Basic Graphic Design Glossary
of  Keywords used by Designers

My hope is that this list of terms will help you better communicate your ideas to your Designer, so that they can better understand your project and ultimately, more accurately quote your project.

Glossary (Click Letter to Expand)

AI: Adobe Illustrator Document extension.

AI: Artificial Intelligence: the thing that’s going to put us out of business.

Bleed: Bleed is the part of a printed document that is outside the bounds of the final size of the piece. It is used to make sure images and other design elements print all the way to the edge of the paper. Whether your job is a Bleed (no white border) or No-Bleed (white border) can significantly change the price when it goes to print.

Bleedthrough: Areas with heavy ink coverage can soak through thin paper and show up on the other side. This is not the same as being able to see the printing on the other side just because the paper is thin. With bleedthrough, the ink actually soaks into the paper and appears in dark blotches on the other side.

Body/Copy: The body of a layout (also called copy or body copy) is the main text.

Brochure: A brochure is like a flyer with a few differences.  A brochure is usually two sided, folded in some way, and used to promote a business.  Today brochures have become web sites but never underestimate the impact of printed business materials.

Buy Out: What am I Paying For? When you purchase, out right, any and all files that a Designer might use to create your project, not just the final design. Designers’ Template and Construction files are usually Proprietary. Meaning partially that they are created in custom design software and you will not be able to work with them, but mainly that they contain the Designers’ tricks and shortcuts that are of their own creations, and just like a Magician, we don’t like to share. There may be a Flat Rate buy out, or it may be based on the number of files, but there will be a fee, Expect to pay.

Changes: Changes, what do I pay for? Corrections of misspelling or type-o’s, adjustments of Name, Phone Numbers, Addresses, additions of a Web or Email Address, or minor movement of the text, logo, or background graphic should be considered changes and carry no fee.

CMYK: CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. This combination of colors give, what is called, Full or Process Color. (Photographic look)

Comps: Also known as comprehensives, this is the step after thumbnails in the creative process. A comp is usually where the designs are taken into the computer and the details such as backgrounds, color schemes and images are more thoroughly worked out. Comps are the “first draft” of design. Many times Designers show several different styles in comps to a client and let the client decide on a look and feel that he or she desires. Then, the comps go back to the Designer with some feedback and changes from the client and usually several rounds of this feedback process occur. Sometimes the client may ask for (or the Designer may want to present) mock-ups.

Crossover: Images and/or text running across two or more pages (also know as Spread). Look to see that they line up when you go to a press check.

Desktop Publishing: Desktop Publishing combines a personal computer and page layout software (InDesign, Quark, Pagemaker) to create publication documents (books, magazines, etc.) on a computer for either large scale publishing or small scale local multi-function peripheral output and distribution. The term “desktop publishing” can also refer to point of sale displays, promotional items, trade show exhibits, retail package designs, and outdoor signs. This is similar to Production Design.

DPI: Dots Per Inch is the more exact way to define the resolution for a file that is to be printed. Some use DPI and PPI (Pixel Per Inch) interchangeably, though this is technically incorrect.

Elements of Design: The Elements of Design are Color, Shape, Size, Space, Line, Value and Texture .

EPS: Encapsulated PostScript extension. A common file format for exporting Vector files, it contains a bitmap preview of the image as well as instructions written in the PostScript language that describe how the object is to be printed. An EPS file is a vector format, but a Raster or Bitmap can be saved as an .EPS, though it’s not recommended. The Raster .EPS will not have any of the properties that a true EPS file will including: scalability, editability and file size. Images for print should ideally be exported as .TIFFs or .JPG.

Extension: Lesser known to the Mac or Apple crowd, an extension is the three or four letters after the dot in a file name (.123). This is a PC’s way of knowing what file is attached to what program (e.g. .PDF=Adobe Acrobat Reader). Knowing your file extension can help you let your Designer know if the graphics you are providing are high res, low res, vector, or raster.

Flat Rate: This means that if the price is $100.00, then 1 minute or 10 hours of design time, it’s still $100.00. This is great for the customer who has large projects that contain many elements. It is not so good for the Designer who doesn’t plan well, because they can actually lose money, which is why Flat Rate is so hard to get.

Font: Technically, a font is the complete collection of characters and glyphs, including numbers, symbols, accented characters, punctuation marks, etc. in a given face design. A font also includes the design in various weights, such as bold or italic; it is more comprehensive and complicated to design than a typeface.

Fireworks: Adobe Fireworks is a program used for Web Design. Like Photoshop it has many of the same abilities, but it also has additional options that make it perfect for laying out a Web site.

Flyer: A flyer is generally a single sided graphic and text based design used to promote and event. 8½x11 is the standard size but they can be any size from door hangers to club handouts.

Ghosting: Also known as screening back, it is where an image is made transparent so that the background shows through. Sometimes this can be an undesired effect in the printing process due to too little ink being transferred to the paper. Be sure to check for unwanted ghosting on the press check. .

