An OP Guide to Spriting Portraits

I’m OPleca, that’s what they call me.
As a sprite-based PMD fangame that wishes to Include newer generations, PMU has several custom made, unofficial overworld sprites and portraits of Gen 5+ Pokemon thanks to the efforts and contributions of several other fans. I sprite sometimes too—usually Items or portraits. You can see an example of my work on the latter here and also further In the guide.

Spriting PMD-styled things wasn’t ever something I was Interested In, but what lead me to begin doing so for PMU Is the way some portraits look. Many, to me, don’t look close enough or at all to the nostalgic pixel art we see In PMD portraits. Over time I’ve mostly revamped portraits Instead of making completely new ones for Pokemon that don’t have one yet because I’ve consistently noticed a lot of things It’s best not to do In these portraits. I understand people sprite voluntarily, but PMU Is a public game so I feel we should make a bigger effort to create better quality artwork for It.

Prologue

Before you get started on your journey to becoming as OP as me, we must make some preparations.

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This Is the blank portrait template I use. You should use It too. It’s 40 by 40 pixels; portraits should always be this size. No more, no less.

If you want to make portraits, or any sprites really, it’s expected to have a moderate level of artistic capability and understand how pixel art works, etc. This guide can’t exactly teach you how to draw, but Is an attempt to aid In the making of a PMD-styled mugshot.

My earliest portraits weren’t perfect of course. I find myself making mistakes mentioned In this post and adjusting portraits frequently even to this day and am self-conscious about It , so even with experience getting the style right takes practice and maybe multiple attempts.

What program?!?!

I personally use M(icro)S(oft) Paint. Along with It I use Paint Dot Net for recoloring portraits to shiny or checking the color count, using this plugin ( put the .dll In C:\Program Files\paint.net\Effects ). You can use PDN entirely, not everyone Is accustomed to not having layers. When doing a Pokemon that has forms or gender differences, It’s nice to have them.

Something like GIMP Is fine too, Photopea Is a really good web app close to Photoshop and I’d highly recommend It for animating gifs of overworld sprites ( not that this guide covers that ). You really don’t need programs like Aseprite to be able to make sprites/pixel art. However If you already have them, you’re free to use them instead of what’s recommended here. Just use whatever program you’re comfortable with.

Analysis

To start, let’s find out what exactly makes a portrait “PMD styled”. The thing about portraits Is that even though there’s a rather consistent style, they’ll occasionally deviate from that style a bit. There were probably multiple artists on the Chunsoft team doing these portraits so when I do my portraits I have multiple official ones that I look at and reference.

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I’m lazy and always use the ones shown above rather than different ones each time. You can use these same ones, more, or less. I cannot cover each and every portrait’s differences so picking the portraits to reference for your own Is your choice.

Lineart and Anti-aliasing

I’ll use the word “anti-aliasing” a lot so I’m going to get It out of the way first. It’s the act of putting colors around the lineart and other colors to make things look smooth. Portraits should be more than plain lineart, color, and shading at the most basic level.

This Is Chimecho’s portrait normally:

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Here, I’ve removed the darker colors around Its lineart:

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That kinda sorta looks terrible, doesn’t It? Note that I used the word “darker”. The lighter colors of Its body shading are still around the lineart edges on the Inside of the body, but they are too light In order to simulate smoothing. Some spriters make the mistake of using light colors to anti-alias, seen In this unofficial Whimsicott portrait by Mucrush:

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The colors are just there, not creating the Illusion of anti-aliasing too well. Dark colors should be present on both the Inside and outside edges of the lineart. Many portraits use some of the background colors as part of the anti-aliasing on the outside of the Pokemon. Some only use colors from the Pokemon Itself.

Another mistake often seen on portraits Is using lineart that doesn’t synergize with the Pokemon’s colors at all, like grey or pitch-black.

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In this Image I’ve replaced all the Pokemon’s colors with black besides the one that makes up the general outline. They used a darker/duller shade of the Pokemon’s main body color.

It’s not recommended to give each differently colored body part a different lineart color, nor should the lineart color be too vibrant. Both things are noticeable In this Drampa portrait image and thus It looks off compared to an official portrait.

Zangoose and Pichu’s portraits look weird compared to Houndoom and Delibird’s because the former’s lineart Incorporates anti-aliasing Into It. If I removed another color more of the outline would be lost. In the latter portraits, anti-aliasing Is mostly exclusive to outside the lineart of the Pokemon rather than being part of It. When I make portraits, sometimes I use one color,

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sometimes I don’t,

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I do a little bit of both most of the time. Whether part of the outline uses two colors or not can depend on the Pokemon too.

