Pixel art has long been the style of choice for Pokémon fans, as the chunky, low-resolution look evokes nostalgia of the early days of the series on Game Boy. And while the style is its own art form that some take years to hone, it also makes it easy for everyday fans to make their own related creations using Perler beads.
Perler beads, the plastic cylindrical beads that come in a rainbow of colors, are designed to fit snugly onto boards. Because of the layout and the low-resolution look, they’re the perfect tool to recreate pixel art. As a person who would describe herself as “craft inept,” this is one of the few remotely artistic things I can do.
For Polygon Summer Camp, I made a quick and easy guide to designing Pokémon Perler bead art and coasters.
- Perler beads: I have a variety pack of 22,000, because I wasn’t sure what Pokémon I wanted to make at first. I also like this pack because you get so many shades of each color. (It can also be helpful to get a pack of black beads since they’re so commonly used.)
- Parchment paper or Perler bead paper (they’re basically the same; some beads come with the paper included)
- Perler bead board
- Perler bead tweezers: Consider these optional. If you have multiple people participating, not everyone needs tweezers. They are helpful for precise placements, however.
- An iron
Step 1: Choose your Pokémon
The beauty of Pokémon Perler bead creations is you can create any Pokémon by just looking at the pixel art and recreating it dot by dot. (That’s how I made Gengar.) However, if you’re a beginner I suggest using a pattern online. To find one, just Google a Pokémon, then add the term “perler bead.” There are also YouTube videos that show designs and are easy to follow. From there, you can pick a design that looks doable to you based on the beads you have.
An important note before you start: Make sure you pick a pattern that fits on your board. The size of your design will always expand. Something that looks smaller will end up being larger because of the chunky pixel look, so make sure you count the largest length and width to ensure the final design will fit on your board.
If you want to make a coaster like Gengar, I suggest picking a bigger, rounder Pokémon. The more chonk, the better! As you can see below, you can also make Poké Balls that serve nicely as coasters because of their shape.
Step 2: Prepare your workstation
For the craft to go quickly, you’ll want to do the more tedious organizational work beforehand. This means sorting your colors ahead of time. I use tiny dipping bowls to separate the colors. It’s like the mise en place of Perler beads!
Step 3: Lay the beads out on the board
All you have to do next is recreate the pattern or pixel art you’re mimicking with a one-to-one ratio and place the beads on the board. This is harder than it looks, not just because it is easy to bump the board and scatter beads, but also because matching the colors correctly is surprisingly difficult. Some Pokémon colors can be hard to nail because you’ll spend a lot of time wondering what version of purply-pink or pinkish-purple will look best for something like Ditto.
That’s why I suggest trying to pick roughly similar colors and then laying them out on the board to see if they look good on the character. Oftentimes, I will go between Step 3 and Step 2 because I will realize something looks off after seeing more of how it looks on the board.
Some people like to do an outline, then fill out the middle. I don’t like this because it can be harder to lay beads within a border, but play around with it and see what works for you.
Step 4: Iron the beads!
This is my favorite part. You are going to want to plug in your iron, set it to high heat, and wait for it to heat up. Take care to not jostle the beads and gently press the iron onto the design. From there, use circular movements to iron out all the beads for about 20 seconds. You’ll know it’s starting to melt when you see the design melt through the paper, so you’ll want to keep going until you see the backs of the beads melt together.
There is a sweet spot of the beads blending into each other on the border, but you don’t want too many of the beads’ middle holes to fill up. If you iron for too long, you can also ruin the board you’re using. When ironing, make sure you get all parts of your design, especially the edges.
Step 5: Enjoy your design
From there, you just need to wait a few minutes for your design to cool, and then you can peel it off! Once cooled, it’s completely solidified and you’re good to use it for whatever you want. Some people use their designs decoratively, but I recommend them for coasters.