GIF: A proprietary file format from CompuServe. It is used in Web graphics and is best for images that are made of solid colors, like logos. GIFs support transparency and they can be animated. GIFs do not exceed 256 colors.

Gradient: A gradient is a fade from one color to another. Generally gradients are used to add depth, or sometimes a shiny or metallic look to a design element, but they can also be used simply to color an object.

Graphic Design: Graphic Design refers to the use of symbols, images and/or words to visually communicate an idea, message or impression. Graphic Design often refers to both the process (designing) by which the communication is created and the products (designs) which are generated. For example, a product package might include a logo or other artwork, organized text and pure design elements such as shapes and color which unify the piece. Composition is one of the most important features of Graphic Design, especially, when using pre-existing materials or diverse elements.

Hard Copy: Hard copy is just what it sounds like; originals of your artwork that are printed, drawn, sketched on paper or other medium. A hand drawing of your original logo, an illustration, even a painting can all be considered hard copy.

Hickey: Yes, this is a real term in Graphic Design! Hickeys happen when foreign matter like dust, blobs of ink, or bits of paper make marks on a print piece. You should look for them at the press check.

Illustrator: Adobe Illustrator is a vector program often used by Designers to create logos and work with or manipulate type.

Illustrator: Someone who can create original artwork for any project.

.INDD: InDesign Document extension.

InDesign: Adobe InDesign is a page layout or desktop publishing program like PageMaker or Quark used by Designers to layout text and images into a wide variety of projects. This program is great for laying out large projects like magazines and books where an overall theme or style is required.

.JPG (JPEG): An abbreviation for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the committee that created this file type. This format is great for the Web because it’s super compressed and has a Full Color or Photographic look. A one (1) inch by one (1) inch .TIFF image is approximately 3.5 Megs, the comparable .JPG is 160k or 21,875 times smaller.

Kerning: Kerning is the spacing between individual letters or characters

Logo Recreations: You have a Hard Copy of your Logo from years ago, and now you want it in your computer so that you can print it on your letterhead and invoices, but your scan doesn’t look right. A Logo recreation is when your Designer takes that original, scans it, and carefully cleans it up or repairs it, usually into a Vector format, so that it can be used.

Loupe: (pronounced loop) A little magnifying glass just like jewelers use to examine gems . Pressmen use this to check the registration on a print job and make sure all the little ink dots are lining up on top of each other like they should. Designers can use this tool at the press check.

Medium: Any physical material that is used to create artwork. What it’s created with: Pencil, Ink, Watercolor, as well as, what it’s created on: Paper, Cardboard, Canvas, and Wood Bark are all different kinds of medium.

Mock-Up (Mock): A close-to-reality rendition of a project. This is often used in packaging design to show how a proposed design would look on a box or other type of package. It is used to give you a better idea of the final product. It can also be used in Web design to show a rough approximation of what the final Web site would look like in a screen shot of a browser.

.PDF: Portable Document Format. This file type is used by Adobe Acrobat Reader and allows the user to view documents with graphics and fonts that are not on their local computer. It’s a great way for a Designer to show you a high res full color proof of your project through email right on your home computer. The ability to transmit proofs over the internet saves a lot of meeting and travel time, gas, and paper, and that’s good for the planet.

Pixel: Picture element. It is the basic digital component that makes up a raster/bitmap image.

.PNG (PNG-24): Portable Network Graphics are the ideal Web graphic file types. They support transparency. PNG-8 is essentially a .GIF file but full color.

Press Check: A press check is used on Print Jobs to check if the project coming off the press is what you expected. If you are able to do a press check, you have the ability to make minor adjustments to the ink to modify the color of the printed piece without having to go back to the Designer.

Principles of Design: The Principles of Design are Unity, Balance, Contrast, Economy, Direction, Emphasis, Proportion and Rhythm.

Print: Print encompasses all design that is not on a screen in its finished state. Print can include brochures, reports, postcards, menus, billboards or identity systems (letterheads, envelopes, business cards). The Print of a project is usually a separate part of the cost. It comes after all the design work is done and can vary based on Quantity, Paper Stock, and Time Constraints. Your design (i.e. book cover) might have cost $1000.00 to have designed but might cost $10,000.00 to print. Having a grasp of the entire cost structure of your project can help you save money. Hopefully, your Designer knows how to cut corners without cutting quality to save you as much money as possible.

Process Color: See CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, & Black)

Production Design: Production Design, combines a personal computer and page layout software (InDesign, Quark, Pagemaker) to create publication documents (books, magazines, etc.) on a computer for either large scale publishing or small scale local multi-function peripheral output and distribution. The term “desktop publishing” can also refer to point of sale displays, promotional items, trade show exhibits, retail package designs, and outdoor signs. This is similar to Desktop Publishing except all the elements are provided. There is no original creation (except for the layout) just assembly.

