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Voxel Art 101: The Ultimate Guide

Before we dive into what voxel art really is, it’s important that we first make the distinction between pixel art and voxel art. As we learnt in our previous article on Pixel Art, pixel art is essentially an art form in which small details make up a bigger picture.

The phenomenon was born in the 1970s during the boom of computers and digital art in which it gained its popularity. For those unfamiliar with what a pixel actually is, a pixel can be compared to the most basic cell in a living thing. It is the most basic structural unit of digitized media, named by its components: picture and element.

Snow Scene created with MagicaVoxel
Snow Scene created with MagicaVoxel

With this being said, a voxel adds volume to this existing picture element. In this way, a third dimension is introduced in which the then two dimensional square is transformed into a now three dimensional cube. This provides countless possibilities to digital artists or game designers to create unique, life like characters, settings and environments that are both impactful and pleasing to the eye of the viewer.

Voxel art within the gaming industry was made popular by Minecraft. This then inspired a number of other voxel designers and artists to build upon the genre itself.

What is Voxel Art?

Voxel art is an art form in which three dimensional models are created solely out of 3D cubes – referred to as voxels. Artists and designers create voxel models using a software called a voxel editor. Voxel art can then be used in a number of ways, namely – to create photos, share to various social media platforms, export as a 3D model file or use in a digital 3D animation or game.

What is a Voxel?

The word voxel is derived from the two words ‘volumetric’ and ‘pixel’. A voxel represents a particular value on a grid in 3D space. Think about it in the same way as a pixel existing in a two dimensional space. It is important to note that 2D and 3D digital art have very similar characteristics.

Both a voxel and a pixel can only contain a single colour at one time. They also both occupy a particular position inside of a grid, with a pixel having an exact position inside of a picture.

The main difference between the two lies in the fact that a voxel has an extra axis – the Z axis that allows it to occupy a three dimensional space. Within this space, it has a volume as well as a height, length, width and depth too.

Who makes voxel art?

Any and every one can become a voxel creator, which is formally known as a voxel artist. A voxel artist creates art using 3D models that are comprised entirely of voxels. Completed pieces are either images, art or video games to name a few.

Check the incredible work of Hifoo (Paul Riehle) which are true works of art. He used MagicaVoxel to create it.

How do you make Voxel Art?

Although you can create voxel art manually by writing out positions within a text file, this isn’t a sustainable or easy method for many voxel artists.

From this discomfort, a number of voxel art software was launched to cater specifically to voxel artists. These programs, software and tools provided artists with the tools to efficiently and effectively create models out of voxels without the hassle of worrying about file codes.

Church scene created with MagicaVoxel
Church scene created with MagicaVoxel

Currently, there are a number of different options to choose from when it comes to finding the right voxel editor for you. We’ll be breaking down a few of our favourites next.

Voxel Art Software

MagicaVoxel

One of the most well known voxel editors, MagicaVoxel is a great choice when looking to create and put out voxel art. Art and projects that are created using this software is mostly created using .VOX file types (the embedded file format of MagicaVoxel).

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better – MagicaVoxel is free to download and use! The .VOX file is also used with most platforms that sell voxel art or models and can be used in a number of voxel editors. If you’re a beginner and are unsure of where to start, MagicaVoxel is the place to start.

This video gives a good impression of what you can do with MagicaVoxel and how it looks and feels.

VoxEdit Beta

Released fairly recently, VoxEdit Beta is a newer voxel editor that is still currently in beta form. However, the software itself is both stable and very usable. Like MagicaVoxel, VoxEdit is a free voxel modelling tool that can be used to create 3D assets that can be used in game development and voxel based art.

What sets VoxEdit apart from other voxel art software is its inclusion of tools such as ‘bone rigging’ and animation tools that are not usually found in other software of the same kind. VoxEdit Beta is compatible with Windows, macOS and Linux. With all this being said, it’s clear to see why this software had to hold a place on our list of favourites.

This video gives a good impression of VoxEdit.

Goxel

Created by Guillaume Chereau, Goxel is another voxel editor that is available on a range of devices. This free, open-source editor is available for free on macOS and Windows, and available via a fairly priced app on iOS and Android devices – allowing you to work on your voxel art projects on the go!

As an alternative, you can also access this software via the web-based version on any given browser. A downside of this app however, is that it is not yet as stable as other voxel editors. Goxel is a great editor if you’re looking to get started with 3D model creation.

Get a good impression of the look and feel of VoxEdit in this video.

The software itself includes a number of innovative tools such as the ability to have an unlimited scene size as well as layers – features difficult to find in most voxel editors. Consider which features are more important to you and make your pick!

Mega Voxels Play

Unlike the previous voxel editors we’ve mentioned in this list, Mega Voxels Play isn’t a desktop software but a mobile app instead! Mega Voxels Play was developed by the Mega Voxels team for operating systems iOS and Android.

In this app you’ll be granted access to a standard set of voxel editing tools that are commonly found on most voxel editing software. The biggest pro of Mega Voxels Play is its usability on virtually every smart device. Remember the .VOX file we mentioned in our first review? Well, Mega Voxels Play supports these files for import from MagicaVoxel.

Short video of Mega Voxels Play

In addition to this, it also has its own shop where you can access a vast library of different models. Export formats include .VOX, .OBJ, .PNG and .MP4. As a free app, Mega Voxels Play is a popular choice for many voxel art beginners.

Qubicle

Last on our list of favourite voxel editors, we have Qubicle – a very popular choice within the voxel community, particular for game developers. With that in mind, if you’re more interested in voxel game development, this may be the perfect software for you.

This program uses a unique file format .QBCL and is very easy to use. Perfect for beginners too, Qubicle supports a number of different export formats, including the famous .VOX file type.

Popular Voxel based Games

Nowadays, Voxel art had become increasingly immersive. Voxel based games are in many ways an ode to sprite based games that instil a strong sense of nostalgia in most of us today. As voxel based games evolve with the latest advances in digital technology, voxel sizes are now smaller than ever before. This is allowing for increasingly interactive, atmospheric and immersive voxel built environments and game plays.

Below we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite voxel based games

  1. Minecraft
  2. Crossy Road (mac / android)
  3. Industries of Titan
  4. Teardown
  5. The Touryst
  6. Cloudpunk

Richard Eijkenbroekhttps://www.xquissive.com
Richard is the owner of Xquissive. He is passionate about art, graphic design, print on demand and many other topics.
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