Are you a designer or artist, who’s become addicted to Animal Crossing: New Horizons? Contemplating on making your own custom design? Want to do that design work in Photoshop or Procreate? Hey, so did I!
Potentially, you have, as I did, found that the web is somewhat lacking practical design specifications for creating custom content for ACNH. Pixel grid dimensions, color counts, and 3D clothing model unwraps seem non-existent. There are a ton of articles about how to find and install others’ custom designs, as well as several about how to create your designs in the very neat, but limited, ACPatterns or Custom Design Pro editors. But like most designers, you probably prefer creating in the tools you can do your best work in, like Photoshop, Procreate, or even concept sketching on paper.
After a fruitless search, you might think to ask the community… Well, good news! I made that mistake for you. I asked New Horizons design communities hoping they’d be full of helpful tips, sage wisdom, and clearer design specs. They imparted the tremendously helpful advice that I should figure it out myself, just like everyone else did. So I did.
But I believe better design comes from sharing and I don’t want anyone else to repeat my experience. I compiled my notes for any other artists who want to use professional design tools to make, or at least concept, their custom content. I hope this helps more players, designers or not, feel comfortable with trying their hand at creating in New Horizons.
Two Paths for Importing your Custom Design
The reasonthat there are so many articles about designing in the ACPatterns Editor and the Custom Design Pro Editor is because these are the only two paths you have to importing your content into your game. While these are the only two avenues available for uploading, you can concept, plan, and even design your customs outside of these editors.
Knowing which tool you’re importing through up front will affect how you set-up your design initially. Once you’ve decided, I’ve included some design specs and templates to make designing easier.
QR Code Uploads (Unofficial)
The ACPatterns Editor offers an in-browser editor, including the ability to upload and slice up images (into 32x32px blocks) to be converted to game-friendly custom designs. This tool will generate a QR code or batch of QR codes that can be scanned in through the Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NookLink) service on the NintendoSwitch Online phone app. Before I’d even unlocked Island Designer, I found this tool super helpful for building out custom curved paths, which I set up in Photoshop, to create a French Quarter-inspired square around resident services.
But, it is not without drawbacks. Because you can load in QR codes from any designer, you cannot edit QR code designs once they are in game. If you realize you wanted to make a small change after upload, you have to go through the entire upload-to-QR-to-game process again, which can be time consuming. For this same reason, you are unable to upload these designs into under Creator ID through the terminal in Able Sisters or display those custom creations in your shop. If you want to share your designs, you basically need to distribute a zipped file of your QR code images or create an image that contains all of them.
On top of that, it slices up clothing into multiple different QR codes, which I actually couldn’t even figure out how to import properly. At that point, I decided to try my luck with more official avenue.
In-Game Publishing (Official)
Up front, the biggest drawback to the Custom Design Pro Editor is that you will have to manually put whatever designs you make, pixel-for-pixel, into this tool. In exchange, you get a Creator ID, allowing other players to easily browse and download your custom designs by just typing it into the terminal at their Able Sisters shop. It also generates a wicked cute product mockup image with your character and island name for social sharing. Also, it has more and much nicer 3D unwraps for clothing.
Just because you have to manually input your designs into this tool, doesn’t mean you can’t concept and plan outside of it to make the actual entry process much easier. Being able to count pixels to replicate a design you set up in Photoshop or on paper into the Custom Design Pro Editor can save you a ton of time clicking around and trying to decide how to make your design look right. I even set up some pixel art concept sheets, so you can start planning out custom texture and clothing designs before you even unlock the Able Sisters shop.
Design Specifications and Limitations
As with most games, there are many design limitations to help keep file sizes small to optimize for speed. Knowing your boundaries before coming up with some elaborate, but impossible to implement, plan can save you a ton of frustration. Below, you’ll find the specs I was able to figure out through my research.
Applicable to all designs:
- Maximum size of 64x64px for clothing or 32x32px for repeating patterns — These are teeny tiny designs.
- 150-300ppi — As with most screen-based devices nowadays, the Switch Lite has, at least, a double-density pixel display.
- Limited to 15 total colors + mandatory transparent — 15 pre-made palettes available, but approximately 6,720 different colors can be set using the Change Color options (30 hues + 15 vividness levels + 15 levels of brightness)
- Brushes: Use a 1px non-raster brush (like Kyle’s Manga – Crisp at 1px) or marquee-select and fill with paint bucket, when creating images digitally.
