Graphic design terms can be confusing to those outside of the industry. However, knowing a few common terms can help you communicate your needs and desired result to a designer or printer you’re considering for a project, reducing potential issues, and maybe even saving you time and money.


A printed color or image that extends past the trimmed edges of a page. A bleed ensures that any movement in the print process will not result in problems with your background such as an unplanned white edge. You also need to make sure anything important – text or images – is not too close to the edge, as they may get cut off in trimming. Some inexpensive printers, such as your office printer, do not support bleeds, leaving a (typically) 1/4″ white border on your printed piece.


Two different types of color modes. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, the colors used in the four-color print process. RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue, the colors that make up the light spectrum for viewing on-screen, such as computer monitors. They are not interchangeable! The color your monitor is capable of producing is much brighter and can be significantly different from the color the printing process is capable of producing. If you need an exact color match, ask your designer or printer to specify a custom-blended color such as a PANTONE (or PMS) color – but be aware that this will often add to the print cost of your project.

DPI (Dots Per Inch)

In offset printing, dpi is the number of dots that fit horizontally and vertically into a one-inch measure, therefore, the higher the dpi, the sharper the printed image. Printed projects are typically 300 dpi. Web or monitor resolutions are usually 72 dpi. This means you can’t take an image from a website and expect it to work in print, as the resolution is often simply too low (and the web image will be RGB, not the CMYK format needed for print.)


The surface quality of paper. Three common finishes are gloss, matte and silk. Gloss is shiny and often used for brochures, magazine and business cards as it can set off colors and images well; matte is a flat finish that can look more natural and earthy, and silk has a rich, smooth texture without the shine of gloss.


Digital printing is best for fast, customized small to medium quantities, and offset printing best for high quality pieces at large quantities. Offset printers can print on individual sheets of paper, with a variety of papers to choose from, while digital printers are generally limited to a smaller sheet, selection and size. The clarity of a piece printed offset uses a different printing plate for each ink color. A digital press uses one high resolution file to electronically print the piece, something like a copier.


A printed sheet with multiple pages on it that is folded so the pages are in their proper numbered sequence, as in a book. A typical signature has four or eight pages, but the type of printing and binding may affect how many pages/signatures your final piece must have.

Stock Photo

A professionally shot photograph available online for licensing. Stock photos are often used in lieu of hiring a photographer, and are typically less expensive, depending on the stock site, usage, and license required. For a useful guide to find beautiful, free, high quality stock images, check out this list of 74 sites!

Vector/Raster Graphics

Vector graphics use mathematical calculations to describe lines and curves. Raster images, such as photographs, are made up of thousands of tiny pixels. Vector graphics can be enlarged to almost any size without losing quality, while raster images become pixelized – fuzzy – when enlarged past their limit. Resolution (DPI) only applies to raster graphics – because vectors do not work in pixels. When you have a logo designed, always make sure you receive a vector version, unless you never intend to use it anywhere but online.

Obviously, this short list barely nicks the surface of design and print jargon, but these are a few of the most common and confusing terms. Please feel free to contact us with any print or presentation lingo questions you may have, and if you’d like us to focus on more terms in a future newsletter, let us know that as well!