All About: Pixels

Pixels. You see them everywhere, all the time. You’re looking at them right now! But what are they, exactly? Who came up with that name? And what does it even mean?

First of all, the word “pixel” stands for picture (pics) element (el), and it’s been around since the early 60’s, though no one knows who actually invented the name. The -xel nomenclature has evolved to give us words like texel and voxel, which are graphical elements having specifically to do with 3D graphics.

Pixels in monitors are typically tiny squares of light that can become any of thousands of different colors, though they may also be rendered as different shapes. When pixels of a given size are grouped together, we use the term resolution to describe how many are packed into a given measurable space. Pixels need not necessarily refer to video, either; you can think of a pixel as the smallest single element of any given image. Take a look at a newspaper photo or character — they too are made of pixels.

You’ll have heard the term megapixel applied to cameras, where marketing companies want you to believe that all you need to know is that “more is better”. What you should actually know is that 1 megapixel = 1,000,000 pixels, and it’s not necessarily the number of megapixels that determines image quality.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed and very confused by all the technical talk surrounding the concept of pixels, but here’s something that’s easily overlooked: you need to step away now and then. By staring at the screen for extended periods of time, you’re forcing the muscles in your eyes to hold position for longer than they ought to, which leads to eyestrain and potentially worse problems down the line. Remind yourself to look away and focus on nearer and farther objects at regular periods to avoid this common problem. Pixels are pretty, it’s true, but they’ll still be there when you return.