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Using Pichu as an example again and another one of my own portraits; Pokemon with body parts that are dark/black In their official artwork tend to not have an outline and Instead are colored using the lineart’s color, with anti-aliasing on the outside using color from the shading. This Is common on the eyes and noses of Pokemon, and certain patterns on them.

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Pikachu’s cheeks and back pattern use the color of shading from the body Instead of the main outline, for example.

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Corsola’s lineart Itself has two shades In It, but notably It’s a Pokemon whose pattern Is not the full color. It uses lineart + anti-aliasing to make It work.

When It comes to anti-aliasing, you need to really play around with your colors until It looks good. That said, don’t overdo It or things will just look fuzzy, noticeable on Aurorus’ sail In this old portrait image

Color Count and How It’s Managed

Another thing that determines how a portrait looks Is the amount of colors on the Pokemon. Portraits In the 2D games could only have 15 colors max. This Is not a restriction In PMU, but If you want to make your portrait as realistic as possible, try to stay within the color limit ( when making the shiny version of a portrait though I would Ignore color count ).

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Compare these two portraits. Because Gengar’s entire body Is one color, a lot of colors are dedicated to the shading on It and they utilize the body colors to give the mouth and eyes detail. You’ll also notice how the mouth uses colors from the background Instead of being white, and It actually works well! Meanwhile on Drifblim, It has quite a few more colors. Generally Its portrait doesn’t look as smooth as Gengar’s because of this.

What’s Interesting about both of these portraits Is that colors of the background’s gradient Is removed. Whether you need/want to do this with your portrait Is up to you. Another trick with the background Involves changing colors of It with colors from the Pokemon, as seen on this portrait:

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The middle color of the background uses one of the shades of green from Sceptile. Why they would do this rather than just removing more colors from either the background or the Pokemon ( the darkest shade of yellow on Sceptile probably didn’t need to be there ) confuses me, so again doing this Is up to you. As seen on Gengar’s portrait, using colors from the background on the Pokemon works too and Is done more often. Variety In portraits Isn’t bad since like I said, multiple people worked on Chunsoft’s portraits, so differing portraits only makes sense.

So when doing portraits, don’t go all willy-nilly with the colors. It may look like PMD portraits use a lot of colors, but It’s really just good usage of anti-aliasing. Using way too many colors is one of the most common mistakes…

way, way, WAY too many colors.

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To avoid this, don’t:

–Use a brush tool. Please use a pencil tool or disable anti-aliasing when doing portraits. Automatic anti-aliasing from brush tools will not work. You need to manually do It with your own palette.
–Literally resize official art or 3D portraits. I know that sounds silly, but some people legitimately do this.

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The ones on the bottom were originally In the game. The ones on the top are my remakes. As part of the shiny project I literally redid some portraits entirely because they were low quality and/or used far too many colors to recolor efficiently. Gourgeist’s portrait Is Its Global Link artwork flipped ( noted by how the bang and ahoge are Incorrect… ), resized and edited.

Highlighting

It’s common on portraits for there to be some blotch of a lighter color on the Pokemon’s head, or white shine.

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Sometimes lighting Is simulated through heavy shading In a way as well. Although I can’t always tell what’s supposed to be the regular color of the Pokemon or just the shading/lighting.

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Of course some portraits only have shading with no obvious lighting and call It a day.

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Finally, some rotund Pokemon have bounce lighting/highlighting near the bottom of their bodies, using the lightest shade of the body color.
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By the way, dithering Is something done In coloring for pixel art often, but It’s rarely done In portraits beyond the background which uses dithering for the gradient look.

Choosing Colors

This feels like something small, yet necessary to explain anyway. The hue and saturation of colors varies from the Pokemon. Some Pokemon use colors from their overworld sprite.
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In this Image I’ve put a few Pokemon’s portrait and sprite together. Lopunny’s sprites share multiple colors. Shellder’s doesn’t, but they’re very very similar. Lastly, It’s very clear Wooper’s blue Is vastly different. Eyedropping colors from a fanmade overworld sprite for your portrait probably Isn’t Ideal, because there are multiple different spriters and not everyone chooses adequate colors In their overworld sprites.

Not sure If people explicitly do this but I’ll mention It anyway; fyi, don’t eyedrop colors from Ken Sugimori artwork. He uses really…dusty-like colors that won’t look good compared to other portraits, especially In his lighting and shading on Pokemon. It’s up to your personal judgement as to what would look best since most colors look good as long as It Is true to the Pokemon, referencing the colors of official sprites of Pokemon the same color Is probably the best way to go.

