Ninique's Minidollz

Tutorials- Before you start

This tutorial series is for people who are just starting in the dolling world. In this first tutorial, I explain some of the things you need before you can create your first pixel doll.

Tool of Pixel?


You might have heard about the terms pixelshading and toolshading before if you've browsed around on doll websites. These terms refer to two types of techniques that are commonly used to make pixel dolls. The images at the right are zoomed-in portions of some of my dolls and show the difference between the techniques in the way they look like.

  • In pixelshading, you draw all the clothes and shade them pixel by pixel, using only the pencil tool. This makes the dolls look crisp and similar in style to other types of pixel art. It also limits the number of colours to what you have on your palette (see below for info about palettes).
  • In toolshading, you take advantage of the tools that your graphics software has, most commonly the smudge tool, airbrush tool, and dodge/burn tools. This makes the shading very smooth but increases the number of colours on your doll.

Most dollers choose one of these techniques to make their pixel dolls, but some use both. I encourage you to experiment and find what you like best. This tutorial series, however, will be focused on pixelshading. Why? Because for me it is easier to explain, and most importantly, it can be done in any program. If you're looking for toolshading tutorials, I suggest Doll on the Hill Factory.

Graphics Programs

To be able to create a pixel doll, you'll need to use a raster graphics program (a graphics program that is able to deal with pixels). Before choosing a program, it is important to think about if you want to toolshade or pixelshade, because not every program has the required tools for toolshading. Another thing to consider is your budget, since some of these programs can be expensive, but many are free to download. Also, if you share a family computer, be sure to ask a parent before installing any new program, even if it's free.

Here's a comparative chart of some of the programs that can be used for dolling. You can click on the name of a program to go to its official homepage where you can download it. Most of the paid software offer a free trial period where you can test it out before you decide if you want to buy it or not. The prices I show are estimates, in US dollars.

Program NamePlatform PriceComments
Adobe PhotoshopWindowsMac$700A powerful, very well known, professional raster editing program. It has lots of tools for toolshading and layers, but I would only suggest it if you are going to do more than just dolling.
Adobe Photoshop ElementsWindowsMac$140Photoshop's little brother. It also has all the tools you would need for toolshading but with a better price tag. It often comes packaged with digital cameras, printers, and graphic tablets, so look in your installation CDs -- You may already have it!
Microsoft PaintWindowsFreeEveryone probably already knows about this software. It comes with every Windows computer. It's great for dolling because it's very simple and easy to use. However you can only use it for pixelshading because it doesn't have any advanced tools.
The GimpWindowsMacLinuxFreeAn open source, cross-platform software that has both tools and layers. The interface may be a bit hard to get used to at first, especially if you're on Windows, but it's still a very good program.
Serif PhotoplusWindowsFree
($80 for paid version)
The free version of this software is 100% functional and with no time limit, but it's an older version so it doesn't have all the "cool features" that the latest version has. Still, even the free version works well with toolshading, and has layers, but the tools kind of behave a bit differently than with some other programs. If you want to use this program, I have some tutorials for it in the Serif Photoplus section.
Corel Paint Shop ProWindows$100This program is quite popular amongst dollers, so you'll find a lot of tutorials for it around the Internet. It's good for toolshading and has layers.
KolourPaintLinuxFreeThis little-known program is very similar to MS Paint, but for Linux. It has a few features more than Microsoft Paint but it doesn't have the tools needed for toolshading. It's the program I am currently using for dolling.
PaintbrushMacFreeAnother pixel-shading only program that is very similar to MS Paint. This time, for the Mac. The one thing that is missing from MS paint though is a thumbnail view.
PixenMacFreeThis is a free software that was especially designed for working with pixel art. It supports layers and animation and has a nice way of dealing with palettes. However it lacks a curve tool and is sometimes unstable (crashes).
Paint.NetWindowsFreeI've never really tried this program, so I can't say much about it. I know that it supports layers, but seems to be missing some of the tools that are used for toolshading, so it's best for pixelshading.


A base

A base (or basebody) is a naked and bald body that you will draw your clothes on. It typically already has a face drawn onto it but sometimes you'll have to draw the face yourself. You can get basebodies from all kinds of different doll sites. You can also create your own base, but I don't recommend you do that until you are comfortable with dolling.

Make sure you always read the site's rules before using someone's bases. Some dollers are very specific about what you can and cannot do. Most sites, though, require a link back if you use their bases, so make sure you always note down the address where you got them from.

A lot of doll websites offer their own free bases that you can use, including mine. Since people almost always have to link back to the bases they used, a good way to find them is to click on those base credit links on dolls that you like. But if you don't know where to find bases, here are a few directories that can help:

Another great way to find bases is to go on the base sections of dolls forums.

The base that I'll be using for this tutorial is by daedre. She no longer has her bases up online, but I think if you ask her, she could send it to you.


A palette is a set of colour tones that you use to shade a part of a doll. They are most important for pixel shading, but some toolshaders use them as well. Many doll website offer palettes for download, including this one. (You can find my palettes here.) Unlike bases, you usually don't need to link to them. However, some people still would prefer you credit them if you use their palettes, so make sure you check their site's rules. If you're feeling adventurous, or don't want to be limited in your choice of colours, you can also create your own palette.

Here are the palettes that I'll be using in the course of this tutorial series. You're welcome to save them and use the same colours as me if you like: