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May 16, 2013
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What is dithering?


Dithering is a pixel art process used to blend blocks of colour together or help apply a texture to a pixelled surface. Within emoticons it is most commonly used when making pixelled backgrounds, however it can be used in a number of other areas, e.g. massive emote bases, pixel objects etc. In this tutorial, we will focus on how 2 colours can be blended with dithering.

To break dithering down into simple terms, it is achieved by simply taking the colours from the two blocks of colour and placing individual pixels of each on the opposite side. This creates a region where the two colours merge together to create a more blended colour transition instead of a clear line between the two.

Dithering can seem like a complex process, but it's really not. Once you get the basic idea and technique, it's just all about practice and over time you'll learn how to apply it to a number of different situations. There are many dithering styles which can be used to give a different end result. In this tutorial, I will walk you through a basic dithering method designed for dithering larger surfaces, such as background or huge emote bases. Whilst this method has several set steps, this is not the only way to dither and I do encourage you to experiment and find a style you feel comfortable with.

Dithering straight lines


For this style of dithering, the process can be broken down into 4 main steps. Each phase adds more detail to the dithering to give a more even and smooth blend to the colour transition.

Initial shading




Step 1 - Inner layers



Having created your two patches of colour, the first step is to put down a 'inner layer' of dithering. This is a dotted line of pixels right at the dividing line of colour. The pixels should be quite regular as this is the point where the colours should most blend. To get a good coverage it can be useful to place the pixels in a set pattern (e.g. every other pixel).

As you go further and further away from the colour split, the amount of pixels you use should decrease to help give a nice blend in and out of the dithered region. This can be achieved by changing your pattern. e.g Place a pixel of colour every other pixel on the first row, every 4 pixels on the second row, every 8 pixels on the third row etc.

Another good idea is to make sure that you don't clump pixels together. To give a nice even spread it works best to place a pixel in a position diagonal to the last, rather than directly up, down, left or right. This helps to mix the two colours together and no create spots of colour that stand out too much.

The size of the inner layer you use should depend on the size of the colour blocks you are blending. With a small gap, fewer layers should be used. If the distance is larger, you can increase the amount. A lot of this comes down to practice, experimenting and your personal preference.

Step 2 - Outer layers



Once you have used as many inner dithering layers as you feel is appropriate, it is best to add another layer of dithering that is far more spaced out to help make a smother and more gradual blend. To achieve this, it is best for the pixels not to touch any others in the area to prevent them becoming an extension of the inner layers.

Step 3 - Random noise



After completing the stages above, the end result will look quite rigid and structured. Whilst this style of dithering is useful in some pieces of art, the 'real world' isn't usually perfect and adding in a few random pixels can help make the dithering look more natural.

Step 4 - Mirror



Dithering should be applied on both sides as only pixelling in one direction will still leave an obvious dividing line. Once you have finished steps 1-4 on one side of the line, simply repeat on the other to complete the blending of colours.

End shading




   


Hints and Tips


:bulletblue: It can be quite boring and tiresome to dither a large region all by hand. You can therefore take some slight shortcuts with straight line dithering and reuse sections. Having dither a length, simply copy and paste it to repeat it on the same line, on the mirror of the side, or on a different patch of blended colour.

:bulletgreen: If you opt to reuse patches of dithering, try and make sure that you don't lose and randomisation you have included. If you only dither a 10 pixel region and repeat it, it will again look quite structured. It is far better to repeat regions of 40+ pixels so it is less obvious.

Dithering curves


Dithering around circles and curves can be a little harder to get the hang of. Whilst the principle is the same as straight line dithering, the method changes slightly and relies a lot more on 'going with the flow' and working with each individual case, rather than using a set pattern.
 

Initial shading




Step 1 - Inner layers



Once again we start by adding in a layer of pixels directly on the colour change line which are linked together on the diagonals. It is never easy to work to a set pattern, so it is best to judge each part of the curve separately. The pixels should be added in a diagonal position to any existing ones to help create a nice blend of the two colours, rather than solid blocks with a wavy edge. It is also a good idea not to add a pixel on every diagonal position, or you can demolish and rounded edges by squaring them off with dithering.

