Pixel by Any Other Name

The pixel is the building block upon which our industry is based. The term pixel is a fusion of the words picture element, and it is aptly named. The word was coined to describe the photographic elements of a television image. Back 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. Earlier reports exist of Fred C. Billingsley coining the word at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1965. While the exact origins of the word may be disputed, the meaning is not. Use of the word pixel quickly caught on, first in the scientific communities in the 1970s and then the computer graphics industry in the mid-1980s.

The pixel is the smallest amount of space that exists in our creative universe. Pixels contain color, and these colors combine to form images. Bitmaps (also called raster images) are used for continuous tone or photorealistic images. If you continue to zoom in on an image, you can eventually see the pixel grid that forms the image.

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Pixels Build Pictures

Picture elements, more | 0 \ commonly known as pixels, are the building blocks of the video industry. In Photoshop, you will edit pixels when working with your source photos and video frames.

Raster images. When working with raster images, you edit pixels rather than shapes or objects directly. Proper selection techniques are important to get accurate results. Raster images are resolution-dependent in that they contain a specific number of pixels. Therefore, images will lose detail and appear jagged if they are scaled above 100% by a video software application. If you need to scale an object such as a logo or title within an edit or design session, bring it in at maximum screen size, and scale down rather than up. For achieving a documentary pan-and-zoom effect, a wide variety of plug-ins are available for most edit systems. The best solution, however, is to create the effect in Adobe After Effects (see Professional Motion Control "Photography" with After Effects and Photoshop on page 267).

Vector graphics. An understanding of vector graphics may seem out of place to many readers. Traditionally, artists turn to Adobe Illustrator to work with vector graphics. While it is still necessary to use Illustrator for complex vector editing, Adobe Photoshop now provides its own set of powerful vector tools.

Vector graphics are often used for corporate logos and print pieces. Vector graphics are resolution-independent because they are composed of lines and curves defined by mathematical objects called vectors. Vectors describe an image by its geometric characteristics or shapes. These vectors allow the file to be scaled to any size without losing detail or clarity. Adobe After Effects supports the use of vector graphics, and most motion graphic artists swear by vectors for achieving dramatic type effects involving scaling. Vector graphics are best used for shapes or logos, especially if scaling is involved.

Because video monitors represent images by displaying them as pixels along a grid, all vector graphics are rasterized at some point for use in video. Vectors still offer great flexibility, which makes them desirable during the initial design phase. They also are resolution-independent, an advantage if you ever need to take your work into a print environment.

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