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Release One > Pixels and Problems

Pixels and Problems

According to the CSS spec, the px unit is, in fact, a relative unit. While there’s a long and vaguely theoretical reason for this involving arm lengths and visual angles, the short version is that a 15-inch monitor running at a 1280-by-960 resolution will have pixels that are much smaller than those on a 21-inch monitor running at an 800-by-600 resolution. Because 10 pixels might be legible on the second screen, but unreadable at half the size on the first screen, the unit can’t be considered absolute according to the earlier definition.

So if px is relative, we should be able to use it for precise control over the starting point of our fonts and allow the viewer to adjust as necessary ... except we can’t, because Internet Explorer for Windows’s lack of support for scaling the px unit means that it’s effectively an absolute unit. Maybe we can just use em or % and be done? Well, not so fast. Relative units are less than ideal, too.


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