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Drawing a Retro Sci Fi Pixel Art Scene in Hexels

By Mark Knight

Hexels gives you the flexibility to create awesome pixel art using dedicated pixel modes, shape tools and a host of other fantastic features. In this article, we’ll go over some of the primary features that made this piece possible.

A Basic Breakdown

The Pixel Trixels 256p template is a good preset to demonstrate differences between the vector and pixel document modes.

The Document tab is located on the right (circled). It contains settings for the canvas and can be changed to suit. Let’s take a closer look at the current template settings.

The Canvas is set to Pixel Mode and the Size is 256×256 pixels.

Below the Document tab is the Layers tab. There are two types of layers: a Vector Layer (indicated with a triangle symbol on its thumbnail) and a Pixel Layer (indicated with a pixel symbol on its thumbnail).

When drawing on a vector layer, notice what happens when switching from Vector Mode to Pixel Mode. The trixel is converted to pixels with stair-step edges.

The change in pixel resolution can be adjusted by raising and lowering the Hexel Resolution value. Notice the change in pixel count for Hexel Size and Final Image.

It is important to note that adjustable pixel resolutions, like the examples above, only apply to vector layers.

Complex Shapes Made Easy

Let’s create the astronaut scene using the same template. The image is comprised entirely of pixel layers and the Super Shape tool (L) was used to create other-worldly rock formations.

The scene is made up of several pentagon shapes. The addition of the Super Shape tool (L) to Hexels 3.1 can be accessed via the shape tools rollout.

The Super Shape tool can be used to draw different types of shapes in isometric view. The top toolbar allows you to choose your shape, change the number of sides and change the width of the outline. For the pentagon shape, the numerical input is set to 5. Select two points on the canvas and drag the shape out to draw pentagon.

If a shape is already drawn, settings on the toolbar can be changed and the drawn shape will be updated on the fly. The example above displays a live update of an increase in the shape sides from 5 to 19 sides. There are blue draggable control points that can be used to resize and reposition the shape. Pressing Enter commits the final shape.

Finishing touches were added to the pentagon shape using the Line (L) and Fill (G) tools.

The pentagonal columns were created with the ‘filled’ box checked on the top toolbar. This created a solid shape instead of an outline. The shape was copied/pasted below the original shape and the Line (L) and Fill (G) tools were used to finish the shape.

Putting Things Into Motion

The icosahedron shape was created by dragging a .gif onto the canvas which automatically added 34 frames to the Timeline. I then rotoscoped the imported sequence using the Line tool (L).

To create the animated shadow, I duplicated the icosahedron layer and darkened the image using Layer Properties>Hue Saturation. I repositioned the layer ordering so that the shadow appeared behind the icosahedron and reduced the opacity of the layer. Because the icosahedron layer was duplicated, it retained all of the animation frames, resulting in a fully animated shadow.

A hovering motion was animated using the Layer Transform (T) tool on the icosahedron layer. The image above shows 3 transform positions at key positions along the Timeline. The first and last transform positions are identical to ensure the animation will loop correctly. The red lines are for positional reference only.

The icosahedron is radiating light and illuminating the surrounding pentagonal columns. This was achieved by keyframing the opacity at various points along the track. I created a Subloop for the orb glow layer to loop a smaller section of the track for the entire duration of the animation.

The bubble animations were drawn across 7 frames with a cel left empty between every other cel. Leaving cels empty can help slow down the animation and gives the motion a retro feel. This same technique was used for the astronaut characters and the pool water.

To Recap

Using versatile shape tools with full control over resolution means that complex scenes and objects can be fully realised within Hexels. The potential for isometric art is especially exciting when combined with the elliptical shapes and grid snapping.

Try out these amazing additions to Hexels 3.1 with the 14 day free trial.

Drawing Rounded Isometric Shapes using Hexels

By Mark Knight

With Hexels 3.1 comes the addition of the Super Shape tool. Developed with full control and isometric drawing in mind, this incredible tool can be used with grid snapping and opens up possibilities that were previously a real Hexels head-scratcher.

Let’s take a quick look at how the Super Shape tool was used to create some of the objects in this isometric breakfast scene.

Setting Up

I painted various tabletop objects using pixel layers and the tablecloth on a vector layer. I was aiming for a high resolution with pixelated edges, so the Pixel Trixels 1080p template was ideal.

Let’s start with the striped mug. I created a new pixel layer and changed my background and grid colors in the Document tab for clarity. I changed the Brush Size and selected the Pixel Square brush from the drop-down brush preset menu.