Step 2 - Outer layers




Having added the inner layers, you should again add some outer layer pixels, which aren't directly connected to any of the pixels already in place. these can also be useful to help round off the shape and back a circle appearance that the inner layers may have hidden.

As the placement of pixels on a rounded circle ends up being more random due to the lack of pattern, additional 'random noise' isn't really needed as the outer layers offer this.

Step 3 - Mirror





It is especially important to remember to dither on both sides of the diving line when shading a rounded edge. When working on the inside curve, it is important that you don't bunch up the pixels too much as it will affect how well the colours blend.

End shading




   


Different dithering styles


The examples above give details on one method of dithering. However, there are many different styles used by the community, and there is nothing wrong with modifying or ignoring some of the stages to create your own style. To help show off some of the other styles in the community, I kindly asked a number of emoticonists to dither a sample of their own dithering to give some example of other end results.

                 
Hover for artist's names


General hints and tips


:bulletblue: Colour choice is very important when you work with dithering. The colours you use should contrast enough so that the dithering is noticeable when you zoom out. However, be careful not too go too far the other way and make the contrast too large that the colours wont easily blend. A lot of it is simply down to practice and experimenting.


Too little   |   About right   |   Too much


:bulletgreen: Don't forget to apply dithering at the top and bottom of the canvas. Sometimes the boundary of a colour block can lie on the border or just outside the edge of the canvas. It is important to dither these areas as if the canvas is never ending, or the top and bottom sections will look out of proportion to those with dithering on both sides. Alternatively offset the colours so no colour dividing lines are near the edge.


Without | With


:bulletpurple: To help make the patterns more obvious when dithering, try using random bright contrasting colours during the dithering process and re-colouring them once you are happy with the dithered pattern.

For nearly a year I have been promising a tutorial on dithering and I've finally managed to complete it. Whilst I apologise for the delay, I feel this tutorial is far more in depth and well rounded than my previous 2 unpublished attempts.

To allow for all of the inserted images, I have uploaded it through the journal/news system. I intend to upload a link to my gallery in a few days to create a handy shortcut back to this tutorial.

Special thanks to all of the people who offered dithering swatches for the tutorial and another thank you to `BlissfullySarcastic for helping to proof-read the tutorial.

:heart:
Add a Comment:
 
:iconshiftycheesecake:
ShiftyCheesecake Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I have been working on a guide for pixel artists who are just starting out. May I sight this as a tutorial that people should come read? I will link back to you in the actual guide as well as the comments.
I will link you to the finished guide if you'd like.

