Tips for making great art out of Pokémon Perler beads

Pixel art has long been the style of choice for Pokémon fans, as the massive, low-resolution look evokes nostalgia for the early days of the Game Boy series. And while the style is its own art form that some take years to perfect, 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 the boards snugly. Due to their low-resolution layout and appearance, they are the perfect tool for recreating pixel art. As someone who would describe himself as “inept at craft”, this is one of the few artistic things I can do.

For Polygon Summer Camp, I made a quick and easy tutorial for designing art with Pokémon Perler beads and pads.

Photo: Ana Diaz/Polygon

bulbasaur photo made with perler beads

Photo: Ana Diaz/Polygon

picture of a pokeball made with perler beads

Image: Ana Diaz/Polygon

photo of a gengar made with perlers

Photo: Ana Diaz/Polygon

Required materials

  • Perler beads: I have a 22,000 variety pack because I wasn’t sure what Pokémon I wanted to make at first. I also love this pack because you get so many shades of each color. (It can also be helpful to pick up a pack of black beads since they are so commonly used.)
  • Parchment paper or Perler bead paper (these are basically the same; some beads come with the paper included)
  • Perler bead board
  • Perler Bead Tweezers: Consider them optional. If several people are involved, not everyone needs tweezers. However, they are useful for precise placements.
  • Iron

Step 1: Choose your Pokemon

The beauty of Pokémon Perler bead creations is that you can create any Pokémon by simply 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 template online. To find one, just Google Pokémon, then add the term “perler bead”. There are also YouTube videos that show designs and are easy to follow. From there, you can choose a design that seems doable to you based on the beads you have.

Important note before you start: Make sure you choose a model that fits your board. The size of your design will always increase. Something that looks smaller will end up being larger due to the appearance of packed pixels, so be sure to count the largest length and width to make sure the final design will fit your board .

If you want to make a coaster like Gengar, I suggest choosing a larger, rounder Pokemon. The more chonk the better! As you can see below, you can also make Poké Balls, which serve well as coasters because of their shape.

Step 2: Prepare your workstation

top down photo of perler beads sorted into two dipping bowls.  there are black beads on one and blue, red and apricot beads on the other.

Photo: Ana Diaz/Polygon

To make the craft go quickly, you’ll want to do the more tedious organizational work beforehand. This means sorting your colors in advance. I use small dipping bowls to separate the colors. It’s like a mise en place of Perler beads!

Step 3: Place the beads on the board

top-down photo of a half-finished horse bead creation.  the beads are arranged on a transparent board with pegs.

Photo: Ana Diaz/Polygon

All you have to do next is recreate the pattern or pixel art you’re imitating with a one-to-one ratio and place the beads on the board. This is harder than it looks, not only because it’s easy to bump the board and scatter the beads, but also because matching the colors correctly is surprisingly difficult. Some Pokémon colors can be hard to figure out because you’ll spend a lot of time wondering what version of mauve-pink or rose-purple will look best on something like Ditto.

So I suggest trying to pick roughly similar colors and then placing them on the board to see if they look good on the character. I’ll often go back and forth between Step 3 and Step 2 because I’ll realize something doesn’t look right once I see more of what it looks like on the board.

Some people like to outline then fill in the middle. I don’t like this because it can be harder to frame the beads, but play around with it and see what works for you.

Step 4: Iron on the beads!

an image of a horse behind a translucent sheet of paper

If you look at your creation, you can see the beads melt together through the paper. This helps you check that you have melted them enough.
Photo: Ana Diaz/Polygon

This is my favorite part. You’ll want to plug in your iron, set it to high heat, and wait for it to heat up. Be careful not to bump the beads and gently press the iron onto the design. Then use a circular motion to smooth all the pearls 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 beads blending into each other at the border, but you don’t want too many of the middle bead holes to fill up. If you iron for too long, you can also ruin the board you’re using. When you iron, make sure you iron out all the 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, then you can peel it off! Once it cools, it’s completely set and good to use for whatever you want. Some people use their designs for decoration, but I recommend them for coasters.

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