Glossary of Design Terms

April 28, 2009 |  By Design Action |  Categories: Glossary


Confused about all the jargon that come up during the design process? Here’s a nifty glossary of terms that can help you navigate mysterious designer language. If the word you’re looking for isn’t in here, send us an e-mail and we’ll add it to the list.

1color printing: Usually just black ink is used, but can also be one Pantone ink, and all the tints of that color. Cost-effective, and especially used on envelope printing.

2color printing : Usually black ink + one other Pantone ink, but can be two inks of any color.  Cost-effective for many purposes. Usually used for logo and stationery design.

4color process: The offset printing process that reproduces colors by combining, cyan, magenta, yellow and black. If you look through a magnifying glass, you’ll see that the printed image consists of dots in these four colors. These dots are printed on top of each other, next to each other or just close to each other, depending on the color and tonal values wanted. For example, by printing a blue dot over a yellow dot will give you green etc. 4color printing has become a lot cheaper using digital imaging technology and has replaced a lot of 2color print jobs.

300 dpi (print quality): The resolution needed of a photo or image to make it acceptable print quality. For example, for an 8 x 10 size we would want a pixel size of 2400 x 3000 pixels. To change DPI please read this link:

72 dpi (web quality) : The resolution needed for web images. Web images need to be smaller in size to save space on servers, and for quicker viewing. Viewing images on the web (on screen) always looks better then trying to use that same image for a print purpose. The pixel dimensions are too small for printing, so that they will appear jagged if trying to print with that size.

Accordion fold: Bindery term, two or more parallel folds which open like an accordion.

Author’s corrections: Changes and additions in copy after it has been typeset.

Bleed: When an image or printed color extends beyond the trimmed edge of a page, it is called a “bleed”. Bleeding ensures that the print extends to the edges of the paper. The paper is usually trimmed to the desired size after printing.

Body: The main text of work not including the headlines.

Branding: Famous advertising copywriter and ad agency founder David Ogilvy’s definition of a brand: “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.”

Brochure : A pamphlet used to advertise or market your organization or campaign. The language should be succinct and the design eye-catching.  It is usually—but doesn’t have to be—an 8.5 x 11 size that is folded into thirds.

Business Suite : Stationery suite for the organization: letterhead, #10 envelope, business cards, and note cards or smaller envelopes.

CMYK: Cyan (blue), magenta (process red), yellow (process yellow), black (process black). The inks used in 4-color process.

Coated paper: A clay coated printing paper with a smooth finish.

Comp: Comp’s are made to see what a prospective design project will look like—for example, the layout of the image, use of color, the size and the paper that will be used. It is also called a dummy.

Copy: The text

Diecut: A special cut to the paper for making unusual shapes. There are standard dies and there can be custom dies made to cut a special shape. The most common use of die cutting is for a folder, or for rounded corners on a card.

Digital Photo: A good quality digital photo is one:

  • taken with a good quality digital camera (good optics and digital sensor)
  • a photo that has not been enlarged either in post-processing or by in-camera digital zoom (never (ever) use digital zoom).
  • a photo that has been properly shot (good lighting, no blur)
  • a photo shot within the camera’s ideal ISO range (usually a low ISO such as ISO 100)
  • a photo that has been stored in either a lossless format (i.e. TIF) or a very low compressed JPEG (highest camera JPEG quality setting).

Such a photo will reproduce on paper at photographic quality (assuming current printing technology) at 200 PPI.

Digital printing : The print process most cost effective for short print runs.  It generally is also quicker turnaround time as there is no set up time like there is with offset printing. It is also called “toner-based” printing and can use full tonal blends of color. The quality of digital printing has gotten really good in the past few years.

DPI: DPI is the number of dots (or pixels – PPI) that fit horizontally and vertically into a one-inch measure. The more dots per inch, the more detail is captured and the sharper the image.

Duotone: A picture made up of two printed colors. The resulting image has more depth than it would have had with only a monotone color. A design technique often used when printing in 2color.

Flier : A single-page pamphlet usually used for advertising an event. Can be photocopied or printed on 8.5 x 11 paper, or can be a postcard flier. Generally has a short-term use.

Font vs. Typeface : A font is one member of a Typeface family to create the typography for lettering. For example, Times is the Typeface, Times Bold is the font, and Times Regular is another font. Also applies to each size of the font (10 pt, 11 pt, etc)

Formatting text : When we lay out a design, we must format the text to create variety for the reader and to draw in the eye. On a longer design, such as a report, we must format the text manually to distinguish the body text, the subheads and the main heads of the chapter. We do this by creating and applying a style to that specific text.

