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What Are Pixels?

Lisa Bigelow
Updated May 21, 2024
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Most frequently, pixels are dots used to display an image on a screen or printed matter. But “pixel” can also refer to computer code embedded on a website visitor’s computer. This type of pixel tracks the actions taken by the visitor, which helps website owners track engagement and measure the success of their advertising campaigns.

What does “pixel” stand for?


“Pixel” is a portmanteau of the words “picture” and “element”. Usually, the term refers to pixels in a digital context, but it can also refer to any smallest unit of an image.

What is a Facebook pixel?

A Facebook pixel is embedded code that tracks the actions taken by site visitors, which helps advertisers measure engagement.

How do pixels work in digital images?

A video monitor is made up of many millions of pixels arranged in a grid. Monitors also have a bit depth, which controls how many greys or colors each pixel is capable of displaying. In an 8-bit display, for example, each unit can display 8 bits worth of color, equal to 28 power, or 256, colors. With 24-bit displays, each of the pixels can display in excess of 16 million colors.

While pixels are often thought of as square, as they usually are in the case of computer monitors, this is not always accurate. Many digital video standards, such as NTSC and PAL, make use of rectangular pixels with an aspect ratio other than 1:1.

How big is a pixel?

It is important to recognize that pixels are not a measure of size, though often the term is used as though they are. Many digital cameras, for example, give a measure of pixels-per-inch (PPI), which they embed in the image files created. Users then see this measurement and assume that the units have a real size that uniformly holds true.

How do I calculate pixels?

Digital camera manufacturers take the sum total of pixels generated by multiplying the two dimensions so that a camera capable of producing images at 1600 x 1200 would produce a total of 1,920,000 pixels (or 1.9 megapixels).

The term megapixels is used by digital camera manufacturers to describe the resolution at which the cameras are capable of taking pictures. In most computer contexts, the resolution is given as two dimensions, such as in a computer display resolution of 1600 x 1200, which represents a width of 1600 and a height of 1200 pixels.

What are pixels made of?

While pixels are the smallest complete element of an image, they are comprised of even smaller elements. In a standard RGB monitor, for example, each pixel has three dots within it: a red, blue, and green dot. In theory, these dots all converge at the same point, making them visibly seamless, but in practice, some fuzziness is often apparent. The measure of total pixels in an image is referred to as its resolution, and the higher the resolution in a small area, the more difficult it is to distinguish between individual units.

How do you make pixel art?

Programs such as Pyxel, Photoshop, and Aseprite are subscription-based platforms you can use to create pixel art. You can create pixel art for free using Krita, GIMP, GraphicsGale, and others. Pixel artists often work with individual pixels using raster software, creating images that resemble old graphics.

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Lisa Bigelow
By Lisa Bigelow
Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator, personal finance expert, and mom of three fantastic almost-adults. Lisa has contributed to MagnifyMoney, FinanceBuzz, Life and Money by Citi, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut.
Discussion Comments
By anon957766 — On Jun 22, 2014

I guess it depends on the photo size. If you can adjust the photo to have fewer pixels, then the file will be smaller. With higher definition comes bigger file sizes, so don't go too low with the pixels as it decreases definition of the photo (Just an educated guess. Don't take my word for it.).

By anon294768 — On Oct 03, 2012

How can I input a 2576 pixel image at a site that limits input to 2500 pixels?

By malik23 — On Dec 29, 2011

A lot goes into creating things.

By anon132533 — On Dec 07, 2010

I purchased a Canon Power Shot A3100IS camera. I was reading the information on it. It says you can adjust the pixels. Does adjusting the pixels if needed make the picture blurry? I haven't tried it yet.

By anon53892 — On Nov 25, 2009

A picture taken with a 10.1 megapixel camera (at highest resolution) would take up more memory than a 7.2 megapixel camera, yes more memory fewer images stored on a given memory card.

However new memory card technology is improving this image capacity for example: with a Canon EOS Rebel Exi (12 megapixel) on a newly formatted SanDisk SDHC 8 gigabyte card at the highest resolution 12 mg. will store approximately 1,374 pictures.

For most amateur photographers this is extreme overkill, for prints up to 12 x 16 a 6 megapixel image produces excellent quality. That same Canon EOS set at 6.3 megapixels will store 2,421 images on the same 8 GB card (1,047 more pictures without sacrificing quality).

Additionally the SanDisk Extreme III high capacity 8 GB card at 12 megapixel resolution will store approximately 2,827 high-quality images (vs. 1,374). At the aforementioned 6 megapixel resolution 5,080 (vs. 2,421 on the standard card).

I have two of the high-capacity cards purchased online for less than $20 each.

In conclusion using the high-capacity card at the mid range 6.3 megapixel, it's nearly impossible to fill up the memory card in several family outings.

By anon53723 — On Nov 24, 2009

As a hypothesis, consider a chess board (1 foot by 1 foot) with 64 squares. Now its resolution is 8 pixels by 8 pixels (each square being a pixel). Supposing all cameras can focus only on the actual dimensions (1 foot) of the chess board.

a camera with more megapixel capability covers the same area of the chess board. But its resolution is higher, ie. there may be 16 x 16 = 144 pixels instead of 8 x 8 = 64 pixels. Storing at this resolution requires more space in terms of memory (MB).

This results in higher resolution images eating up more space.

By anon51345 — On Nov 05, 2009

Pixel images do take up a large amount of room as the memory card has to assign each pixel with a color. So the more pixels a photo contains the less of these you will be able to store on a memory card.

By velvetvee — On Jan 19, 2009

what is a reasonably priced digital camera to purchase and how many pixels should I be looking for?

By anon12052 — On Apr 29, 2008

I recently bought a 12 pixel Fuji digital and was told that if I take the photos at 6 pixels, I would have more room in my memory card. Doesn't that indicate that pixels take up space? pandora

By anon2969 — On Aug 03, 2007

im still confused...does that mean a picture taken with a 10.1 megapixel camera (for example) would take up more memory than a 7.2 megapixel camera?

Lisa Bigelow
Lisa Bigelow
Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator, personal finance expert, and mom of three fantastic almost-adults. Lisa has contributed to MagnifyMoney, FinanceBuzz, Life and Money by Citi, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut.
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