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.

Making Pixel Art Tilesets in Hexels

By Mark Knight

This guide will show you how to use Hexels to create seamless pixel art textures and export a tileset for 2D game development. In this example, I created a confectionary themed tileset and used it to prototype a level layout.


What is a Tileset?

Pixel art textures are used to build the levels of a game world. Having seamless textures means large areas can be filled using one texture and its variations. This saves time and improves game performance.

A tileset can include assets such as walls, flooring, doors and treasure chests in a grid formation. Similar to a spritesheet, having all of a levels assets in one image improves the performance of a game.

Creating a Tileable Pixel Tile

To start, I used Pixel Layers on the ‘Squares’ template and enlarged my canvas size to 275×150. This allows for plenty of room to move shapes around.

Creating the seamless ‘fizzy drink’ texture.

I created a solid 32×32 square to form the background of the tile. The next step was to draw a series of circles on a new pixel layer to represent bubbles. The bubbles are offset from the tile for the following demonstration.

I tested the tileability of the pattern by double-clicking the ‘bubbles’ layer and ticking the ‘Wrapped’ box in the Layer properties window. This shows how the image repeats and where components needed to be repositioned to avoid seams.

I moved some areas horizontally and vertically to their corresponding positions.

To finish the tile, I merged the bubble layer into the background layer. Always create each tile on a new layer to test with the wrapping feature, otherwise more than one tile will be included in the wrap.

You can also draw details with wrapped view enabled and the canvas will update as you draw.

Things to Consider

When creating a ‘top-down’ style game, the lighting direction needs to be considered. For each tile, paint shadows using a darker shade of the existing color to influence shape and depth. I created the rest of the tiles using the same technique and checked each one using the wrapping feature.

With the grid turned on for reference (Ctrl+G), tiles can be positioned and arranged using the Marquee Select tool (S).

Time to Export!

The Frame tool (F) is used to crop the visible canvas area. Be sure to tick the Transparent box in the Document tab to make the background transparent.

To export the tileset, go to File>Export (Ctrl+E), select your save destination and the Export window will appear. The size of the exported image can be customized to suit your intended game resolution target.

That’s a Wrap!

Whether you’re conceptualizing a game idea or creating assets for in-game use, Hexels makes it easy to bring your game designs to life. Create your own tilesets with the free 14 day trial of Hexels.

Hexels Making of: Behemoth Reveal

I’m Mark Knight from Marmoset and I’ve always been fascinated with rotoscope animation. From classics like Bakshi’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ to modern anime production, rotoscope can be used in many interesting ways.

Being told Hexels was getting Pixel Mode, with the ability to combine Pixel Layers and Trixel Layers in the same document I saw this as a real game-changer for the software. With the new Pixel Layers allowing me to draw curves and lines in any direction, I wanted to see if it was possible to Rotoscope over imported images using the new mode.

I started by creating a short 180° turn amination with a 3d model of the Hexels monkey head Logo in a 3D package. I exported the frames of the animation and then imported the entire sequence of images into Hexels, all at once, by simply dragging it onto my hexels canvas. This gives the option to add each image on its own layer of the entire sequence as a single layer animation.

Choosing the latter meant I could see the full animation like a flip book and I now had my rotoscoping reference.

I lowered the opacity of the reference animation to make painting above, on a new pixel layer, more visible. I used the line tool to trace the outline around each colour ignoring shade altogether. Next, I used the paint bucket to fill each outlined area. I carried on using this technique for every frame, and once finished extended the cube down to the bottom of the canvas to give the creature a body.

This is how my animation looked once I was happy the blocking of some of the main shapes.

The next step was to animate glowing yellow eyes. This effect was created by creating a new pixel layer for the eyes. I filled each new selection with a strong yellow colour then added a directional motion blur effect to each cell. This allowed me to animate the intensity and direction of the blur without impacting upon any other scene elements. Effects like this can be found in the dedicated ‘Effects’ drop down menu or from the layer properties window.

I wanted to add more shape to the creature so the next logical step was tentacles, because I love all things Lovecraftian. To give the illusion of the tentacles rotating along with the creature reveal I required two pixel layers. Layer ordering is important here. One tentacle layer is below the creature Layer, the other is above it. By having each of the two layers transform across the length of my timeline, and having the intersection point at the midpoint of the creatures rotation, I could simplify a potentially complex sequence.

