What is 2D Game Art

Today, 2D games are in high demand and hold many positions in various top lists. 2D is slowly regaining its positions in the gaming industry as new projects and fantastic art styles emerge. Some things look better three-dimensional, while others excel with just two. How is that possible? Let’s take a look at tricks that 2D game art has up in its sleeve!

2D Game Art Styles

You have probably seen labels such as 3D and 2D in various articles, on big screens in cinema, or games. 3D objects have height, width, and depth. 2D lacks the last one, which means that 2D artwork is created and displayed in two dimensions. However, it is still possible to draw very realistic volumetric images that look like a photo or carefully recreated landscape or in-game environment. In most scenarios, 3D and 2D art styles go hand in hand, complementing each other and making new, unexpected discoveries in the process. So join us today on a trip to discover more about the two-dimensional form of game art.

What is 2D art?

To put it super simple – any image that is not made in 3D is 2D. It is a huge niche that covers lots of art styles and forms. From primitive rock drawings by prehistoric people to detailed oil paintings on canvas – it is all 2D. Talented artists can make 2D art look almost indistinguishable from 3D and as realistic as photos.
Designs in older games were flat and mostly used pixel art. However, thanks to technological advancement, many new styles appeared. Some of them are mesmerizing and easily recognizable. For example, monochromatic art uses only a few colors or pixel art that brings back old-school square graphics.

Where is 2D art used?

To put it bluntly, anywhere where you need to visualize something. 2D encompasses a wide variety of art styles. From simple silhouettes on a wall to massive battles on canvas – it is all 2D art. The same stays true for digital art as long as it is not stepping into the 3D territory with added depth. As of today, the most common representatives of two-dimensional art are cartoons and video games. 2D game art is a basis for almost every project in the gaming industry. Before moving to the finalization of your designs, you need to have at least some concepts, sketches, and textures.

Notable types of 2D game art

In the video game industry, there always were enough space and demand for both 3D and 2D. But when various popular franchises like Fallout, GTA, Final Fantasy started their transitions to three-dimensional worlds, it seemed that the balance of power would never be the same. However, a huge influx of masterful indie games and the growing popularity of mobile gaming gave 2D an incredible boost to stay alive and expand. As a result, more 2D art styles appeared on the horizon. So let us share our thoughts on the most famous of them. Please note, that we don’t cover common techniques like Vector art in this article but rather put emphasis on some of the most common styles.

2D Pixel Art

Probably, the most famous and the most renowned art style. Whenever you see it, there is a chance to be struck with powerful nostalgia and good old memories from the epoch of the first consoles. The early graphics were made from pixels. All characters, environments, and effects had the form of small squares. Modern hardware is able to do complex calculations producing jaw-dropping visuals, but 2D pixel art remains in demand. Of course, it is more stylized, polished, and attractive but still has that square-look charm. The most popular modern games with pixel art are:
  • Hotline Miami;
  • Terraria;
  • Dead Cells;
  • Celeste;
  • Undertale.
The pixelated environment in Celeste

Flat Art

The title says it all. The designs for objects that have no depth/volume appear flat on the screen. Unlike with cel-shading, flat art games don’t care about physics and realism. Therefore, designers are free to channel more creativity in their projects. That is why we often see incredible and unthinkable flat imagery in games. Sometimes artists borrow a thing or two from other art styles, but they generally prefer to stay away from common features. If you want to see how it plays, check these flat art games:
  • Kentucky Route Zero;
  • Gravity Defied;
  • Flat Kingdom;
  • Nidhogg.
Everything is flat in the Flat Kingdom, who would have thought?

Cutout Art

One of the top art styles for animation. As you have probably already guessed, it takes images that seem to be drawn on paper and then cut out and placed in another environment. It may seem a bit off or somewhat awkward in the new world, but that is the whole point. Cutout creatures/characters visually remain the same all the time. However, when you need to animate the movement, you just change the position of the cutout object. To visualize various states, you have to use different cutouts. We recommend checking the following games to see how to use cutout art to its full potential:
  • Don’t Starve;
  • Capsized;
  • Shank;
  • Paper Mario;
  • Aquaria.
Toro boss fight in Shank

Geometric Art

It is all about shapes, as the name suggests. However, with this 2D game art, you are not limited to simple shapes. You can use the whole variety of them in a game, and it will be noticeable. Sometimes such games even force people to play as geometric figures. For instance, in Asteroids, your ship is literally a triangle. Squares and rectangles were also the most popular shapes in old titles. We do not see a lot of geometric art in modern games, so here are a few classic examples:
  • Pong;
  • PacMan;
  • Geometry Wars;
  • Trigonarium.
Total mayhem in Trigonarium

Monochromatic Art

The games with limited color palettes fall into this category. You might think that black-and-white designs are dull and ugly, but it is not true. Yes, they are mostly gloomy, with the sense of loneliness and fatality dripping out of them. However, this is what makes this style truly unique. Shades, lighting, and tints play a significant role in games that use monochromatic art, as artists are usually limited by two or three colors. This is one of those game art styles that you either love or hate. Masterful monochromatic designs can be seen in:
  • Limbo;
  • Badlands;
  • Inside;
  • One Upon Light.
A brilliant example of monochromatic art from Inside

Realism

Another self-explanatory 2D game art style. Artists who specialized in realism aim to create hi-res images that come as close to reality as possible. It is often used for drawing mind-blowing illustrations and concept arts. No aspect of such drawings should pass unnoticed – from minor skin imperfections to truthful shades. The goal is to create a piece of art almost indistinguishable from the real world. For obvious reasons, it works better with 3D, but older two-dimensional games also had good attempts to recreate reality on screen. For that purpose, game designers used digitized sprites, full-motion video clips, and pre-rendered graphics. For better understanding, take a look at these games:
  • The 7th Guest;
  • Mad Dog McCree;
  • Myst.
Oshi city from Mark of the Ninja

Popular software for creating 2D game art

Gifted artists can make masterpieces even in primitive programs such as Windows Paint. Obviously, it is not suitable for creating professional designs. Which software to use entirely depends on the tasks at hand. One tool would be perfect for making character models, textures, or backgrounds, while others will excel in drawing sprites, visual effects, and tinkering with animation. Artists that work in the game development sphere also need to know how to work with popular engines. Here are a few picks from our list of top 2D game art software:
  • Unity;
  • Adobe Photoshop;
  • Unreal Engine;
  • Inkscape;
  • GIMP;
  • SketchBook Pro;
  • Inkscape.

Final words

Although 3D is much more popular and widely used today, 2D art remains afloat and very much needed. 3D-oriented projects use various two-dimensional images and assets. Apart from sketches and arts of environments and characters, there are also many other drawn elements such as menus, interfaces, backgrounds, and so on. 2D art is one of the main pillars that uphold the industry, so it cannot be discounted.

2D game art services

Given the variety of game art styles, it takes tons of time to create beautiful images, concepts, and designs, even for experienced artists. Those are always in high demand, and their services cost a lot. Not every studio can have a dedicated design unit, which prompts them to look for experts outside their company. We can lend you a hand with any type of art on demand.
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