Introduction: Small-scale Wooden Pixel Art

There are just about a gazillion, if not more, ways to make pixel art. As I like to dabble in woodworking once in a while, I've been playing with the idea of making pixel art out of wood. More specifically, I wanted to make it fairly small-scale, so you could decorate your desk with it. (If you're looking for larger-scale wooden pixel art though, you should check out this awesome instructable by 8bitwood: )

This instructable is quite easy to make, and the tools and materials you'll need are very basic. It doesn't get much more exotic than some wood, a saw and some tape. It's cheap too: I only spent 5 € on the wood and I can get around 1600 5x5 mm pixels out of it. In a nutshell, here's what we'll do in the following steps:
- Use a saw to cut the piece of wood into tiny pixels.
- Lay out the pixels onto adhesive film.
- Color the pixels.
- Add some double-sided tape to the back of the adhesive film.
- Stick the pixel art onto the surface of your choice; it can even be a curved surface!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Materials used:

- Some wood of course. It should be unfinished; otherwise you can't really draw on it. Its dimensions don't really matter since you'll be chopping it all up into tiny blocks anyway. Do make sure that the wood is as thin as possible though. The thinnest I could find were some long wood strips, 4 mm thin (about 5/32"). Optionally, you may also want to experiment with wood in various colors. (I used both a lighter and a darker color variation.)
- A roll of adhesive film. This is optional, but this makes it easier to arrange your pixels.
- Double-sided tape (or something else to stick your pixel art to the surface you choose)
- Any surface or object that you'd like stick your pixel art to

Tools used:

- Any saw that lets you cut thin strips of wood. I used a rusty old backsaw; I've also tried a hand saw and that works fine too. You probably want your saw to have a thin blade too, or you'll be wasting a lot of wood by turning it into sawdust.
- Whatever you can find to draw on wood: color pencils, markers, paint, .. (or, you could also keep things as natural-looking as possible and just get several different colors of wood.)
- A wood rasp/file
- A sturdy utility knife (I say sturdy because you'll be using it to cut thin strips of wood into pixels.)
- A pair of scissors
- A geometry set square, handy for drawing parallel lines

Step 2: Making Pixels, Lots of Pixels

The first step is to cut the wood into lots of tiny little wooden pixels. I made mine 5x5 mm, which is the smallest size I could manage. First, we want to cut our wood into 5 mm-wide (about 1/5") strips:

- Saw your wood piece into a number of (roughly) equally-sized smaller pieces.
- Now stack a number of these pieces on top of each other, and clamp them onto a piece of scrap wood, as shown in the first picture. The reason we're making this stack is to waste less time on measuring and adjusting clamps. The more pieces you stack, the more time you'll save.
- Use a utility knife (or a pencil) to draw a straight line, 5 mm from the edge, on the piece at the top of the stack. It's best if this line goes against the wood grain. This will make it a lot easier to cut up the wood strips into pixels later, because you can then cut with the grain.
- Use a backsaw to saw through your wood stack along the line, and you'll get a number of wood strips.
- You may want to use a wood file to clean up rough edges on the strips.
- Keep going until you've got enough 5mm-wide wood strips.

The next step is to cut all of your wood strips into 5x5 mm pixels:

- Use a utility knife to cut the strips into pixels, as shown in the second picture. This works quite well when using 4 mm thick wood and when cutting with the grain. You should be able to make a cut in one go. As it would be too tedious to go measure and mark every single pixel, you can just eyeball it. The pixels probably won't be perfectly square, but that's okay since we'll leave some spacing between the pixels. Plus, he end-result will look more hand-made, more .. human, which I think is interesting since you're so used to pixel art being absolutely perfect, in the sense that every pixel is shaped exactly the same.

