The word pixel is often mentioned in tandem with digital photography or display resolution, but what does it actually mean?

If you’ve read anything about digital imaging, you’ve probably come across the word “pixel” before, whether in reference to a display or a digital camera. But what do we actually mean when we use this term, and is it an important quality marker for your technology products? This article answers your key questions.

What is a pixel?

A pixel is essentially a unit of measurement. Its name is derived from the words “picture” and “element” and Techopedia defines it as “the smallest unit of a digital image or graphic that can be displayed and represented on a digital display device”.

Each of these individual pixels is formed from red, green and blue light elements in various combinations to represent the range of colors you see in the finished image.

How can you measure resolution in pixels?

For digital displays, you will likely be given a pixel count to estimate resolution. For example, you might see a screen listed as having a resolution of 720x1080p, and this usually refers to the number of pixels vertically and horizontally on the screen. The higher these numbers are, the sharper the display will be; however, there are a number of other factors beyond that (including color depth and refresh rate, for example) that also determine overall display quality.

Camera sensor resolutions are often measured in megapixels (one million pixels), which is calculated by multiplying the width and height of the sensor. Again, there are many more factors than resolution that go into making a good camera, but this is one of the most important elements.

What is pixelation?

Pixelation occurs when it is possible to see individual pixels in an image and occurs either with low-resolution images or when a high-resolution image is sufficiently blown or enlarged. This effect is usually not desired, and an advantage of high-resolution images is that they are less likely to appear pixelated.

What is a pixel?

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