How to Create a Pixel Car in Adobe Photoshop

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In this tutorial you'll learn how to create a pixel art car in the isometric view. It's compatible with our isometric pixel art characters from the previous tutorial so be sure to check that out first. If you’re ready, launch Adobe Photoshop and get ready to get your characters into cars and to delve deeper into isometric pixel art.


1. Figuring Out the Dimensions

We’ll be using the characters a bit as a base to work out the dimensions of our car. It doesn’t need to be too perfect or technical, we just want to make the elements look like they belong to the world of our characters.

Step 1

Get your group of characters… or if you only have one, replicate it until you have four as we’ll be making a car that sits four.

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Step 2

We won’t be changing the characters’ positions for now but even standing up, they’ll help define the size of the car.

So place them in two rows with a little bit of elbow room.

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Step 3

And now we can draw a space that can roughly contain them. We don’t need to be very strict about the space inside the car because we won’t be showing the interior.

Now, in a New Layer, we'll draw a square in the isometric view. It’s pretty simple, the lines are 2:1, meaning they shift 2 px horizontally for every 1 px vertically.

You can do them many ways: draw the lines up pixel by pixel, draw two pixels with the Pencil tool and then replicate that again and again, draw a single pixel with the pencil tool, and at a distance draw another pixel while holding down Shift (a line is drawn automatically connecting both points… but this takes some guesswork) or simply use the line tool (with anti-alias set to off) which would be the ideal method if only that tool was reliable for pixel art purposes.

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Step 4

With the rectangle for the interior already defined, let’s add a few extensions that will make the front and the rear of the car. Both will be shorter than the interior, the rear being the shortest.

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Step 5

Now Copy and Paste these lines, leaving the new copy in the same place as the previous but moving it straight up a distance that would make sense between the ground and the bottom of the car. In this case I went with 8 px.

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Step 6

The bottom lines will not only mark the ground but they’ll also be used as the shadow of the car.

So let’s fill those lines with black.

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Step 7

Now set the blending mode for that layer to somewhere between 10% and 20% opacity.

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Step 8

Let’s now fill the rectangles of the top lines layer with any color, just to make it easier to work with.

We’ll give give height to this shape to make the front and rear bumpers. Before doing that, raise the rear edge a couple of pixels as we’ll make the rear bumper a little bit higher to break up the blockiness a bit, it will look better.

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Step 9

Now we'll replicate the shape and move the copy up. I chose 6 px.

This can be done in the same layer. One quick way to do it is to select the shape with the Rectangular Marquee Tool, and then moving the selection while pressing the Alt key. You can also move the selection using the arrow keys.

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Step 10

Now connect those two surfaces and make them one shape by drawing some vertical lines connecting the corners and removing the inside lines from the bottom rectangle.

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Step 11

In a New Layer make rectangles that match the ones from before but without the raised rear edge, and make them a bit shy of the bumper edges. To differentiate, I filled this new shape with a another color (well, maybe not that different)

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Step 12

Then “extrude” that shape up, using the character as a guide for that height.

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Step 13

Connect the two surfaces to make one volume.

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Step 14

And then connect the two volumes and clean up.

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Step 15

Now it’s ok to get the character out of the way to work without obstruction. We can base the rest of the dimensions on the volumes we already have.

We’ll start making the top of the car. With a line going up, in this case from the front-most corner going up 1:2 (1 px horizontal to 2 px vertical) and when that gets high enough, draw from there a horizontal (the isometric kind of horizontal) line, parallel to the car’s side.

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Step 16

Now we'll do pretty much the same, but for the front windshield. The top corner has already been defined so the new lines project out from that point.

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Step 17

The line going down on the opposite edge of the windshield will not be 2:1; it won’t be parallel. Windshields go up in converging lines.

A 1:1 diagonal line works all right for this purpose.

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Step 18

Then start adding the finishing lines for the roof.

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Step 19

And finally connecting them back down to the rest of the car. Choosing a 1:1 diagonal, again, for the back.

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Step 20

Fill and clean up lines.

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Step 21

And adjust as you see fit. I chose to widen the lines at the back, as that’s common in most cars, but in this case, and with the shape we're giving, it helps to achieve a bit of an American muscle kind of look.

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Now the dimensions have been defined and most of the main shapes are already done. Cool!

2. Drawing the Wheels

Let’s get to work on the very necessary wheels for our car.

Step 1

One way to do an isometric circle is to draw a circle and to then transform it, setting vertical skew to 26.5˚. But the result can look a little too slanted and it would probably require some hand drawn edits to clean up and improve.

So instead we’ll just draw the circle pixel by pixel, starting from a vertical isometric square. This will give us more control and it’s not really that hard.

In a New Layer, draw a square with a size that makes sense for the proportions of the car and that you like, even if not totally realistic. Then just copy it to have an idea of where they will be placed.

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Step 2

Now, working on one of those squares we'll start to carve the circle out of the square, trying to end up with relatively clean lines.

You actually only need to do one half of the circle as the second half can be achieved by copying the first and rotating it 180˚.

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Step 3

Then we'll do a couple more circles, concentric, and inside of the first.

The square guide is not so neccessary for these as we already have the first circle.

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Step 4

Clean up the square guide lines. And start adding color to the wheel. A dark grey for the tyres, a cool medium grey for the rim.

