Tooling Around is an occa­sional series of posts talk­ing about art/craft tools – phys­ical and vir­tual. Again we’re in the realm of the vir­tual with a review of Hexels, a new grid-based digital draw­ing tool from Hex-Ray Studios.


So, what’s a hexel? Well, it’s the hexagonal equi­val­ent of the reg­u­lar square pixel. So while pixel art involves painstak­ingly assem­bling squares to form pic­tures, hexel art involves assem­bling hexagons. Hexels is a tool that tries to make this as pain­less as possible.

In fact, Hexels goes bey­ond hexagons, offer­ing sev­eral dif­fer­ent shapes to draw with, includ­ing my per­sonal favour­ites, tri­angles (see right). And if that’s not enough, you can define cus­tom shapes – more on that below.

Hexels adheres to the nor­mal sort of draw­ing app con­ven­tions, and as a res­ult it’s very intu­it­ive to use. If you can use MS Paint, you’ll man­age here.

The tools are also mostly what you might expect: paint, line, erase, fill, select, etc. There are also some you might not expect, like a handy ‘magic wand’ selec­tion tool, or tool to paint just the bor­ders of the hexagon/triangle/whatever.

The nor­mal copy/paste options are present too, but there are no trans­form (flip, mir­ror, res­ize) options – pre­sum­ably this would have been tricky to imple­ment, and its absence is hardly a showstopper.

There is a robust set of options for set­ting things like doc­u­ment qual­it­ies, col­our and ‘glow’. As the name sug­gests, ‘glow’ adds a highly con­fig­ur­able glow to the painted hexels, which is great for break­ing up flat areas of col­our and adding some tex­ture to images.

hextreeThe Options box is also home to the ‘mode’ selec­tion, where you can choose whether you’re draw­ing in hexagons (of a few dif­fer­ent fla­vours), tri­angles, plus-signs or whatever simple cus­tom shape you care to design.

This is a really cool fea­ture that I wasn’t expect­ing: if you want to draw an image made of dia­mond shapes, arrows or simple trees, for example, that’s easy to do (see left). Once you’ve defined a shape (which can be a bit fiddly for more com­plex shapes) you can save it and re-use it as needed. Even bet­ter, the grid changes in real time, so you can paint a pic­ture in hexagons and then change to a cus­tom shape, and your pic­ture will change.

It would be great to see the cus­tom shape fea­ture developed still fur­ther: per­haps with the abil­ity to import your own vec­tors, or to altern­ate flipped or reflec­ted shapes. But even without those things it’s still one of my favour­ite features.HexButton

Once you’re done with you pic­ture you can export is in a vari­ety of formats – I was pleased to see SVG on the list, because that means I could import into my vec­tor tool of choice, Inkscape.

So, Tool or Toy?

Well, both. It’s very good fun to noodle around with, and you’ll even pro­duce some­thing nice to look at. But it could def­in­itely be used for more ser­i­ous work as well.

It doesn’t pre­tend to be a gen­eral pur­pose draw­ing app, and there’s a limit to how com­plic­ated a piece you could develop purely within the tool – there’s no ‘lay­ers’ fea­ture, for example.

However, as part of a lar­ger work­flow it could cer­tainly have a role to play, and it’s obvi­ous that it’s been designed to ‘play nice’ as regards sav­ing in use­ful formats you can then open in other pro­grams. I’m cer­tainly plan­ning to use it to feed into my vec­tor work.

If you think hexagon sling­ing might be for you, there’s a fea­ture reduced free ver­sion avail­able so you can try it out, or the ‘Pro’ ver­sion is a very reas­on­able $19.99 (under £14 in real money) – get them here.

If you want to see what people are cre­at­ing with Hexels – see Made in Hexels.

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2 Responses to Tooling Around: Hexels

  1. […] FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks by Ben Bruce. I love the reflec­tion he added. Update: Ben Bruce wrote a review for Hexels, read it here. […]

  2. […] worth tak­ing a look at Made In Hexels, a blog fea­tur­ing work made with the Hexels tool (see my review). If you like pixel art, well, it’s like that, but using tri­angles or hexagons (trixels or […]

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