Hopefully I can do a good job of making this easy to understand.
This is a guide to transforming the first of these into the second!
warning: this is really long and possibly rambly, but I hope it is helpful to anyone who wants to learn!
Start out with a base, one without hair. You can probably find these with a quick Google search of “homestuck sprite base” or something similar. I actually can’t remember where I found the ones I’m using right now. A .png file or .gif file is the sort you should use to make sprites because they save as transparent! I stick to .png unless I’m making a moving image.
As for what program you use, you can actually use a wide variety of programs! The most popular of these is Photoshop, which can be pretty complicated. Some other ones that should do include FireAlpaca (a freebie that works with both PCs and Macs) and GIMP, which is like free Photoshop but not as good. Personally, for the sprite made in this tutorial, I used Photoshop Elements because it’s all I have on the old computer I’m using.
As for whether you should use a mouse or tablet, either of these can work! You will be very zoomed in to click on individual pixels, so you probably won’t really need the added maneuverability of a tablet, though a tablet can speed things up! For this sprite, I am using a mouse because my tablet does not work with my ancient computer.
Now for the actual sprite-making and -editing process:
As I mentioned, start out with a sprite base. If it isn’t surrounded by transparent space already (which is often codified in computer programs by a grey checker pattern), use the magic wand tool to select these areas and then delete them.
You are all ready to begin!
I am just going to assume that the sprite you’re making is a troll sprite because this fandom tends to like making fantrolls more than fankids. I personally have not actually made or edited any kid sprites.
To start off with, make sure your canvas is nice and roomy. Let me emphasize that this is your canvas size, not your image size. If you resize your image, you will end up with a stretched-out image. If you resize your canvas, your sprite will remain the same size but you will have plenty of gloriously open space to work with. I like a nice big 250x300 pixel size. Height goes after width, right? Correct me if I’m wrong, please.
You’re going to need a canon sprite to reference from! One of the biggest mistakes I see some fans make is putting features onto their sprites without referencing the canon sprites for their exact placement. It can lead to a disorderly and unfamiliar effect since people are used to seeing the Homestuck sprites’ features placed in specific spots.
The sprite I’m making right now is for a greenblood troll lady so I think I’ll use Nepeta for reference! It doesn’t really matter, but I think she’s cute.
Open a canon sprite next to the new one. You will be using this sprite to pick colors off of. Not necessarily blood or clothing colors, but eye, skin, and horn colors.
Select the canon sprite’s skin color and apply it to the sprite’s face with the bucket tool! If you are keeping other aspects of your base sprite, do some quick and easy bucket tool colorings of the sprite’s other features in the colors you want them to be(like if you want to keep the shirt, the shoes, the pants, etc.)
Now, here come the weirder parts of sprite making/editing. As I said, you’re going to want a canon sprite for reference.
Copy and paste the canon sprite onto your new sprite as a new layer. Change the transparency of the canon sprite layer to, say, 50%. This will look very silly, but please bear with me. I have only your best interests in mind. Move the canon sprite so that it is exactly in line with the base. All Homestuck sprites have the exact same face shape, so the pixels should line up perfectly!
It should look something like this. Now you have a spooky ghost on top of your base.
Decide what features of your sprite you are going to make first. Personally, it doesn’t make a difference for me if I start with facial features or hair, but I’m going to start with hair in this tutorial.
A mistake that I notice many sprite makers make is that they don’t make the hair big enough. Both the trolls and kids have a pretty ridiculous volume of hair if we assume the sprite’s head to be the whole skull. Or that’s just the face. Whatever. When you draw the hair, use the PENCIL tool. No anti-aliasing. None. Please none. Use the pencil tool because the brush tool will leave your lines blurry at such a small size!
Draw an outline of the hair you want in black on the layer after the canon sprite layer. The lady I’m making a sprite for right now has short but bouncy and curly hair. Zoom in so that you can see the individual pixels pretty well. I like to zoom into 400% when drawing hair. Go slowly if you need to. Work in portions if you need to. Just remember. Big hair. And if you make a mistake and need to erase, make sure that your eraser tool is set to “pencil mode” or is not set to anti-aliasing, depending on the program you use! Like the brush tool, the eraser can give a blurry effect that just doesn’t look good in this situation.
This is what I’ve got so far!
If you want to see how your hair is really doing, make the canon sprite layer invisible. This can help you spot mistakes!
If you’re happy with your hair lines (actually, if you just want solid hair; you can still edit it!) use the bucket tool to fill it in. If you don’t like how your sprite’s hair looks yet, use the pencil and eraser tool to mold and shape it into your Ultimate Dream Hair. Also, a tip: if you are giving your character a hairstyle that exposes the scalp/is cut very close to the head, I suggest using Tavros’s sprite as a reference!
Once you’re happy with your hair, having given it glorious and substantial volume, we shall proceed to the face. This is where our lovely canon sprite layer really comes in handy.
Make sure your canon sprite layer is visible. Decide on what kind of eye and mouth shapes you want. Draw one eye over the canon sprite’s eye in your preferred style on a brand new layer. Just one. Unless you have the memory and concentration of a god, you will not be able to make two identical eyes. Unless you want a cross-eyed sprite or something, try to match the placement of the iris/pupil to your canon sprite layer’s. Zoom into the sprite to wherever you are most comfortable. For working on faces, I like 500%. As with the hair, make sure to make the canon sprite layer invisible sometimes so that you can look at your work uninterrupted!
Once you’re happy with your single eye, color it in the color of a canon sprite’s eye. The usual troll eye color, by the way, is the same as the color of the tip of troll horns! Personally, I think a shadow at the top of the eyeball looks cute and adds dimension so I do that, even though none of the canon trolls have this. If you’re interested, the color I use for the shadow is the medium orange of the middle of troll horns. Add sparkles to the eyes if you want some extra cuteness.
Now I am happy with my eye, it’s time to make a second one! To make a second eye, duplicate the layer of your eye and flip the second layer horizontally. Different programs all have different controls for flipping layers, but most of them have that ability. Move the flipped eye so that it fits the canon sprite’s eye just as the first eye you made does.
Add eyebrows if you want to! Many of the canon sprites do not have eyebrows, but I personally think my sprites look better with eyebrows so I always give them eyebrows. To make eyebrows, draw one on a new layer and repeat the duplicating, flipping and adjusting process you used to attach the second eye!
On to the mouth! The mouth should be pretty self-explanatory. Simply draw a mouth onto the new layer over the canon sprite layer’s mouth in the colors and style of your choice.
We are almost finished with the face. Now we just need a final touch—shadows. Nearly all of the canon sprites have darker grey shadows under their eyes. I like to apply shadows in a more complex way than some of the canon sprites because I like my sprites fancy, but don’t be worried if your eye shadows are just a simple half-circle underneath the eyes. Use the dropper tool to take the shadow color from a canon sprite. Just use the duplicating and flipping process from before on those to get them lined up just right!
Now we are going to make horns! Horns are pretty easy to add once you know how, so don’t worry. Just use the dropper tool to select the colors from the canon sprite. It is easiest to make a horn by choosing one of the three colors, drawing it all in one color, and then adding the other two colors once the basic shape is drawn. There is a function used to lock what you have already drawn on a layer so that you can only draw on those pixels on that layer afterward. My Photoshop Elements program tells me it’s called “lock transparent pixels.” It comes in very handy when creating the horns.
As for the horns themselves? Don’t go too overboard in your designs. A little asymmetry and flair is fine and fun, but try not to get too funky. Most of the canon trolls’ horns are pretty similar to horns found on real animals with a few exceptions. Look for pictures of real animal horns for inspiration; that always helps me! It’s fine to have some funky horns, but just try to keep the candelabras and tree branches to a minimum.
Placement of the horns can be tricky. I recommend making the hair layer invisible and trying to anchor them to the head as evenly as you can while you can’t see the hair. To make the second horn, duplicate the layer, flip it, and move it. You’re probably a pro at that by now.
If your troll’s horns are asymmetrical, start with the first horn as a base for the second. Edit it after making the duplicate. You could just make them look completely different, but I recommend starting with the same basic design for both of them. For example, Vriska’s horns are most notably the most dramatically asymmetrical of the main trolls, but they both have the same basic shape aside from the ends.
After you add the horns, consider changing the hair around them a little by putting some hair over them, especially the one on the right, which is usually farther away from us. With a straight-haired troll, this may not be necessary, but it can look very nice on a curly- or messy-haired troll!
And now that we have finished beautifying our sprites from the neck up, it’s time for clothes.
It’s simple and easy to just use use the bucket tool to color in the sprite’s clothing. If you want another sprite’s clothing, you can take that sprite’s clothing or shoes or whatever and copy and paste them onto yours. Just make sure they match up! Don’t take directly, though, that often doesn’t look good. Make sure to change colors.
If you’re making clothes yourself, remember to use thick lines.
Another thing to remember—most of the trolls’ black clothes have grey outlines rather than black. If you, like me, used a sprite that originally belonged to a kid as your base, use the magic wand to select all of the black and color in the parts you want grey with the grey used on the troll sprites. Use the dropper tool to select it. A quick tip: use the grey to block off the parts of the sprite that should stay black, and then use the bucket tool to fill in the rest of the black since the black is most likely all touching below the head.
I want my sprite to have pants, so I am going to copy and paste some pants onto it.
If the pants don’t fit, make them fit. I colored around them and erased some things so that the pants and sprite would line up.
In fact, you could just take an entire sprite and put it on as long as you take off the parts you don’t want, make sure it lines up properly, and edit it to your tastes.
Once you’re finished with the details that you wanted to add, that’s it! You did it! Save it as a .png. Crop it to get rid of excess space, but be careful not to take off any of the sprite’s parts!
I personally wanted to add some cute tortoiseshell glasses to my troll so I did.
Search for any little mistakes. For example, I actually didn’t notice a mistake in this sprite until after I posted this! The sprite’s eye looked a little weird since the light reflected on the eyes from opposite sides since I flipped the eye without editing that. See the difference?
Sprite making can be challenging, but it can also be a lot of fun! Don’t feel bad if your first sprites don’t come out as well as you were expecting. I’ve remade and edited my first sprites a lot since I made them! With practice, you can make all kinds of cool stuff. Play with color and details; add your own flair to what you make. Enjoy yourself!
And here I am, after spending a couple of hours of my life writing this silly thing. i hope someone finds it useful.