Regarding 3D Portraits/Models

It’s kind of like when I mentioned people resizing 3D portraits or art In that It’s bizarre, but It Isn’t better either.

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These portraits ( which the first three I was decent enough to remake ) are obviously traced from the 3D Super Mystery Dungeon portraits, and In turn look rather bad. You can reference 3D portraits, but don’t copy them. There’s a difference. Don’t copy the poses, don’t copy the shading or the colors—Just. Don’t. Do this. Please.

Even If you were to properly color the portrait with good shading and anti-aliasing, It will still look odd because the general outline Is taken from something three dimensional. 3D does not translate Into 2D. So many Gen 6 portraits are like this for some reason and If I talk about It more I’ll spontaneously combust. I’ve even seen portraits that trace the models from the main series games Instead. Just save us all the eyestrain, alright? A bad portrait that someone will go on to remake Is no better than no portrait Imo.

Conclusion/Wrap Up

  • Always use a portrait size of 40x40 pixels.
  • When anti-aliasing, use the pencil tool. Don’t use brushes.
  • Try to keep portraits at or around 15 total colors.
  • Use colors of the PMD background background as part of a portrait if it applies.
  • DO NOT TRACE 3D PORTRAITS. Don’t trace or copy official artwork.
  • Experiment, take your time. Quality > quantity.

Frequently Thought Questions

Does PMU use flipped portraits or emotions?
–At the moment no.

This guide sucks. Not OP, false advertising.
–That’s not a question! You may or may not be right. Feel free to suggest something I didn’t cover and I could add It In the guide with credit.

Can you help me with/critique a portrait I made?
–I’m a bad critique Imo ( always afraid of coming off as mean <:( ) and prefer personally editing things. If that’s fine with you It’s possible I can assist with a portrait.

Will you make a guide for Items/overworld sprites?
–Items maybe, but Items and overworld sprites go hand-In-hand with their style, and there’s already an old and unfinished but still well made guide for overworld sprites here.

Can you make a portrait for __?
–Lazy so probably not, although I appreciate any Inspiration for portraits to revamp. I don’t do commissions either.

Can I edit/use your portraits for my whatever?
–I’ve considered submitting some of them to SkyTemple’s SpriteBot but I try to put a lot of effort Into my portraits and I would rather not have them turn Into something anyone can take, edit or redistribute even If there’s credit.

Wasn’t there a spriting group or something? I want to learn more to contribute. How do I join that?
Link.

How do I submit a portrait I made?
–If not In the sprite group, make a thread In #suggestions-and-contributions:sprites.

8 Likes

This was such an amazing read! Thanks for putting in all the different examples so even dummies like me could understand :pikaderp:
super helpful/10

1 Like

kek but you’re not dumb
Thanks :b:eezo, It means a lot. I get so worried when posting guides, not knowing If It’ll help In the perspective of someone who Isn’t myself. Examples/visualization Is something really Important In a guide like this so I made sure to Include as many as possible.

I hope some good portraits come out of this, and If not at least I got something out there. The point Is to help people avoid these mistakes, but I was also definitely driven by frustration of seeing traced portraits constantly even outside of PMU. And the worst part Isn’t that traced/bad portraits exist, It’s that they keep being openly welcomed In both PMU and SpriteBot. I never see people say anything or give an actual critique. Most other people probably aren’t artists/spriters and I guess don’t see It fair to criticize something they don’t have experience In, but man.

I Implied It In the beginning but for clarity I’m assuming the majority of portraits are taken In because turning down work people are doing out of love would feel bad. Still though… I wish there was a line to be drawn. I can get past not understanding the structure of the style of course, but It should be common sense not to trace or take official art. Like I said In the guide I feel no portrait Is better than a half-hearted one because one day It’ll probably just be remade anyway, but that’s only my opinion. It almost feels as If my complaining Is unjustified because I didn’t show many examples of “bad” portraits, but I want to avoid ‘calling out’ anyone or being rude.

1 Like

this guide comes off as super rude and demeaning to me.

youre right, this does feel like you’re calling out “bad art” you don’t approve of. this guide couldve easily been made without you throwing out examples of people “doing their jobs poorly” in a way that “will eventually need to be redone.” this whole guide comes off more as you being condescending than helpful imo. i dont know why you felt the need to focus this guide more around how bad of jobs you think people did on their freely volunteered work than pointing out the stylistic factors of pmd’s art in order to help people. its obvious by the way this whole guide is littered with remarks about how peoples mistakes “make you spontaneously combust” or directly namedropping the creators of icons you think were done poorly…

this really doesnt feel constructive to me. you obviously care a lot about quality but this isnt the way to go about educating people, even if you dont think youre doing so or that isnt your intent.

