume instantly more recognizable.

Once enlarged to 512×512, it becomes tempting to put in some of the detail that was impossible at lower resolution. Sometimes, enhancing a pixel art drawing with a little bit of fine detail this way can work, but you have to be extremely careful with how you implement fine details.

You have to pick a small number of details to implement, or else the pixel-art nature of the drawing becomes lost. Remember, pixel art is not about details! It is about suggesting and implying details.

And you have to consistently apply the details you choose to include in a way that doesn’t make it stand out as “breaking the grid” of your 16×16 image. You don’t want to go too fine with the sub-grid pixels. If you can’t achieve what you want at half-grid, you probably are not going to be able to pull it off — better to re-do the whole thing at half-grid. A 32×32 version of this with a little less chunky-ness would be interesting to attempt. As would putting in some half-grid details on this enlargement of the 16×16 drawing.

So… Let’s see it.

Pixel Art - Spider-Man by Chris Sanyk - details experiment

Well, I think I like this a bit better. Here’s the approach I took to getting things looking right.

  1. Start in 16×16 resolution and once you’re at a point where you can go no further at that level of detail, only then do you consider dropping down to a higher resolution level.
  2. Before doing so, identify the details that you feel are missing and essential. That way, you don’t go overboard with detail once you get to a resolution where you can actually do it. Too much detail will ruin the chunky low res base that you started with — if you want to do that, just start over and do the whole thing starting at the higher res point. In this case, I decided that the spider emblem on the chest and the eyes were the critical missing details.
  3. Now you’re ready to put in those details. Resize the image from 16×16 to 32×32, and try to put them in now with the pencil. Again, take the same minimalist approach to implying or hinting at the detail. Don’t try to draw the detail, draw the impression it gives at this resolution.
  4. In this case, the eyes come out nicely as two half-pixels (relative to the size of the 16×16 grid) that overlap each other.
  5. The spider emblem is just a block of darker red with some legs hinted at. Note that it is not symmetrical! I skewed the placement of the legs a bit, which helps avoid it looking like a geometric shape, and allows the mind to fill in the spider.

I also tried going down a further level of detail and put a black outline around the eyes, but I didn’t like it. Knowing when you should stop adding details is key.

Of course, now that I’ve done this, if I wanted to use Spidey next to Batman and Superman, I’ll want to go back and revisit Bats and Supes and make sure that they are given the equivalent attention to details as well. This means probably adding some detail to their chest logos, and maybe adding eyes to the Batman’s cowl. Keeping balance and consistency between different characters is just as important as getting them right individually.

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