A pixel is a dot that is the smallest part of any digital image. Digital images can be made up of a few pixels or millions, depending on the size of the images and their resolutions. Early video and computer game graphics were typically created with pixel art, which is a type of digital art in which each pixel is colored and shaded to build a larger image. Pixel artists work in this digital medium, usually with specialized raster software that allows them to easily work with one pixel at a time.
Most 2D pixel artist jobs today are for those who want to create graphics for such products as cell phones and other devices that use lower resolution images. These are two-dimensional images, instead of the three-dimensional images that have become more common in video games today. There are also pixel artist jobs for those who prefer to work with vector software instead of raster graphics programs. Vector programs also use pixels, but they create the artwork in a different way.
A freelance pixel artist who creates icons, images or moving graphics for a game, for instance, may build the images a pixel at a time with raster software. Vector software uses mathematic formulas that represent points, shapes, lines and angles to create the image instead. A photograph can be used as a reference to create pictures in this type of software. Both types of graphic rendering have their uses, and both can even be used to create parts of the same image. A pixel artist who works only with raster software will typically be creating more primitive designs instead of pictures that look photorealistic.
Pixels are square, so without color dithering and anti-aliasing, many lines will often show rough edges and corners. This effect can be seen in early video game graphics, wherein smooth curves were rare. A pixel artist can use dithering, which is the gradual change of shade in rows of pixels, to create a smoother look. Anti-aliasing features in the software also do this by blending the color outward to minimize harsh lines and give the lines in the image a more natural look.
Since most 2D pixel artists jobs are for low-resolution graphics creations, someone who can create line art may be a good candidate for this medium. Most of these graphics start with basic computer line drawings. Each pixel is then filled in to create the overall effect. All digital imaging requires the use of pixels, so a graphic designer who is proficient in basic pixel art may be able to learn other methods of rendering and expand into 3D modeling and other forms of digital image creation.