The Super Shape Tool

The Super Shape tool (L) can be found under the shape tools sub-menu on the left toolbar.

Holding Shift while drawing an Ellipse snaps the cursor to the grid. I clicked once and moved the cursor 5 trixels along the Z axis. This initial trixel line is the ellipse diameter. Before my second mouse click, I held down the Alt key to change the diameter line into the radius, doubling the diameter length. I performed the second mouse click and expanded the visible ellipse 5 trixels along the X axis before clicked again. The ellipse has blue control points that allow you to resize, move or scale the shape before committing. Pressing Enter confirms the shape.

Snapping Things into Place

Using the Marquee Select tool (S), I copied and pasted the lower half of the ellipse seven times while holding shift to align each selection vertically. I positioned each curve at 2 trixel intervals.

I switched to the Line tool (L) and added edges to the mug. Holding down Shift snaps the lines to the grid.

Returning to the Super Shape tool (L), I dragged a diameter horizontally and held down Alt to expand the ellipse vertically from the diameter center.

Creating the Coffee Mug

Using the Line tool (L) and Shift key grid snap, I created reference points for the mug handle ellipses. Clicking each of the two corresponding reference points, I dragged out the ellipse and deleted any unwanted areas with Marquee Select (S) and Backspace. I capped off the ends of the shape with the Line tool (L) and used the Fill tool (G) to fill the shape.

I used the Fill tool (G) to color the stripes around the mug.

To create the coffee, I duplicated the ‘mug’ layer and deleted all but the mug interior from the new layer. I used the Fill tool (F) to color the interior brown and re-positioned the selection slightly lower on the canvas. Reverting to the ‘mug’ layer, I re-selected the mug interior with the Magic Wand tool (S) and inverted the selection (Ctrl+Shift+I). I switched back to the new layer and used the Backspace key to delete the negative selection.

I drew a thick black line on a new layer and reduced the opacity for the shadow of the handle. The next step was to round off the handle ends. Using the Poly Select tool (S), I clicked multiple position points to create the curved edge of the handle. I closed my selection by double-clicking and pressed the Backspace key to delete.

The next step was to round off the handle ends. Using the Poly Select tool (S), I clicked multiple position points to create the curved edge of the handle. Once again, I closed my selection by double-clicking and pressed the Backspace key to delete.

Super Simple Torus

The techniques used to create the mug were utilized to create the other curved items in the scene. The following section is a brief overview of some of the other shapes found in the Super Shape tool (L).

The cereal hoops required a torus looking shape. I used the Super Shape tool (L) to draw circles and increased the Line width to 12 while holding down Shift for grid snapping to create even 2×2 hoops on a pixel layer.

The half apple seen here can be broken down into three elliptical elements. The unwanted apple circumference and the interior ellipse overlap areas were erased. The Fill tool (G) was used to color the apple and the remaining details were drawn freehand on a pixel layer.

The Grand Finale

The shape tools introduced in Hexels 3.1 make drawing in isometric perspective very easy and incredibly fun. The flexibility of changing shapes and sizes on the fly allows for fearless creation and experimentation. Build your own geometric breakfast using the free 14-day trial of Hexels.

Free Update: Hexels 3.1

We’re excited to announce the release of Marmoset Hexels 3.1, a free update to all Hexels 3 users. The latest installment brings a fantastic pixel brush system, animation sub-looping, a radial menu, a highly requested custom key binding menu and much more!

Download the installer from the Hexels 3 product page, or by launching Hexels 3 and clicking on the auto-update prompt. See the full change log on the Hexels History section.

Enhanced Pixel Painting

Get creative with our new pixel brushes. The Brush tab allows you to paint using three different types of brushes: soft brush, pencil, and airbrush. The brush tab also lets you change the brush tip texture, stroke shape, style, and variance. You can import custom brush images, create new presets, and share them with others! A new floating color picker can be summoned using alt+right click. In addition to quicker color picking, the picker displays recent colors and can be re-positioned.

Custom Key Bindings & Radial Menu

You’ve asked, and we’ve delivered! The preference menu is home to two new members: keyboard shortcuts and a customizable radial menu. Users can change their key bindings until their geometric hearts are content. The new radial menu allows users to reach tools faster and customize their own templates.

Sub-Looping Animations

Looping has been made easier and more efficient with the newly integrated sub-looping features. Users can use sub-looping to independently loop animation tracks that run shorter than the overall animation runtime.

New Tools!

