Pixel dimensions vs. actual dimension

Today we focuse our attention to the interesting topic of converting pixel dimensions (i.e. of an image shown on the computer monitor) to the real-world dimension, as them may be measured using a simple ruler.

Suppose we have two different monitors with different characteristics (the last column shows the resolution we have choosen for each monitor, we could have choosen a different one which would have caused different numerical results):

monitor diagonal (inches) aspect ratio screen resolution
A 19” 16:10 1440x900px
B 15” 4:3 800x600px

Now let’s make an experiment and draw a simple square grid on the screen, we’ll use openFrameworks for this purpose but you can use the framework/programming language you prefer.

Here’s the main.cpp file:

#include "ofMain.h"
#include "ofApp.h"

int main()
	ofSetupOpenGL(640, 640, OF_WINDOW);
	ofRunApp( new ofApp());

Inside this file we are defining the window dimensions to be 640 pixels wide by 640 pixels high; it will be the window where we will place our grid.

Let’s continue with the App.h header file:

#include "ofMain.h"

class ofApp : public ofBaseApp
	float w, h;

	void setup();
	void draw();

Here we define two support variables, w and h; we will use them to calculate the dimensions of each grid cell. As you see we will only use the setup and draw methods, nothing more than those.

Finally, the App.cpp implementation file:

#include "ofApp.h"

void ofApp::setup()
  w = ofGetWidth() / 8.0;
  h = ofGetHeight() / 8.0;

void ofApp::draw()
  // draw the background
  ofDrawRectangle(0, 0, ofGetWidth(), ofGetHeight() );

  // draw horizontal and verticla lines
  for(int i=0; i<= 8; i++)
    ofDrawLine(i*w, 0, i*w, ofGetHeight() );
    ofDrawLine(0, i*h, ofGetWidth(), i*h );

  // draw diagonals
  ofDrawLine(0, 0, ofGetWidth(), ofGetHeight() );
  ofDrawLine(ofGetWidth(), 0, 0, ofGetHeight() );

We divide the window width and height creating and 8 x 8 grid made of square cells. We are drawing their outline and also the two main diagonals. This is not necessary but it can be useful so at a glance we should see if something is looking weird or not.


Then we use our ruler to measure the side of the grid, as it appears on each screen, and here what it comes out:

monitor side (640px)
A 181mm
B 244mm

As you see, the image changes if displayed on different screens, it depends on the dimensions of the single pixel which in turn is dependent on the screen resolution we’ve choosen for the particular monitor.

Now we are interested on how to obtain such a result from the information we have about aspect ratio and screen resolution of the particular monitor.

Monitor A

Let’s consider the first monitor, monitor A: it has a diagonal of 19”, an aspect ratio of 16:10 and the resolution we are using now is of 1440x900 pixels.

img 16:10

Now, using some similarity we get:


Now we have obtained and , so we can calculate the size of the pixel simply by dividing these values by the corresponding resolution factor:

Here the results both in inches and millimeters:

  width (inches/mm) height (inches/mm)
screen 16.11” / 409.24 mm 10.06” / 255.77 mm
pixel 0.0111” / 0.2841 mm 0.0111” / 0.2841 mm

Note how the pixel width and height are the same! This means that the pixel has a square shape.

Now we can use a simple multiplication in order to find if we come out with the result we expect, that is 640px, shown on monitor A, measures exactly 181 mm.

And here we are: we’ve got the same result!

Monior B

This is a proof that we are doing the thing in the correct way so, let’s do the same calculation for monitor B and we get

img 4:3

  width (inches/mm) height (inches/mm)
screen 12” / 304.8 mm 9” / 228.6 mm
pixel 0.015” / 0.381 mm 0.015” / 0.381 mm


Here’s another confirmation!


Now I want to test the same thing with a projector: the Acer S1210 of mine. I’m placing it at a distance of about 1mt from the wall. I’ve selected a resolution of 1600x1200px and a 4:3 aspect ratio.



Now let’s examine the measure of the grid in this situation:


The grid now is more than 650 mm wide and high!

As we can read from the user manual (table at page 22), for a distance of 1mt we expect the diagonal to be 81 inches.

S1210 manual pg22

Giveng that, let’ do some calculation:

  width height
ratio 4 3
resolution (px) 1600 1200
actual size (inches) 64.4 48.6
actual size (mm) 164.592 123.444
pixel 0.10287 0.10287
grid (640px) 65,83 mm 65,83 mm

Everithing works as expected!

This observation is interesting because it also give us the possibility to use the inverse process: if we have a particular area on the screen - espressed in inches/mm - and we want to cover it with an image or a graphics, we only need some informations about the monitor (like the screen size and resolution) and then we can calcualte exactly how many pixels to use.


If you find this article useful and you like it, please leave a comment below: let us know what do you think about it, we'd really appreciate it. Thank you very much and, as always, stay tuned for more to come!