Thank you very much for your time!
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2014
That sounds fine to me :)
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:iconshiftycheesecake:
ShiftyCheesecake Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Okay, thank you very much :)
Reply
:icondo7anii:
Do7anii Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm trying dithering on my new art piece that i'm doing.. i think i didn't wrong.. but after a while i swear i thought i went blind for a sec, lol... will get better with practice i hope ^^ :thumbsup:
Thank you for this.
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:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2013
No problem. Good luck :)
Reply
:iconadeleeevee:
AdeleEevee Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2013
So when you use, say, the gradient tool on a program such as Photoshop or Gimp, is that dithering?
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:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2013
Nope. That's a gradient. That uses lines of colours which blend together rather than dithering a smaller number of colours.
Reply
:iconadeleeevee:
AdeleEevee Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2013
Oh ok. :D Thanks for clarifying it!
Reply
:iconteaphotography:
TeaPhotography Featured By Owner May 20, 2013  Professional General Artist
Wonderful work, thank you! :clap:
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:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 20, 2013
:) thanks
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:iconlindajv:
LindaJV Featured By Owner May 18, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Awesome! I've always wanted to read a tutorial about dithering by hand (I.E. "on purpose", now that it isn't a byproduct of only having 256 colours anymore)
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:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
:nod:
Reply
:icon8-bitcoffee:
8-bitCoffee Featured By Owner May 18, 2013  Student Digital Artist
i'll try using dithering more often now thanks for the tutorial it's now fav'ed and bookmarked :squee:
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:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
:happybounce:
Reply
:iconsherberttcat:
SherbertTCat Featured By Owner May 18, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I remember years ago, when the 256 colors was the max. Dithering was essentially a side-effect in those days.
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
:nod: It remains a helpful tool for colour blending with a limited palette
Reply
:icong123u:
G123u Featured By Owner May 18, 2013  Student General Artist
Wow, what an awesome tutorial!
I love how detailed and simple it is to understand, even for someone like me who has no knowledge in pixel art. XD
Nonetheless, great job! :clap:
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
Good to hear :)
Reply
:iconfarewell-spring:
Farewell-Spring Featured By Owner May 18, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
That is very useful and it looks great. I will have to give this a try, thank you! :D
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
:icondweebdanceplz:
Reply
:iconphoenixleo:
phoenixleo Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
That's very informative and pretty. o_O
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:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
:) Thanks. It took me a while to get a format which would work and look right
Reply
:iconphoenixleo:
phoenixleo Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
Welcome! It was weird because on the left side, I could still somehow see the tiny, tiny, tiny dithered pixels even without seeing the right one and it was like, wow o_O
Reply
:iconchronophontes:
Chronophontes Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks! This is wonderful. Part of my job is to explain dither to my students, and I always end up telling them that it's easier to do than to describe. Now you've put it into words!
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
:nod: I had two failed attempts at this tutorials as I just couldn't get the words down for others to understood. I learnt dithering just by having a go and finding out what works, so I agree it is easier to do than to read about.

I feel one of the main reason this tutorial worked is because I dither the samples first and paused each time I changed the technique. I then sat and wrote about what I had done and what made that stage different from the others.
Reply
:iconpix3m:
Pix3M Featured By Owner May 17, 2013   Digital Artist
Dithering for tecturing? Honestly, I don't understand the textures these dithers are supposed to convey. What kind of textures are they supposed to be?
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
Depending on how you place the colour patches and which dithering style you use they can create smooth, rough, furry, grassy, watery textures etc. It is kinda hard to see it on a square swatch which is dithered in lines, but when applied to objects they can have some more interesting effects.
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:iconpix3m:
Pix3M Featured By Owner May 17, 2013   Digital Artist
When I've done grass and water though, I've never used dithering to do that.
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
For example: [link] and [link]

In both of those you can clearly see the greens come in blocks of colour and by applying dithering in vertical lines (opposed to single pixels) they both create a grass like texture.
Reply
:iconpix3m:
Pix3M Featured By Owner May 17, 2013   Digital Artist
I wouldn't call it dithering then, but it's really about creating small forms. That's what I believe texturing is about, just working with form within a plane.

And... know any examples of smooth dithering?
Reply
:iconblissfullysarcastic:
BlissfullySarcastic Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
Dithering varies from piece to piece. You can, indeed, use dithering to convey very different styles in a piece.

Take, for instance, these 2 different pumpkin pieces: [link] and [link]
CookiemagiK's pumpkin is very obviously pixeled to be bumpy and rough, not at all smooth around the edges. The dithering in that piece shows a very obvious texture.
Mab87's pumpkin has an entirely different feel. The pixeling there was intended just to blend the two colors together more cohesively, not to add a texture to them.

Also, something like this piece may look smoother than both of those because there is only dithering towards the lightest point, so it doesn't look nearly as bumpy as either of them.

Where you place your dithering, the technique you use to dither your piece, and how much you choose to dither in each of your colors is huge when working on your piece. Dithering to add texture is a legitimate use of dithering, and if you pull it off successfully, it adds new life and dimension to your piece that wasn't there before.

So I'm going to have to disagree with you on it not conveying a message. :aww:

Love anyway, though. :peace:
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
Certainly in those two cases it fits the definition of dithering I'm using in the tutorial - blending blocks of colour by placing colour in the opposite section. At the same time it also creates a grass texture. Whether it fits into official definitions, that's a different matter.

Smooth textures are one of the most common examples. Such as taking a circle and making it look like a smooth sphere but applying rings of colour and dithering. I only included it as a 'texture' to contrast some of the others listed.
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
It's not common, but I have seen people do it on occasions. It's much better than plain colour, and can be an easier approach than proper pixel grass.
Reply
:iconpix3m:
Pix3M Featured By Owner May 18, 2013   Digital Artist
Also, what are your opinions of this tutorial on basic dithering, written by a pixel art master?

[link]

The dithering section is on the bottom and there's only so many posts taken from the original thread.
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
I will also take the time to quote a section from the other 'best pixel art tutorial' you link via your profile: [link] "Dithering consists of different patterns of pixels. It's typically used to ease the transition between two colors, without adding any new colors to the palette. It's also used for creating texture."

Whilst your initial question seemed valid I feel as the conversation moves on and on that you are trying to attack me and my knowledge to prove that I am wrong on the topic. I am not a pixel artist and have never claimed to be so. I am an emoticonist and in our gallery we don't stick to strict rules and definitions and there are no 'masters'. We take inspiration from other art forms and adapt them to suit our needs, taking short cuts where we see fit.

My tutorial is here to offer a basic introduction for those that have little to no knowledge or experience of dithering. Whilst it may not meet a pixel art master's or even normal pixel artist's standard, I think it works well for the purpose it was designed for. I can't say I any experience of using dithering to create textures myself, hence why this tutorial focusses on blending colour. I merely included the line in the tutorial on the advice of proof-readers who made me aware of this secondary use. But as shown in the quote above, it is not a foreign concept.

I apologise if you merely felt we were having a polite discussion on the topic, but some of your wording has made me feel threatened by you, so I have become defensive of myself and my work. I hope we can leave this discussion point alone now and if you feel my definition is incorrect by pixel art standards, leave it be for those that are not in the pixel art community.
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
I am sure for those well versed in pixel art if is a very interesting and useful tutorial. However, it is written at a high level such that those newer to the art form would likely to struggle to grasp anything from it.
Reply
:iconiamoret:
iAmoret Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Thou hast given unto me the secrets of mine enemy. :eyes:

Believe it or not, it's the 'random noise' part that hates me. :roll:
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 18, 2013
I can understand that. It can be a bit of a pain to find places that look natural
Reply
:iconiamoret:
iAmoret Featured By Owner May 20, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
YUSSS. :stare:
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:iconanalillithbar:
analillithbar Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:excited:
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:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
:la:
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:iconanalillithbar:
analillithbar Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
;)
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:iconthewritingdragon:
TheWritingDragon Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
WOW this is perfect :heart: thank you soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much!!! :tighthug: I think dithering is the hardest thing for me ^^;
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
It can be tricky to get the hang of, but dive it a go on some simple pieces and you can soon learn the basics.
Reply
:iconthewritingdragon:
TheWritingDragon Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
hopefully :XD: thanks!
Reply
:iconpizzapotatonbacon:
PizzaPotatoNBacon Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Student General Artist
Ah, dithering! I think this is somewhat the same technique used for Pokémon sprites as well. Dithering is a great method to blend colors without actually using another color in between, in all kinds of Pixel Art. :la: Really helps when you need a limited palette.
Reply
:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
:nod: It is used a lot in other areas of pixel based art such as dolls, sprites and pixel art. I just mainly aim my tutorials at emoticonists/emoticon users that is the main audience that watch my account.
Reply
:iconpizzapotatonbacon:
PizzaPotatoNBacon Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Student General Artist
All hail Pixel Art! :dummy:
Ah. I see. :nod: Well, you are a fantastic emoticonist after all. :D
Reply
:iconczar-the-dragon:
Czar-the-Dragon Featured By Owner May 17, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Whose dither is the 2nd one on the "Different dithering styles"-section? Looks quite a lot like the one I use sometimes.
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:iconsynfull:
Synfull Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
That one is Krissi's. I've labelled them all now :)
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