I would like to create pixel art graphics for an iPhone game on my mac, and I'm wondering what are some good programs I should look into.


11 Answers 11


I think the main features you're after are:

  1. Being able to paint with a non-antialiased pencil or brush.
  2. Nearest neighbour scaling (keep blocky things blocky when you scale).
  3. Non-antialiased selections.
  4. Layers.
  5. Being able to export the formats you'll need (PNG? GIF?).

Based on that criteria, there’s a few tools that can do it. Pixen is awesome, and worth investigating:

I'd also highly recommend Photoshop, predominately using the Pencil Tool — it does exactly what you're after, letting you paint non-antialiased pixels easily. It also has some other tools that might be handy, like posterisation.

Acorn would be my second option on the Mac. It has a pencil tool that's similar to Photoshop, as well as nearest neighbour scaling (if you need it). It's also far cheaper and available on the Mac App Store, if that's a concern.

Both Photoshop and Acorn have the full list of features above.

2023 update: Definitely check out Aseprite.



When evaluating graphics software for pixel art this is the kind of tools I'm looking for:

Pixel Art Tools

The most well known software that is also great for pixel art is Photoshop.

If you don't have access to it and are looking for the next best alternative, look at GIMP. I've been happily using it on Macs since around 2010 and it has everything you need for pixel art. Best of all, it's free and open source!

Here's a tutorial I made about setting up GIMP for pixel art that should come useful:

Gimp Pixel Art Tutorial

When comparing Photoshop vs Gimp on pixel art grounds the capabilities are 99% leveled out. You really need to go into details to find some differences:


  • line drawing guide
  • precise grid settings (+ saved into file format)
  • low-level GIF animation control
  • indexed colors with layers


  • better animation tools
  • more intuitive user interface
  • adjustment filters (useful for advanced techniques such as HD indexed painting)

But these are really minor points that don't matter that much. You'll be able to create any pixel art you desire in both.


PikoPixel is a free pixel-art editor.

tools popup        screenshot

  • Easy to use
  • Unlimited undo
  • Supports multiple layers
  • Customizable canvas background
  • Hotkey-activated popup panels
  • Export upscaled images
  • Runs on OS X 10.4 Tiger & later

ASESPRITE is good, in my opinion. The free version is quite capable, and it has a pixel-arty feel, but if you can spare $10, the full version is very good

  • 4
    Hi Luis, welcome to GD.SE! Asesprite does look good, but do you think you can maybe add some information about it in the answer? (For example: Have you used it? If so, why did you find it better than others?). We try to include as much in the answers as we can :)
    – Yisela
    Commented Jul 31, 2013 at 20:34
  • Hi @Yisela ! Mea culpa. I did use it a lot back then. I loved the transformation tool. I mean, I found it useful for the things I was doing. I'm sure for other people won't fulfill their needs. But don't believe me, ask the community !! Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 18:24

Take a look at Sketch. It has made big strides toward being your next favorite UI tool.

It's vector based but supports raster export. It supports a pixel preview mode similar to Illustrator but I think it does a better job with the vector to pixel output conversion overall.

enter image description here

  • 6
    Sketch is pretty much the exact opposite of what you’d want to build pixel art in. Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 2:57
  • I still prefer the flexibility of creating art in vector and exporting to pixel. Especially with the quality of today's display panels.. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 19:17
  • 1
    Nothing could be less useful for creating pixel art.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 21:53
  • @JoeBlow 'nothing could be less useful' < Pretty strong claim. Why the hate? I can think of plenty of things that are worse. It may not be right for every project, but it has a fantastic export model and a very intuitive UI. In fact, it's gotten dramatically better since I posted this over 2 years ago. Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 22:51
  • 1
    I use Sketch for pixel art pretty regularly, as you can map vectors 1:1 with pixels, resize, re-render at various sizes, and build objects out of primitives. I also use tools like Pixen, but vector tools have their place in pixel art too. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 0:18

There are so many good software to work around.

If you can afford adobe you should go for Photoshop and fireworks they both works awesome for pixels.

You can check these links also they are dedicated to complete game pixel work...


I love using PyxelEdit, it gives me everything I need without the size and weight of PhotoShop. Among the great features are: animation, spritesheet export, tileset importing, layers... check it out here.

The Price is small and it runs on any system that supports Adobe Air. There is an older (free) version for testing.

Cheers rikki.o

  • 1
    Hi rikki.o, welcome to GDSE and thanks for your answer. If you have any questions, please see the help center or ping one of us in the Graphic Design Chat once your reputation is sufficient (20). Keep contributing and enjoy the site!
    – Vincent
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 12:26

Some Options:

  • Adobe Fireworks (my recommendation if you can afford it)
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Pixelmator (though a lack of nearest neighbor scaling is a big detriment)
  • The Gimp
  • Pixen (looks like it's designed just for pixel art)

There is always a free alternative Paint.NET. It is essentially MSPaint but with great many tools borrowed from PS and other image editing applications.

It has an option to use Anti-Aliased or Pixeled edges.

I always have it since it's light weight and has some good options, that other programs either don't have and/or are difficult to execute.

  • 1
    Paint.NET isn’t available for macOS. Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 0:05

If you're looking for a tool to pixelate existing images into a specific size, I can recommend Pixel Ate Me for macOS.


You can also use BobSprite that is a browser based sprite editor excelent for pixel art. And has very interesting effects.

enter image description here

I am affiliated with this tool.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.