Essentially, computers, cameras, and video devices use pixels to express image information. Each pixel is a small square of captured light. The pixel is the smallest portion of an image that a computer is capable of displaying or printing. Too few pixels and an image will appear “blocky” because there is not enough detail to work with. Too many pixels and the computer or output device slows down because it has to process more information.
But where did the term pixel come from? Pixel is an abbreviation for picture element. The word was coined to describe the photographic elements of a television image. In 1969, writers for Variety magazine took pix (a 1932 abbreviation of pictures) and combined it with element to describe how TV signals came together. There are even earlier reports of Fred C. Billingsley coining the word at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1965. Although the exact origins of the word may be disputed, its meaning is not. The word pixel quickly caught on, first in the scientific communities in the 1970s and then in the computer art industry in the mid 1980s.