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What is a Pixel Map?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A pixel map is a piece of computer art consisting of a map of a region or of the entire world rendered using pixels. A pixel, or picture element, is the smallest or base component of a raster image. Raster images use small dots, squares, lines or other shapes to make a larger picture. Such images may seem like a smooth picture but when viewed through magnification reveal hundreds or thousands of tiny pixels of individual color that make up the full image.

These sorts of pixelated images were often seen when technology could not affordably produce a smooth image. Since many affordable printers are now able to create a smooth image that has almost unnoticeable pixels, the use of pixels to create artwork has become a style of its own. Any piece of work that shows a map that appears blocky or made up of smaller dots or squares is likely to be considered a pixel map.

This sort of pixel map can often be purchased from art retailers or novelty art stores. Similar to the pop art of artists like Andy Warhol, such pieces are considered to reflect a certain era or time through artistic representation. The pixel map represents the visualization of older technology that could not easily create the smooth artwork found today.

Such pixel representations may find favor with video game enthusiasts who fondly remember the pixelated games of their youth. Similarly, anyone who worked with computers or created early computer art like clip art may also find a fond connection to such pieces of pixel art. A pixel map is quite easy to make with any decent piece of raster imaging software, and though it can be rendered in any colors desired by an artist, they are usually created in black and white. Such adherence to grayscale also emulates the monochromatic simplicity of earlier computer systems.

This sort of digital map will not be an especially useful map for looking at places in the world; it is usually preferred for decoration rather than usefulness. A decent pixel map, however, will be to scale and accurately illustrate the world and might easily allow a traveler to indicate where he or she has visited with tacks or notes. Such a simplified map may, in fact, more easily allow someone to show where he or she has been because it emphasizes the places visited over the terrain of the world.

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Discussion Comments
By wiesen — On Jun 01, 2011

These maps are often made using pixels that are larger than standard pixels. If you look at this type of image you can more easily see the pixels, in fact most artists do this on purpose to give the map a "digitized" look and feel. It's similar to pointillism, only for digital art.

By goldenmist — On Jun 01, 2011

@Illych - The best pixel maps I’ve seen have been done by the illustration firm eBoy who have made pixel maps of cities like Baltimore, Singapore and Dublin. They’ve done a lot of advertising work for big companies like Coca Cola that you might recognize. They have also created large scale works of cities of their own design which shows a really astonishing level of creativity. I highly recommend you check some of their work out if you’re interested.

The website for Washington DC used to have a isometric pixel map as well to help tourists navigate around although I’m not sure if it’s there anymore; it’s most likely unnecessary now due to Google Maps.

I think a lot of the inspiration for pixel maps most likely stems from the original SimCity game which some of you might remember from your childhood. Although it later abandoned the blocky pixilated style artwork of the past in favor of new 3D technologies, it must have had enough influence that people still pursue that kind of artwork today.

By Illych — On May 31, 2011

What are some examples of pixel maps? Do they tend to be of real life places or do people also design their own cities?

By goldenmist — On May 31, 2011

@rjh - Believe it or not yes, pixel artists do make these images dot by dot and that’s exactly the thing that separates pixel art from any other kind of raster art. In this way it’s a lot more like creating a mosaic than for example, painting.

By rjh — On May 31, 2011

The amount of time and detail that goes into making these must be off the charts. I have a few questions though: since all images made on a computer are technically made up of pixels, what makes pixel maps any different? Do pixel artists really make such detailed images dot by dot?

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