We’ve got a host of convenient new tools for a more fluid experience. The most fantastic addition to the toolset are the new shape tools. Users are now able to draw pixel perfect shapes and manipulate them in isometric space. Lasso tools have been added to the family of selection tools to make selecting easier than ever.

Designing A Vector Art Movie Poster in Hexels

By Mark Knight

One of the many opportunities of creating art using Hexels is the ability to design eye-catching posters, book covers and art for branding purposes. Using various grids and vector based tools, graphic designers and illustrators can build up striking art for nearly any design project.

Lettuce Get Started

My intentions for this design were to create a Mexican food themed, action romance poster for a fake movie entitled “Guacboy and the Habanero Desert“. The image would include bold use of color, an unusual perspective, as well as original and imported text elements.

I’m going to start with the Trixels template, which uses a crisp vector based triangular grid.

I enlarged the canvas to 100×100 Hexels in the Canvas tab (top right) to allow room for moving elements around later. The poster will have a Mexican flair, so I’m changing the background color to a bold yellow (hex: e4f75f).

You Juan To Start Simple

With an isometric view in mind, I roughly sketched the Guacboy and Burrito babe characters on a new vector layer using the standard trixel grid (alt+1). Try to keep the level of detail low and simple. In this case, the lower legs are one trixel wide while the ankles have no trixel width.

I refined the sketch further using the Shards sub-grid (alt+5). Shards combines all trixel grids into one fine grid.

To make shapes and angles more defined, I added highlights and shadows to the characters by adjusting the Value slider (circled) in the Color tab.

Garnishing with Outlines

After adding some trixel texture to the Burrito filling, the Outline tool (O) was used to create salad elements, extend the avocado peel around the edge and add ankle width to the Burrito babe character.

Consider the versatility of the Outline tool when the shard grid doesn’t accommodate your trixel requirements.

An A-maize-ing Effect

Creating gloopy hot sauce couldn’t be simpler. On a new vector layer, I drew an S curve using the Shards sub-grid. To improve the look of the sauce, I navigated to Effect > Add Layer Effect > Distort > Blob.

This adds Blob to the post effects stack. Adjustable sliders allow for real-time control of the effect. Additional post effects can be found with the + icon (circled) to spice up your art.

The next step was to create cactus shadows. I drew elongated cactus silhouettes on a new vector layer using the Ramp Right grid (alt+2). Using the Magic Wand tool (S), I selected the first cactus and held down the Shift key to add additional selections. Pressing the Delete key (on keyboard) left the selection empty ready for the next step.

Using the Gradient tool (G) and selecting Foreground to Transparent from the gradient controls (top center), I dragged out the gradient and released the mouse once I was happy with the position. I lowered the layer’s opacity using the Opacity slider at the bottom of the Layers tab.

Let’s Taco ’Bout Composition

The Frame Tool (F) was used with a standard poster ratio of 27:41. This allows for composition and management of elements.

With the poster area defined, additional gradient layers were applied using the same technique as before. An orange radial gradient was applied behind the characters to distinguish the avocado core from the yellow background and add warmth to the image. Elements were arranged using the Transform tool (T).

Cornstructing A Title

The main title text was created on a new vector layer using the Shards grid (alt+5). With the exception of the letter ‘G’, lettering was created at the same scale. Once the text was complete, it was cut and pasted into 3 layers then resized and positioned with the Transform tool (T).

A simple backdrop was drawn using the Line tool (L) on the standard Trixels grid (alt+1) to help the title pop.

Additional text was created in Photoshop and saved as a transparent .png file. Hexels allows external graphics to be dragged and dropped onto the canvas. The image is instantly converted to a Pixel Layer and can be resized with the Transform tool (T). Finally, the Marquee Selection tool (S) was used to re-arrange the text elements and a chilli pepper silhouette was created for the Scoville heat rating.

Serrano Limits To Your Imagination

Hexels’ vector based documents allow for exporting at multiple resolutions, making designs scalable for any need. With clever use of grids and effects, Hexels’ distinctive style means artwork can really stand out from the crowd. Create your own designs and illustrations using the Hexels 14 day free trial today.

Creating Isometric Art with Hexels

By Mark Knight

Isometric drawing is a great way to present a 2D design in three dimensions. This short guide will help you to ‘think isometric’ and use Hexels’ dedicated iso tools with confidence.


Perspective vs isometric

Perspective drawing is a way of presenting a three dimensional look by replicating how our eyes judge depth. Objects appear smaller the further away they are and lines tend to converge in the distance. An isometric viewpoint ignores perspective with parallel lines that are of equal distance apart at any point.

