I work in the game industry for a living, and the graphic art tool we most often use is, probably not surprisingly, Photoshop.  So when I’m at work and I mention that I do my art using the GIMP, I get a range of looks from shock to disgust.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a strong desire to drop $700 on a piece of software just to make a little bit of art here and there.  🙂

Using the Tools

Most of what I do is pixel art.  There are a couple settings and tools that make this pretty painless.

Drawing is done primarily using the Pencil Tool (hotkey being N).  This gives me a hard-edged brush, which prevents artifacts from appearing around the edges of transparent objects.  Knowing exactly what colors your pixels are is important less from a palette standpoint with modern hardware (though it still can be a consideration if you’re color-keying your transparency), and more from a stylistic standpoint.  The more distinct colors you have in a bitmap, the muddier it seems to get.  I like to try and at least pretend like I’m working within the context of a ~16 color palette, even if I’m not.  Again, more of a style thing.

Sometimes I’ll blend colors together by turning down the opacity of the brush and painting with it, but more often than not I use the color picker directly.  I normally lay a few colors out like a palette off to the side of where I’m working.

If I make large-scale changes to colors, I do it using the Select by Color Tool (hotkey Shift-O), and either paint over the canvas using a large Pencil brush, or using the Bucket Fill Tool (hotkey Shift-B).  With most of these tools, it’s vitally important to ensure that Antialiasing is unchecked, and Threshold is set to zero.

One of the other most important tools I use is the Rectangle Select Tool (hotkey R).  The rectangle selection area has handles on its outside to adjust its extents.  Really helpful when you’re selecting areas you want to be perfect sizes like 32×32 or 16×16 or what-have-you.  Though generally speaking for those cases, I use the fixed-size property available to make the selection box the size I want.

Suppose it’s worth mentioning that the Eraser Tool (hotkey Shift-E) is also vitally important, but only as long as Hard Edge is set.  When you’re zoomed in, you can tell that Hard Edge isn’t set because the outline won’t snap to the edges of pixels.

The eraser is so important because I work using a lot of layers.  I generally have a transparent layer, a backdrop layer (with a neutral color that’s along the lines of the color that my sprites/tiles would be showing up against), and then as many layers as I need while I’m working.

Making Art Into Assets

I save all of my working files as the GIMP’s native .xcf file format so that I don’t lose any information, but it’s not a format that’s useful to most practical purposes.  The ‘export pipeline’ I use from GIMP is as simple as:

  1. Hide ‘work’ layers.  (Backdrop, palette, etc)
  2. “Save As Copy…” to wherever my build pipeline looks for source data.

Easy peasy!