- Pixel Grid: If you are doing your initial design in Photoshop, open your Preferences, navigate to Guides, Grid, & Slices, and under Grid set Gridline Every: to 8 Pixels with 8 Subdivisions. When you zoom in, you’ll be able to see your pixel grid. If you don’t, go to View > Show > Grid to toggle the setting.
- Seamless Patterns: You can find a tutorial for creating seamless repeating patterns in Photoshop by clicking here. You will only want to offset by around 10-12px on a 32x32px grid.
- Tops/Dresses: On ACPatterns, sleeves are mirrored outside-to-inside, with the seam joining along the lateral plane (middle) of the arm. On the Pro Editor, the sleeve design is wrapped around the arm, with the seam joining along the inside of the arm.
- Headwear/Hats: On ACPatterns, hats use a 32x32px grid and the “with horns” version just adds grey Viking-style horns. On the Pro Editor, headwear uses an up to 64x64px grid. The side panel on the baseball cap is repeated 3 times around the back and the knitted cap panel is repeated 2 times (once on the front and once on the back of the head).
- Fonts: With any typefaces used in your designs, you will want to have your anti-alias settings switched to None. Lucida Console is a non-raster pixel font that was developed to remain legible at a very small scale.
Custom Design Clothing Templates
Looking at an unwrap of a 3D object can get a little confusing, especially if you have limited 3D design experience. It helps to have some idea of which pixels represent which parts of the clothing you are working on. I created these templates to help make the unwraps make a bit more sense.
ACPatterns Editor Templates
These templates were created to make graphics for direct upload into the ACPatterns Editor tool. You can download these GIFs, import them into your editing tool of choice and start designing right over them. I have also included a link to download the PSD versions of these files that you can open up directly in Photoshop.
When you’re done, you can load the images into ACPatterns Editor and import them into your game by following these instructions. I made these templates before I realized uploading clothing through ACPatterns isn’t ideal, but I still wanted to share them just in case anyone needed them.
ACNH Custom Design Pro Editor Templates (Best Method)
REMINDER: You will manually have to enter these designs, pixel-for-pixel, into the Custom Design Pro Editor. I still made them because I prefer to do some proper planning before haplessly clicking around in the in-game editor.
As with above, you can download these GIFs, import them into your editing tool of choice and start designing right over them. I have also included a link to download the PSD versions of these files that you can open up directly in Photoshop. I also used them to create some printable concept sheets that you can use to sketch out your ideas and plan your designs.
ACNH Custom Design Concept Coloring Sheets
I made these coloring sheets for players to print and start sketching out their New Horizons pixel art ideas and concepts. There are 15 palette spots to keep track of how many colors you’re using to stay within the game’s limitations. These concept sheets should make it easier to map out your custom designs in the in-game Custom Design Pro Editor.
I included a low-res version of the Tops concept sheet so you have an idea of what the pages look like before downloading. They are formatted for a standard 8.5″x11″ page, but you’ll likely want to shrink-to-fit when printing.
Download the Custom Design Concept Sheets
Hope this inspires you to grab some colored pencils and start creating your own Animal Crossing custom designs!
If you appreciate the fact that I didn’t use any of these content downloads as a chance to farm your email address, maybe you’d like to volunteer that information with me by subscribing to my super infrequent mailing list or my Patreon.
My First Custom Designs
All this to say, I did it! I figured out how to make some custom designs for New Horizons. I’m trying to make the area around my Resident Services look as much like Jackson Square in New Orleans, as possible. You can see the custom path designs I created in the image above.
I’m not going to share my aggregate concrete path yet because it still needs some improvements and honestly takes up too many design slots for it to be useful for anyone who isn’t trying to do the exact design I am. I will make a less bulky version of it at some point, but I have other things on my priority list right now.
My Creator ID is MA-6948-6912-8260 if you’re interested in browsing my designs from the Able Sisters shop! My first official in-game creations were a Cutieville souvenir t-shirt featuring my blushing alien cutie character, followed by stylized portraits of Jambette and Lily to display in my artist alley.
Very soon I plan on doing portraits of all my villagers: Flo, Genji, Stu, Marshal, Shari, and whomever my next two villagers happen to be. I’ll be open to doing commissions after that, if any one is interested.
Lastly, here are a couple of the ACPatterns QR code designs I created, an Alien Cutie flag for my island and a custom “Free” sign made to mimic the iconic artwork of artist Simon of New Orleans (pictured with me below).
The word “lagniappe” in Cajun French means “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.” In the spirit of lagniappe, I’m giving you free information, concept worksheets, and the confidence to go out and create the Animal Crossing custom design of your dreams.
Get out there and transform your island in your image. And, please, share a pic in the comments of any creations you make!