Side notes:

- I first tried making the pixels using the basic power tools I have, being a miter saw and a jigsaw, but they're not really meant for working at this small scale. The miter saw would waste a lot of wood as the blade I had was fairly thick, plus the wood strips would often fall through the saw's slot. The jigsaw wasn't that useful either since it's hard to see where you're going on such a small piece of wood.
- I then tried a good old hand saw, which works quite well. A backsaw is better though: It cuts a lot faster because it doesn't wobble about, and it wastes less wood because of its thinner blade. None the less, if you have any tips on how to cut these pixels faster and/or more precise, I'd love to hear them! (I'm guessing a miniature table saw would do the job nicely, but perhaps a bit expensive if I'm not going to use it that often..)
- In case you're interested, the wood that I used is cambara (dark) and marupa (light). At least, that's what the receipt says. :)

Step 3: Lay Out the Pixels on Adhesive Film

After you've made your batch of pixels, we can move on to the fun part, which is to lay out the pixel art of your choice onto a roll of adhesive film, as well as adding color to the pixels:

- If you haven't already done so, go browse the internet for a sprite / pixel art that you'd like to make .. or go draw your own!
- Use some scissors to cut a rectangular piece of adhesive film. Make sure it's larger than the sprite you want to make. (Don't forget to take into account the spacing between the pixels.)
- Peel the paper off the piece of adhesive film. Put it on your desk, with the adhesive side up of course, and add some weights on the sides to prevent it from curling up.
- You can now lay out your pixels onto the film to form the sprite. To make it easier to keep track of where you currently are, I recommend opening up the sprite in a photo editor à la Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Gimp or even Paint, and turning on the grid, such that each grid cell is the size of a single pixel.
- While building the sprite, you can add color to each pixel either before or after you put it on the adhesive film using markers, color pencils, paint, ...
- Once your sprite is finished, you should get something like what is shown in the first picture. You can cut off the leftover bits of adhesive film using scissors and/or a utility knife. There may be some concave parts in your sprite, so some edges may be hard to reach. In that case, just flip the sprite over and you should be able to reach those tricky edges too.

Side notes:

- I ended up coloring my pixels using markers. I first tried coloring pencils, but I found the markers are a lot easier to work with, plus the color packs a lot more punch. You can see a comparison in the second picture, showing Commander Keen colored with pencils on the left, and colored with markers on the right.
- You can add a nice touch by switching up the grain direction of each pixel. I like laying them out along a checkerboard pattern, as you can see in the third picture.
- Note how I used two different kinds of wood, a darker and a lighter variant. If I need to color my pixel in a dark color, I use the darker wood. If the pixel has a light color, I use the lighter wood. This way, the sides of each wood pixel, which I didn't touch, still match with the pixel's color.
- Additionally, using two types of wood gets you two different colors for only one pencil/marker. You can clearly see this when looking at Commander Keen's shirt or pants in the second picture. Even though I used the same marker, the shadowy parts have a darker shade because I used the darker wood there.
- If you don't have a roll of adhesive film nearby, you can also just use regular tape. (the wider the better) Your sprite will be composed of multiple chunks of tape, but you can't tell the difference in the end anyway, so it doesn't matter.
- I only thought of it afterwards, but it may be helpful to slide some grid paper behind the adhesive film, so you can use this as a guide to tell whether your pixels are arranged properly.

Step 4: Attach Double-sided Tape

When you're done laying out the sprite, just flip it over and attach pieces of double-sided tape to it. (Don't peel the paper off the tape yet though.) If you want to attach your sprite to a flat surface, you really don't need to cover every square inch of it with double-sided tape; it's sufficient to cover the major areas, as you can see in the picture. However, if you want to attach the sprite to a curved surface though, it's best that you do cover the entire backside of the sprite with double-side tape.

Step 5: Stick the Pixel Art to a Surface of Your Choice

Finally, pick a surface that you'd like to attach your sprite to. I've attached it to flower pots, wooden picture frames, as well as cardboard. Whatever your double-sided tape will stick to is fine.
Now peel the paper off the double-sided tape and stick your sprite on there. The tricky thing is that you have to do this right the first time, as it's quite hard to peel the tape off again. What I do is first hold the sprite up such that only the bottom edge touches the surface, but doesn't stick to it yet. You can use this bottom edge as a reference point to tell whether the sprite is level and in the right position. Once you've got it right, stick the sprite onto the surface from the bottom to the top in one motion.

Once the spirte is stuck, sit back and relax, as you've just finished the last step. Enjoy!

Side notes:

- In case you're wondering how I made the "picture frames", take a look at the second picture. It's a piece of left-over laminate flooring, attached to a triangular piece of scrap with wood glue. I also added a small bevel to the edges with an orbit sander.
- What's nice about using the adhesive film is that it's sticky enough to hold the pixels, but if you ever notice a mistake in some pixels, you can just take them off again and put new ones in.
- For your viewing pleasure, I also made a quick 360° view of the Lemmings pencil holder: