I'm regularly asked how I make my bead sprites and pictures, so I thought I'd make a guide, rather than repeat myself over and over. Just note that there are many different techniques for creating bead sprites, and this is mine. I'm not saying it's the only or best way, just that I arrived at it after much trial and error, and it works well for me. I hope this is helpful for any budding pixel beaders out there! Equipment Before you start laying beads, there is some equipment you need to acquire.
A Computer or tablet... basically something to get online with to find sprites or images for inspiration. Also, you might want to create/edit sprites using various programs
A Tub or container of some kind. I find an ice cream tub works best. This will be explained later
Tweezers for picking up beads
Pegboards for placing the beads on. They connect, making larger sprites/images possible
A Straightened-Out Paper Clip or something similar, this will also be explained later
Beads, lots of beads. I use Hama and Perler midi beads, but there are more to choose from.
Parchment Paper to place over the beads when ironing them. This stops them sticking to the iron. Hama make their own paper, but I prefer the baking paper, as it comes on a roll, allowing for larger sheets.
Masking Tape for removing the beads from the pegboards
A Standard Household Iron for fusing the beads together
Heavy Books for flattening freshly-ironed sprites
A corn on the cob holder for piercing masking tape
Notes About The Beads Hama beads are readily available in the UK, while Perler beads are American. Their palettes vary slightly, meaning that if you want the widest range of colours possible, you need to get both. Mixing brands is important if you want plenty of detail, for example, Hama has a light grey that Perler lacks, but Perler has different shades like Tan and Sand, which make excellent skin tones. However, you will find that different brands melt differently, so you may choose not to mix them if you prefer to iron your beads on both sides. More on that later though!
Living in the UK, I recommend getting Perler beads from Amazon and eBay where possible. The official Perler website usually has the most choice, but you risk having to pay extra customs charges when your order is shipped over. I get most of my Hama beads from the official website, as they usually have all colours in stock. There is also a brand called Nabbi, but I've never seen or used these so can't comment on how they are to bead with. The size that is most widely used is Midi. These beads are about 5mm diameter, and are easier to use than the Mini beads, which are obviously smaller and much more fiddly. Notes About Computer Programs I'm not going to go into how to use various computer programs to plot out or create pixel sprites or pictures. There are plenty of programs and apps you can use to do this, and I haven't tried enough of them to be able to do an in depth comparison. There are detailed comparisons and guides out there on the Internet, so you just have to search. A lot of beaders use Photoshop or GIMP to create their own palettes that match the bead colours, and create their own bead pictures, but the only one I use is simply called "Perler", and can be downloaded for free from here. This is a program that lets you input a photo, and it converts it into beads. You can specify the height, width, colours, and even create new colours. It takes a bit of playing around with to get the hang of all the features, but for a free program, it is excellent. There is also "Sprite Something", an app on Apple's App store, which is handy for plotting out sprites if you want to draw them by hand. I've planned out many sprites using this app. I've also used Microsoft Paint to pixellate images, and just done the colour conversion by eye as I worked. This takes more time, and is probably more suited to images with simple colour schemes, and more experienced artists.
Getting Started So, first you have to decide what you want to create out of beads. The Internet is a goldmine for 8-bit artwork and sprites, which are a great starting point, due to their simplicity. If you're interested in videogame sprites, the best starting point is The Spriters Resource- there is a wealth of gaming sprites to be found there. For the purpose of this guide though, I'm going to bead the Hulk Hogan sprite below.
NOTE: this guide was written before Hulk Hogan's racist remarks were revealed to the world. Please let it be known that I have never condoned racism, and no longer condone Hulk Hogan.
First, choose a colour to place on the pegboard first. Take these beads, and put some in the container mentioned in the Equipment section. Shake them about a bit until some of them line up along the corner/curve of the container. You want the holes of the beads to line up together. Then take your straightened-out paper clip (or similar tool) and insert it into the line of beads, so you get a lot of them on the paper clip, like so:
This allows you to "quick-fire" drop beads onto the pegboard, saving a lot of time when you have many beads of the same colour to lay. Use tweezers for individual colours that need placing. Discard any deformed beads - you get a few of these in each bag, but each bag contains 1,000 beads, so it's no big deal.
Place all the colours until your sprite looks complete.
Taping Next you need to cover your sprite in masking tape, and make sure you press down on it all over to ensure all beads are stuck to the tape. Once you're happy all the beads are stuck, gently peel back the tape, removing the beads from the pegboard. Don't worry if the odd bead stays on the pegboard, you can add it back into the sprite with tweezers once the sprite has been fully removed. Some people save and reuse the masking tape, but personally I find that the stickiness reduces each time you do this, making it more likely that you'll lose beads when removing them from the pegboard. Note, for larger bead sprites, you may want to lay something flat (like a book) over the sprite once you've taped it, then flip it over so the pegboards are on top, then remove the boards from the sprite. This is just because it can be difficult to peel away huge sprites from boards, and before you know it, part of it has slipped or the tape has come away from itself and beads are everywhere. Above all, at this stage you just need to be careful. Make sure the tape doesn't get stuck to you by accident, because then one movement can turn this...
...into this -->
Yep, a small part of me died with this piece, but it was my own fault for not being careful enough. In hindsight, I don't think the design looked great, so maybe destroying it was a good thing. Anyway, your sprite should now look something like this:
Now it's time for possibly the worst part of the creation process: piercing the tape. This is only necessary for larger projects, as it allows heat to dissipate from the beads while they're being ironed. If you're just making a small sprite like this one, don't bother with the piercing.
It's important to pierce the tape over every bead in larger projects, as it helps prevent overmelting while ironing. Obviously, in projects comprised of thousands of beads, this is a very repetitive and time consuming process. Stick with it! It will save you so many headaches with over-melted beads, that can ruin a bead project. Here's an example of a project, taped and pierced:
So why go through all this hassle with the taping and piercing, I hear you ask? Why not just iron the beads on the pegboard, then remove the sprite? Good question, as that's what I did with my first few sprites. It seemed like the easiest way to do it, and I didn't foresee any problems occurring... but they did. Firstly, the heat from the iron warps the boards, and can melt the pegs down. This happened to me. It's nothing major, but can cause problems when you want to connect a warped board to a straight one. However, the biggest downside to ironing on the pegboards is that it can be tricky to get your sprite off of the board(s) once ironed. Beads can get stuck on the pegs, and you can warp the sprite trying to pull it off of the board. This happened to me with a Kobe Bryant sprite I made. It also didn't help that my iron was set too hot, but we'll talk about ironing soon. Here is the Kobe sprite, with the warped, stretched area highlighted:
So to recap, for small sprites you can just peel them away from the pegboards, abut for bigger pictures it's often easier to sandwich the taped beads on the pegboards between two books or boards, flip it over, then remove the boards. Either way, you will be left with your bead sprite/picture with its "backside" facing up, sitting on the masking tape. It's now time to iron!
Ironing This is the stage most beaders hate, as this stage has potential to ruin the project you've already poured hours into. Like anything, experience makes it easier, and I arrived at the method I'm showing here after much trial and error.
With the masking tape on the underneath, you are now presented with the underside of the sprite. This is the side we are going to iron first, so take your iron, ensure there is no water in it, turn the steam function off, and set the temperature to somewhere around "wool".
The correct temperature for ironing beads isn't set in stone, as different irons behave differently, different beads melt at different rates, and different people have different preferences. When I first started out, I set my iron to maximum heat, which is far too hot. Although it made the fusing process quicker, it left very little margin for error, and I ended up with a few ruined sprites due to over-melting. It may not be immediately noticeable, but I over-melted a patch on the piece below, and once it's done, it can't be fixed.
So now you've got your iron ready, place the parchment paper over the sprite so that it covers all the beads, and start ironing! Note, it is important that you iron your sprite/picture on a completely flat, hard surface. If the surface isn't completely flat, this will show through in the finished sprite/picture, and no one wants that!
It takes roughly 30 seconds for beads to fuse at this temperature, so keep checking as you go. You can see through the parchment paper when they start to expand and merge into each other, but if you're not sure, peel it back for a better look. Don't put too much pressure on the sprite, just let the iron and the heat do the work for you. How melty you want your beads is up to you - some people like them completely melted into squares, but that way's not for me. When you've fused all the beads, pile up some heavy books on the sprite to stop it from curling now that it's hot. Luckily my wife is obsessed with Jamie Oliver cookbooks, so I use those! Leave the sprite, with the books on top, for about 10 mins or so to allow it to cool down and set. Once it has cooled, you can remove the books and gently peel off the masking tape. If you're too rough here, you could break the sprite, and you don't want that after you've come so far! When the tape is off, you should be left with a fairly flat sprite, fused on the underside, while still looking "beady" on the front.
You can iron the front of the sprite too. I don't always do this, but I do when I want the sprite to be a bit more solid and sturdy. The end result, when ironed on both sides, is something like this:
OPTIONAL: Choose a kickass filter and OWN Instagram.