Microsoft Expressive Pixels is an image editing and animation tools which has been designed to help you create content for pretty specific purposes. While the app can be used to create animated GIFs that you can use on website or on social media site and instant messaging tools, its primary function is to help you to create animation to display on devices such as small LED screens.
These can be informative or helpful animations to be used in shops or advertising, or just something created for fun. Microsoft suggests that in addition to creating animations that can be played back on a standard computer screen, they can also be played on various small, third party LED displays made by the likes of Sparkfun, Adafruit and SiliconSquared Displays
You can use the image editor to create animations from scratch, building up loops frame by frame using a range of familiar editing tools. Working with layers, fragments, shapes and even emoji, it is possible to quickly build up impressive looking frames that can be cloned and tweaked.
You can create animations of varying sizes and you can control the frame rate so they play back at anything from 1 to 30 frames per second. There are also handy options such as the ability to add a pause within an animation, as finishing things off in style with fadeout frames.
Whatever you create can be stored locally, or you can share it with the online community through the app for other people to use and enjoy. For most people, the best way to get started will be to browse through the various cloud-based content that has already been made available – starting from scratch may be a little too much for absolute beginners, although Microsoft has produced a number of helpful tutorial videos.
The Community Gallery is fully searchable so if you don't feel like aimlessly browsing through thousands of animations to find something you like, you can home in on something more specific. The search, however, is dependant on how other users name their files, so it can be a little hit and miss.
The fact that you can also export your creations as animated GIFs is a nice touch, and it gives people without an LED device a way to make use of the animations they build. For programmers and developers, there is also the option of copying MakeCode binary declarations, JSON strings and C++ binary declarations to the clipboard ready to paste into other projects.
It is hard to find anything to compare Microsoft Expressive Pixels to – it really is quite a unique piece of software. The app is pleasingly easy to use, and the fact that there is such an active online community sharing their creations not only serves as a great source of inspiration, but also offers a starting point if you're stuck for ideas.