The tentacle layer behind the creature has a reduced opacity to help convey distance.
From this point I added a white gradient layer rising from the bottom of the canvas. I lowered the opacity to give a hazy look and create distance between the creature and the foreground. For the top edge of the image I added a black gradient to give the impression of darkness above the scene. I also added a pixel layer with a few vertical freehand lines with an animated distortion and blob effect to smooth away the pixel edges. This gives a look of rising smoke like wisps. It’s worthwhile experimenting with effects. They can really add a level of polish to an element or scene. It’s good practice to create each element, of your scene, on a new layer to allow for more creative control when applying transforms and effects.

The final element in the scene is a small silhouette foreground character with some environmental detail. I added a little movement using traditional keyframe animation, on a new pixel layer, and added some architectural ruins to put it all together.

To create the effect of a smooth panning camera movement, I applied a Transform to the whole document. This essentially means I can move and scale all layers at once. I created a frame with a 16×9 aspect ratio so that anything inside the frame will be included in the final export. Using the Transform tool (T), I reduced the scale of the whole document towards the end of my timeline. Hexels automates the change in scale to create a camera pan away from the scene. For any camera like movement the frame tool (F on keyboard) is essential. You can still export your images full size with the options available in the export window.

With the introduction of Pixel Layers the possibilities for animation are substantially increased. It’ll be really exciting to see what the community comes up with now that Hexels 3 is released.

Achieving an Orbital Parallax Effect with Hexels

By Mark Knight

This guide will show you how to use Hexels to create a dynamic, comic book style sequence with an orbital parallax effect.

What is a Parallax Effect?

A parallax effect is an illusion of depth using layered 2D elements. Foreground layers move at a different speed to background layers depending on their perceived distance from the camera.

This animation is an example of Asymmetrical Scrolling. It’s created by looping multiple tiling planes at varying speeds.

An Orbital Parallax effect, on the other hand, simulates a camera orbiting a pivot point.


Elements beyond the pivot point move in the opposite direction to those ahead of the pivot point. The closer an object is to the pivot point, the less it appears to move.

Scene Setup!

I started with the Pixels Trixels 1080p template and doubled the canvas size from 1920×1080 to 3840×2160.

I drew a cityscape on a Pixel layer using the Line tool (L) with my pencil size set to 5.

Animating the Orbital Parallax

In order to animate the parallax effect, the buildings and bridges needed to be cut and pasted into their own pixel layers.

I added my characters and arranged all the layers in order of depth The top layer contained the nearest element and the bottom layer contained the farthest.

I’ve switched to Timeline mode and added 7 frames to the animation track. Layer 0 (shaded grey in the image) is our static pivot point that other elements orbit around. The Transform Tool (T) was used to keyframe the Transform of Frame 1 for Layer 1 moving slightly to the right, then another at Frame 5 moving in the opposite direction. To end the animation at the starting position, Frame 1’s Transform keyframe was copied and pasted to Frame 8.

An isometric diagram of the final animation. Remember, layers beyond the pivot point (Layer 0) move in opposite directions to layers ahead of the pivot point.

Time to Export!

The Frame tool (F) was used to crop any unwanted layer edges from view.

The Frame Tweening values were increased in the Animation Settings window. This creates invisible frames in between every frame to smooth out and slow down the final animation.


The Final Result

The illusion of depth was enhanced by reducing the opacity for layers in the distance. Explosions, boats and lettering were added to existing layers to fill out the scene.

Create your own parallax animations using the 14 day trial of Hexels. Share them with fellow artists in the Facebook Hexels User Group.

Hexels Adventures | Ep. 7 Elves’ Workshop

This holiday season, Mark Knight takes you on tour through the Hexels workshop where elves create cubic presents from magic pixel dust. Watch as he uses Hexels 3 to draw out a series of bustling Elves, animates them frame by frame and brings it all together using animated layer transforms.

Watch the final sequence and check out previous episodes of Hexels Adventures.

Making of: Hexels 3 Modern Living Space

Mark Knight is back with a new hexplanation of how he built the slick Modern Living Space from the Hexels Adventures episode. Mark breaks down each step that makes up the scene, which includes the use of new pixel tools to meld with vector shapes.

Get started on your path to geometric goodness with Hexels 3.