2 Likes

Agreeing with Griefy here,

Not only that, you’ve used my portraits and deemed them as bad, which I am not standing for. Whether it’s your intention or not, it is extremely insulting and demeaning, and to quite the extent, it is also quite belittling.

Much like I said, whether it’s your intention to or not, you shouldn’t make examples out of someone’s art, and deem it as bad, just because you “can do better.” It’s quite disgusting.

In my opinion, the guide may help aspiring spriters, but there’s no need to complete belittle and insult others work.

2 Likes

Phenomenal guide.

Thank you.

I don’t think the intent was to belittle and insult you, but more to offer constructive criticism, though I do agree it wasn’t necessary to use other’s portraits instead of making new ones.

Hi, I’ve returned from the deepest darkest depths to finally respond.

There’s reasons I named Mucrush and him only. He publicly posted his Gen 5 portraits Including the one I showed ( Whimsicott ), and I felt the need to credit, not namedrop. I didn’t “namedrop” others not because I didn’t know who made them for some, but because that’s one thing I did know I shouldn’t do for this. Namedropping someone In the community who specifically made something for PMU, yeah no. Yes I know I shouldn’t have used others’ as examples to begin with but shh I touch on It further.

I have/had no Idea which were yours honestly—really. If you said In your reply I’d remove them after but can’t because I don’t know, butttttt of course I do apologize I ended up using them unknowingly.

Much like I said, whether it’s your intention to or not, you shouldn’t make examples out of someone’s art, and deem it as bad, just because you “can do better." It’s quite disgusting.

I have always been disgusting but It Isn’t at all about me doing better ( I’ve seen portraits/custom emotions I wouldn’t trust myself to pull off ). Again I don’t know which portraits are yours so I’m not sure what part of the guide I should be looking to talk about here. I don’t think I called anything bad In particular aside from the traced portraits, and I personally believe tracing Is bad In terms of any form of art ( unless you do It for practice without putting It out publicly, I think any beginning artist traces ). Not because “I can do better”, I think It kind of just Is. I’m sorry, that’s how I feel.

To attempt to maybe clarify something I tried to say In my first reply that I shouldn’t have made probs: There’s a difference between a portrait done by someone who doesn’t fully get how the style Is constructed, and something traced, or literally resized 3D portrait/official art. When I mentioned portraits that would just be remade anyway, I was mostly talking about the third. And sorry If this still comes across as rude but I don’t know how submitting a portrait that’s basically not something you made yourself Is able to be condoned O_O

I said myself In the start that I still make some mistakes I mentioned and that my first portraits were not that great. A “”"""“bad”""""" portrait made by a beginner Is fine. I don’t see why It wouldn’t be. I would not call something made by someone just starting bad because they’re learning, hence why I didn’t In the post other than the part about 3D portraits. I’ve used DeviantArt for years and watched videos from people In the art community a lot In the past; tracing Is usually generally not received well so It felt like a ‘common sense’ thing to me Is all, but obviously as Qualia said

of course not. It wasn’t to belittle or Insult anybody and I guess It’s been made clear my Intention doesn’t matter but I genuinely didn’t mean to give off such bad vibes to people. I was aware before but am now giga aware my words came off too harsh to some. It was worse before actually but my efforts to tone It down have failed still so I’m sorry about that. I got carried away In any case. <:’’’)

For those unaware I’m not smart so I somehow didn’t consider making my own “bad” portraits. The reason I was so pressed about using “real” examples was probably to make It clear that the things I talked about do In fact happen. Doesn’t mean It was right though of course and I actually have old portraits of my own I could’ve used for a certain part; the one talking about color count. For those examples In particular I actually didn’t consider the portraits to be “badly” made either. The art Itself In them Is really good, but they happened to use a lot of colors. “Why not say that In the post?” because I’m a didiot okay ;((

A little sus after the other replies but thanks regardless.

Anywayyyyyeee I do appreciate those other replies actually so I can do better ( hopefully ). I’ll try to reword/fix things or delete entirely since I understand my passion and wanting to get my point across was too much. I spent many hours on It and figuring out how to construct It but affecting others badly Is not what I want and I lean towards ridding of It because I feel bad about the negativity of myself and that It brought on others, even If I were to correct the mistakes. I meant well but was also driven for negative reasons, resulting In a mess, and I’m guilty I wasn’t more careful prevent It.

1 Like