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What is a Pixel?

Zoom in far enough on your screen and, eventually, you’ll see small squares of various colors. Each individual square is called a pixel.

pixel definition cover

Pixel is derived from the phrase picture elements. Each element of the picture serves as a building block in the screen’s grid. Each pixel has a unique location indicated by a set of coordinates. It also has the capacity to broadcast millions of colors!

What You Need to Know About Pixels

The number of pixels in an image or display determines how the image looks.

Screens with high-density pixel grids make it impossible to detect individual points with the naked eye, resulting in a sharp and crisp display.

Screens with lower densities produce grainy and difficult-to-make-out images. But sometimes pixelation is exactly what your design needs!

Modern designers need a comprehensive understanding of this topic. To get you started, here are 5 things you need to know about pixels.

1. How to Calculate Pixels

Display resolution indicates how many pixels are contained in a screen. So, a 1080x1920 display is just a grid that’s 1080 pixels tall and 1920 pixels wide. To calculate the number of pixels in a display, multiply the height of the grid by the width.

In the case of a 1080x1920 display, there’s a total of 2,073,600 pixels within the grid!

2. How Pixels Create Colors

Each individual point blends with those around it to create a smooth transition of color. Think of it like an absurdly detailed impressionist painting. The more colors each point can display, the more natural and crisp the image looks.

how pixels create colors

The number of bits used to represent a pixel determines how many colors it can display.

So, an 8-bit pixel only allows for 256 colors, while a 24-bit pixel displays 16,777,216 colors!

3. How Pixels Determine Display Resolution

Resolution is measured in PPI (pixels per inch), so it’s a measurement of the pixel density in a given image or display. Both the PPI and the size of the image can affect the resolution.

display resolution

If the pixel density is too low, it can cause some real problems...

4. The Importance of Pixel Density

Pixel density helps determine the clarity of an image.

pixel density

The pixel density of an image must complement the size of that image. If, for example, you’re displaying a large image, you’ll need a higher PPI to avoid pixalation.

5. The Importance of Pixel Depth

Pixel depth describes the amount of data that can be stored in each individual square. The number of bits that represent a pixel determine how many colors it can display.

The imporatnce of pixel depth

The more colors a pixel can display, the better the tone of the photo and the more lifelike it will look. A quality image is not just determined by the number of pixels in the image, but also the depth of those pixels.

How to Utilize Pixels in Modern Design

Understanding pixels and how to use them is a must for today’s designers. It’s the building blocks for everything we see digitally. Here are a few times you’ll use them:

1. When You’re Designing for Specific Devices

You need to understand both screen specs and CSS pixels to create brilliant, device-specific designs. This enables you to make smart decisions for the project.

The resolution and PPI of a device are almost always provided by the manufacturer. You can also find direct device comparisons on third-party websites.

However, in design, CSS pixels are just as important. They’re abstract (but still related) units used by designers that don’t directly correspond with regular pixels. In modern devices with high-density screens, there are often two device pixels per CSS pixel.

2. When You’re Creating a Responsive Website

In today’s world, you must have a responsive website. Very few people, if any, will stick around on your outdated website -- especially if they’re on a mobile device. Responsive websites are all about looking great at different sizes and resolutions.

pixel responsive

Each screen size will present your website in a slightly different way. You’ll notice content is getting scaled down and broken up differently. Small images may get pixelated as a result. Make sure to run tests at all common sizes and resolutions to make sure the site is actually as usable—across every device.

3. When You’re Trying to Improve Image Quality

Increasing an image’s resolution or shrinking the size can help increase PPI for a grainy image. Displaying fewer pixels—and more data for each pixel—can help enhance the color, tone, and weight of an image. Size, pixel density, pixel depth, and color are all settings that can drastically change the quality of a photo.

If you enjoyed this guide, continue exploring with these related terms. A. Pixelation: When pixels are stretched beyond their limit, this phenomenon can cause real problems. B. Gradient: When working with colors, it’s important to know how they can blend to create interesting effects.