.PSD: Photoshop Document extension.

PhotoShop: Adobe PhotoShop is a design program used to manipulate raster (bitmap) images. Though it can be done with Vector, Photoshop is particularly great at providing a true Photo-realism to your project.

Raster: A raster or bitmap image is made out of pixels. Raster images are photos, illustrations or any other graphic that use a Dot for Dot or Pixel format to define its image. It’s best described like a piece of graph paper. If you color in every other square and leave every other blank, you’ve created a Raster Image. The black squares get a value of where they are and what color they are but so do the blank ones. That’s why you get a white box around some graphics. Even the White Dots get a value.

Redesigns: Redesign, what do I pay for? Anything that is not considered a Change (see changes). Replacement of background graphic, changing a current logo for a new or redesigned one, changing the overall color scheme or idea should be considered billable time. Though your Designer may give you a good price, you should expect to pay.

Render: Though this has a truly complex meaning because of it’s many uses, even fat can be rendered, mostly it refers to 3D Graphics. Look at the end of any Pixar or computer generated movie and you’ll find a big credit for the Renderer.

Resolution (res): Resolution is a simple subject that most people have a difficult time wrapping their brain around, because it is used in so many different ways. Your new HD TV has a Pixel Resolution, so does your monitor and your printer. For Design purposes, it has to do with DPI (Dots Per Inch) for print. So, here is my best description. 1 Inch is 1 Inch on any standard ruler, but depending on the resolution of an image, DPI can tell you how much information is packed into that inch. 1 inch at 72 DPI has 72 available spots for pixels (colored dots) to go into but is still 1 inch long. 1 inch at 300 DPI has 300 available spots for pixels to go into but is still 1 inch long but with 4 times the information packed into the same 1 Inch. More pixels equals better image quality. This is why pulling images off the Web, blowing it up and printing it on your printer sometimes produces blurry results. The Web is 72 DPI and Print is 300 DPI or more. There’s also something called Line Screen (LPI) but is for another day.

RGB: (Red, Green and Blue) are a monitor’s color space. This is why the colors you may see on your screen are different in print, and the colors from monitor to monitor are so varied.

Separation Anxiety: Many Clients may experience a strange feeling when their project is complete. You have shared an intimate time with another person of ideas and conversation for days or even months, and depending on how much work you have in the future, you may never see that person again, so there may be a certain level of awkwardness when you leave. It’s perfectly normal.

Spot Color: Inks that are mixed by the printer to be a specific color, PMS (Pantone Matching System). This process is used these days mainly for T-Shirts and other print media where the printed color needs to be consistent no matter how or where they are printed. Any time you add an extra ink to a print job, it increases the price. Metallic inks are also spot colors.

Stock: Stock refers to something that is pre-made—photos, illustrations or icons with a general theme. Though Stock can be quicker and great for thumbnailing, you won’t ever find that perfect artwork you need just the way you want it, so editing will be required. Though it can be cheaper, just because it’s stock doesn’t mean it’s free. In addition, grabbing artwork off the Web for use in your project is the same as copying a DVD; it’s illegal and can incur serious fines if the original photographer wishes to pursue it. Stock can also refer to the paper a project is printed on. (Paper Stock)

.TIF (TIFF): A Raster file format that retains true image fidelity because it is not compressed like .JPG or .GIF files. .TIF files can be extremely large and can be used in Print Media such as Magazines, Flyers, etc. .TIF (.TIFF) are not good candidates for Web Pages, but can usually be easily converted for that use, though they will lose some clarity.

Thumbnails: Small scale rough sketches of a design concept. They are among the first stages of the creative process. Thumbnailing is a process that Designers use to quickly illustrate ideas for a design.

Tru-Time: As opposed to total time, this term refers to the time it actually takes to create your project. It may take a Designer a week to complete your design, but they only spent 2 hours of actual work. 2 hours is the Tru-Time, and that is what you should be paying for.

Typeface: A typeface is simply a design or look of letters and maybe numbers.

Vector: Vectors can most readily be recognized as, what are sometimes called, Line Drawings. Programs like Illustrator, Freehand or CorelDraw are used to produce Vector Graphics. It can be best described like Geometry (two points define a line in space) and allows the art to be infinitely scalable without losing Resolution of Definition. Vector files (like .EPS, .PDF, AI) are a fraction of the size of raster files because there is less data needed to create the images. An image or raster document (.JPG, .PSD, GIF) saved in a Vector format does not have the properties of a true Vector file.

Vectorize: Or vector conversion is my term for converting any bitmap or image in to a vector line drawing. This is largely used by T-Shirt shops because of the Spot Color nature of their printing process, but it has many other uses. (See Vector)

Wire Frame: A Wire Frame is a basic layout without design elements generally referring to Vector Art when viewing the image without color or fills. It is also used in Web design as a means to plan where navigation and content will sit on the page.