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Step 5

Try your own design for the rim if you like. Though not every design might read well, being something so small. So I opted for adding a bit of depth, paralleling the inner circle of the rim but set deeper into the wheel, then adding color and a bit of shading to the new surfaces.

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Step 6

Then continue the shading inside and clean up the lines.

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Step 7

Add a shadow cast over the center of the wheel, plus a few pixels to make that surface less plain.

And then finish the shading with a bit of a highlighting on the tyre and on the outer edge of the rim.

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Step 8

An Unnecessary step but I chose to remove a few pixels from the outer edge of the rim as I thought it made it look rounder.

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Step 9

We can now replace the two squares with the wheel we've just designed. Adjust the position as you like, the design of the car is nearly done.

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Step 10

So once you have them where you like, just add some extra volume to the wheels, under the bottom of the car. Then they won’t look cardboard thin anymore.

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3. Adding Colors and Details

We definitely have something that looks like a car now, the wheels are finished and now it’s time to finish the rest.

Step 1

Almost all the corners look too sharp so let’s make them rounder.

Also, I decided to raise the bottom edge of the windows just a bit.

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Step 2

Clean up any mess you might have made and remember to also round off the corners of the shadow cast by the car.

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Step 3

Let’s do the windows for our car. There are many ways this could be approached, like for example, it would be great to get a look at the inside, through a glass effect, but that would take a lot of extra time.

What I do is to fill with a dark blue color, making the car look like it has tinted windows, then we don’t need to worry about working on the interior… and we don’t need to worry about a glass reflection effect either. But we do need to add some touches that hint at transparency. Like a lighter shade for the small area that would show the ground through the windshield and through the passenger window.

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Step 4

Furthermore, we can add that same lighter shade to hint at the dashboard as well as the inside of the doors.

This, I think, shows light reaching some areas of the interior and that conveys enough of the space inside.

If you’re interested in trying a glass reflection effect now, go right ahead. I leave my cars without it because I find this look good enough, it keeps the graphics simpler and there’s no need to worry about keeping a glass effect consistent, later on.

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Step 5

To finish the windows and make them even simpler, I got rid of their black outline and replaced it with the darker blue shade. Though not really necessary but the extra color was barely noticeable and less is more.

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Step 6

Moving onto the body of the car, let’s pick a paint color!

I’ll be doing a light grey. The darker shade for the sides can be between 10% and 20% darker.

You can use the Paint Bucket Tool with Contiguous off. Then you can replace all instances of each color in one click.

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Step 7

Now add highlights to the corners.

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Step 8

Normally a single thin line of highlights is all we’d add to corners, and in fact that’s all we’ll do for the roof of the car but for the lower corners we’ll try chunkier highlights, which makes sense for a big, metallic object with rounded corners.

So we'll surround the dark guidelines with highlight.

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Step 9

And then cover the dark guidelines with more of the highlight color.

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Step 10

Add some extra highlights around the wheels.

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Step 11

Yet another highlight in the vertical corner line going down from the hood of the car.

As well as lightening up lines that don’t need so much contrast, like around the bumpers.

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Step 12

To finish with the highlighting work, I added one more thin highlight to the bottom edge of the side of the car, excluding the bumper areas.

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Step 13

The bumpers will have darker shades on their bottom edge.

Try to reuse shades as much as you can so that you don’t blow up your palette unnecessarily.

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Step 14

Most of the coloring is now done but we still need many more details.

Let’s go from front to back. Starting with a license plate.


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Step 15

And here with the final colors.

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Step 16

Then a grill for the front of the car. Using very dark greys.

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Step 17

And then a pair of headlights.

They could wrap around the corners, but as the car looks square and retro I thought I’d keep the headlights square as well.

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Step 18

If you like the look, add a pair of lines to the hood of the car.

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Step 19

We’ll be adding rear view mirrors. Projecting out of each side, here’s the first one.

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Step 20

And here’s the other one. I made both in different angles, one being seen on the and one in a frontal view. Though they could also both work in the same angle; parallel to the bumpers.

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Step 21

How will the characters get into the car? Add a pair of door handles!

Just a pair of pixels with the highlight color and a pair of pixels in the darker shade, directly underneath.

You could consider also adding lines suggesting the door edges but they should be subtle, no need to clutter up the design too much.

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Step 22

I thought the car was looking a bit too flat so I added an area with a darker shade at the bottom of the side, which almost magically makes that surface look curved.

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One possible extra step would be to add a bit of the red for the rear lights, wrapping around the corner. I’m dropping that step because after trying it out, I decided that it didn’t fit so well with the style of the car.

So now the car is done!

Step 23

But why stop at one car when you can have four for just a tiny bit of extra work?

If you’ve been conservative with your palette you should have 6 shades in total for the body of the car. So it’s pretty easy to change that up, especially using the Paint Bucket Tool with Contiguous off. Find other colors you like for the cars and go replacing the different shades until you have a bunch of different cars, all of them looking pretty nice!

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Car Fleet Complete!

So cool that you now have several cars as part of your pixel art collection. You’ve actually got one different car for each of your characters, pretty sure they’ll appreciate that!

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Be sure to try your own modifications. To get more mileage out of them you may want to try to also do them in a rear view, as that’ll be pretty useful when populating a street scene.

Good luck with your pixelin’!

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