Gate Fold: A sheet that folds where both sides fold toward the gutter in overlapping layers.

GIF (Graphics Interchange Format): GIF images display up to 256 colors. GIF images generally have very small file sizes and are the most widely used graphic format on the web. The low quality resulting from compression makes them unsuitable for professional printing.

Gradient: A function in graphic software that allows the user to fill an object/image with a smooth transition of colors, for example a dark blue, gradually becoming lighter or red, gradually becoming orange, then yellow.

Grayscale: Grayscale images contains black, white, no color and up to 256 shades of gray.

high-resolution image: An image with a high level of sharpness/clarity.

Hue: a specific color

Identity system: Usually the stationery package consisting of letterhead, envelopes, and business cards, and other materials used for promotion, that keeps consistent design elements throughout to enable people to readily identify the organization. This contributes to the organizational brand.

Images: Images can be made of any graphic whether photographic or line drawing. The files are usually saved as  jpeg, tiff, eps, gif, or png.

Imposition: Positioning printed pages so they will fold in the proper order.

Indicia: Postal information place on a printed product.

JPEG: A common compression method that shrinks a file’s storage size by discarding non-important picture detail. Excessive jpeg compression can cause poor image quality.

Kerning: Adjusting the lateral (horizontal) space between letters.

Layers: A function within graphic software that allows the user to assemble, organize and re-edit their artwork. If the layers have been “flattened” then we are unable to make changes to the elements in the artwork.

Leading: The vertical spacing (measured in points) between lines of text.

Logo: An identifying name, symbol or trademark for immediate recognition. Logos are often made up of a wordmark and a logo mark. It is one aspect of an organizational brand or identity.

Logo mark: commonly mistaken for the “logo” this is the picture or symbol of the logo

Makeready: A significant cost of the printing is in the make ready. All activities required to prepare a press or other machine to function for printing. Also called setup.

Margin: the white space created around the main content of the page, top and bottom and inside and outside. We usually create a margin to allow for legibility, to allow the content to “breathe”. Also we need the margins as a safety when printing so content isn’t inadvertently trimmed off the paper.

Offset printing: Printing technique that transfers ink from a plate to a blanket to paper instead of directly from plate to paper.

Pantone ink: The Pantone Matching System is used for specifying and blending match colors. It provides designers with swatches of over 700 colors and gives printers the recipes for making those colors. If you are looking for an exact color, then using Pantone inks is the way to ensure it. Pantone inks are most cost-effective when used in one or two color printing.

PDF proof : A “soft” proof of the design we are working on for you that we send electronically and to be viewed in Acrobat Reader or Professional.

Perfect Bound: A type of binding that glues the edge of sheets to a cover for books that are larger than 92 pages generally.

Postcard: A 4″ x 6″ sized flier on card stock.

Poster : A large size advertising or marketing tool. Usually posters are 11″ x 17″ or larger. It is good to have a distribution plan when printing posters.

Reader Spread: Mechanicals made in two page spreads as readers would see the pages, as compared to printer spread.

Resample: A function available in image editing that allows the user to change the resolution of the image while keeping its pixel count in tact. The size changes proportionally. Often digital cameras will provide us with a 25” x 16” at 72 dpi image which we convert into a 6 x 4” at 300 dpi image.

Resolution: The resolution of an image is an important factor in determining the attainable output quality. The higher the resolution of an image, the less pixilated it will be and the curves of the image will appear smoother.  When the curves and other lines in a graphic becomes jagged, the resolution of the graphics file is too low.

Reverse or Knock out: Text or an image is masked out of a background color  – usually printing white in a block of color.

Saddle Stich: Binding a booklet or magazine with staples in the seam where it folds.

Styles: The typeface and font applied to text in a layout. Style sheets are created in a layout to ensure consistency in the design of the text. There will be a style for the headings, subheadings, and main body of text as well as other text elements.

Score: A crease put on paper to help it fold better.

Tint: Also known as Screen – a percentage of a Hue which lightens that color

Trim: The size of the printed material in its finished stage (for example, an 8.5″ x 11″ report, or a 11″x 17″ poster)

Vector: Vector graphics are drawn in paths. This allows the designer to resize images freely without getting pixilated edges as is the case with bitmapped images. The vector format is generally used for in printing while the bitmap format is used for onscreen display.

Web press: The name of a type of presses that print from rolls of paper.

White space: Created in a design so that the content can “breathe” by use of margins, more leading between lines, and space around images and text. A reader will be more drawn to reading a page with more white space, than a page that is crowded and dense.

Wordmark: The type treatment applied to the name of the organization. The representation of the word becomes a visual symbol of the organization or product.

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