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Making Sense of Digital Images with Pixel Art

Pixel art is a fun way for kids to learn about how pictures are made on devices like phones, computers, and TVs. This post shows how to connect pixel art to digital images and has students create their name and an image as pixel art.

Making sense of digital images with pixel art



What are pixels?

Little dots called pixels make up the images you see on your computer or TV screen. Pixels are the basic building blocks of images for all digital images from photos, videos, to desktop icons. Consider the smiley face below, all components like the eyes, mouth, and round face are crafted using these minuscule, colorful pixels. The images you see on your cell phone or TV consists of thousands or even millions of these little dots. Remarkably, pixels have only been in use since 1957.

pixel art of a smiley face

In our digital age kids often use computers without fully understanding how pixels work. However, it is important to understand pixels because they are so important to picture quality, screen resolutions, and gaming. If you want to take high-quality shots with your phone and make the settings work best for sharper pictures, you should know about pixels. Higher pixel counts make game environments more realistic and detailed, but they also require more memory and processing power, which can cause lag on devices that aren't up to the task. Understanding pixels also helps web design by making sure that images are optimized well so that websites load faster. This keeps online experiences from being slow and clunky.

Why Pixel art?

Pixel art is a fun way to get into the world of pixels and learn all about how they work. This art form where pictures are made pixel by pixel, gives you useful information about the complicated world of digital graphics. Kids carefully place each pixel on the board, so they can see how each one fits into the bigger picture. Also, pixel art has a unique take on resolution. It usually uses low resolutions like 16x16 or 32x32 gids, and the size of the grid directly affects the number of pixels used for an image and the level of detail. This hands-on experience helps students understand what resolution is and how it affects picture quality.

Pixel art is easy for many students to understand because it looks like game art from games they play, like Minecraft.

Additionally, pixel art fosters an appreciation for detail, as even subtle changes in pixel placement can significantly alter the overall image. This meticulous approach hones one's attention to detail and demonstrates how precise pixel selection influences the final artwork. Pixel art is also easy for many students to understand because it looks like game art from games they play, like Minecraft. Students may be able to better understand problems like lag or blurry images they may see when they watch movies online or play computer games if they know how pixels work.


Students will dive into pixel art by tackling two projects. First up, they'll write their names using pixels. Then, they'll create a pixel picture. Both of these art pieces will be done on graph paper using markers or colored pencils. It's really important to color in each square completely, otherwise it's not pixel art. Students should also try out different colors to make their art stand out. Once they're done, these pixel artworks are perfect for pinning up on a bulletin board for everyone to see.

For the names activity, students will use something called a Pixel Letter Generator. They just type in their names, pick a font they like, and hit "Generate". Their names will appear in a cool pixel style. Then, they copy this onto their graph paper. Some fonts are just easier and look better as pixel art, like 'Minecraft', 'Litebrite', and 'arcade'. Others, not so much. It's good for kids to look at a few before deciding which one to use.

Pixel art image of STEMbits

To make a pixel picture, they'll pick a tutorial from a playlist of Pixel Art videos. These videos are step-by-step guides that show them how to draw different pixel art images. Most of the videos are under five minutes, but a few of the more detailed images are longer. Students need to make sure they have enough room on their graph paper for their picture. But if they space it out right, they can fit more than one picture on a page.


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