Isometric viewpoints have become increasingly popular in video games, illustration, and design. Hexels has simplified the process of creating isometric art by allowing artists to paint on a series of multi-directional grids.

Hexels provides tools and a set of canvas grids specifically for working on isometric art. These tools and grids enable artists to paint lines, shapes, and volumes that all align to the same isometric angle.

Getting started

When launching Hexels, start with Trixels template. This uses vector mode and is designed for isometric art.

The document will load with the default ‘Trixel’ grid (circled top left). Over on the right side of the screen is the ‘Shape’ tab (Ctrl+6). This tab presents an array of isometric grid presets.

The presets change the grid aspect ratio as shown above. There is also a ‘custom’ option which allows the user to define their own aspect ratio. The following demonstrations use preset Isometric (1:1).

Think 3D!

Before drawing, take a moment to think differently about the grid. Although the grid is made up of triangles, consider it as squares rotated in a 3D space.

Imagine extruding a square up or down. Having a single colour can make it hard to visualize the square as three dimensional, so let’s add some shading.

Adding two shades of colour to the extrude gives the illusion of lighting and tricks the brain into thinking it’s seeing a three dimensional object. Also note that in our 3D space, the red square is nearer to the viewer and the blue square is farther away. Covering the blue square, completes the illusion of depth.

Lighting isn’t always necessary. By only applying outlines to the edges that would be visible in a 3D space, and hiding the distant square, the same illusion of depth is achieved.

When lighting an isometric shape, consider this isometric lighting rule.

Simplify with Primitives

An isometric vintage radio

When tackling an object such as a radio, it can help to break it down into primitive objects first. For the radio, I created a cuboid with dimensions measured in squares rather than in grid triangles. I used the ‘isometric lighting rule’ by adjusting the Value (v) slider in the Color tab.

Using the Line tool (L) and the Color picker (alt), I painted areas as if they were being cut away.

Re-applying any of the initial face colours, elsewhere in the primitive, gives the illusion of removing or adding areas of the solid object.

Sub Grids

For the angled corners of the radio, I switched to the ‘Ramp Right’ grid (alt+2) from the top toolbar. Notice the change in the grid to accommodate different grid slices.

The other sub-grids achieve different angles and shapes that aren’t possible with the standard Trixel grid. Other grids, such as Sideways Trixels and X-els, are available from this toolbar too.


Let’s consider the metal faceplate and glass in the radio image. The actual shape can be seen as complex when thought of as a component (red circle). However, as part of an object, only the visible areas need be drawn. By breaking the shape down into primitives and ignoring the buttons, the shape is simplified into two cuboids.

An easy way to create a glass effect is to use layers at different opacities. Create the solid glass primitive on a new layer and simply lower the opacity to make the image transparent. To change the color directly behind the glass, add a new layer below the glass layer and color it white.

Markings and highlights, such as the analogue tuning display and shiny surfaces, are created using the Outline tool (O) on a new layer.

Creating Text

The isometric text logo was created on a new layer using the standard ‘Trixel’ grid and the ‘Ramp Left’ (alt+3) grid. Again, using the isometric lighting rule, I added depth to the text.

The text Layer can be re-scaled and positioned by using the Transform tool (T).

Adding Detail With Pixel Layers

A wood grain effect was created by selecting the side of the radio with the Magic Wand (S), adding a new pixel layer, and using the Line tool (L) to draw black lines. Notice that the selection made on a trixel layer constrains brush strokes painted on a pixel layer. The wood grain effect was faded out with layer opacity, and the whole process repeated for each surface of the radio.

Using the same methods and techniques, I continued building components and details using vector layers. I added highlights to edges using the Outline tool (O) with opacity reduced and I used pixel layers to paint the aerial, dial, and handle.


Finally, glow was ‘Enabled’ via the Glow tab. This brightened the scene and softened edges.

Simplifying Complex Objects

This exploded view of the radio may initially appear more complex to create than its solid counterpart. Ignoring color and shadows, the image is made up of primitive shapes that can be drawn using vector layers with edges defined by the Line (L) tool. Details such as transistors, speakers, and the aerial are created on pixel layers, again with the Line tool (L).

Whether static or animated, projecting image components outwards, along isometric planes, greatly increases a three dimensional effect.


From engineering plans, presentations, video games and concept art, the use of Isometric views are prevalent. Hexels grid based drawing makes creating isometric designs intuitive and fun.

Try the Hexels 14 day free trial and share your isometric creations with the Hexels User Group on Facebook.