26 Graphic design Jargon Terms Explained



This is the 4 colour print process. It stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and key, which refers to black. There are the 4 ink colours that are used when printing. Even your standard office printer will use CMYK. The combination of these 4 inks, make up your picture or logo on the printed material. You can even look the dots individually if you put a magnifying glass over a takeaway menu or anything printed. 

2. RGB

RGB is basically the opposite of CMYK. It stands for red, green and blue. It’s a colour mode for all images shown through an electronic display, such as a computer or television.

3. Crop Marks

Crop Marks are fine horizontal and vertical lines that define where the page should be trimmed. You’ll find these in the corners an middle edges of print material before its cut.

4. Bleed

Bleed is used on printed material. Before a designer sends the printer a file they’ll add bleed. This just increases the background 3-5mm typically, this will allow for any movement or errors when being cut, otherwise, we could have a white outline. The bleed goes past the crop marks.

5. Kerning

This refers to the amount of space between to individual letters or characters. 

6. Typeface or font.

Typeface refers to the actual look of the characters. Whereas the font refers to the digital file that contains all of these characters and allows you to write words. 

7. Legible

How easy it is to read to see something. For example, “the text on that logo isn’t legible”. This means that the words on the logo aren’t readable.

8. Serif

A serif is the little extra bit added onto the letterform. This a little tail or curve at the point of a character. Some examples of serif typefaces include Times New Roman, Georgia and Garamond.

9. Sans serif

Coming from the French word ‘Sans’ meaning without, so without serifs. These typefaces are more common and tend to be easier to read. Common sans serif typefaces include Arial, Helvetica and Verdana.

10. Lorem ipsum

Lorem ipsum is a Latin placeholder text that designers use if the client hasn’t sent over the paragraph text or actual wording. This gives the designer an understanding of space and hierarchy.

11. Hierarchy

The order of importance. It’s how you look at an advert and what you look at first. What stands out and catches your eye. So ideally the most important information will be the first thing you look at.

12. Resolution

Resolution refers to the quality of a picture. The higher the resolution, the clearer the photos will be. For printed use, it is preferred that the artwork is at 300dpi (dots per inch) but this depends on the scale and size of the final product. As this will be different if you compare a banner to a logo on a letterhead. 

13. Grid

A designer can use a grid when designing to create more of a structure to the outcome. Using columns, rows and rulers to layout the type and images.

14. Vector graphic

A designers favourite file type. Vector files are scalable and won’t lose quality, as they are made up of paths and curves rather than pixels. Vector file extensions include .EPS, .AI and .SVG.

15. Bitmap

A bitmap file displays small dots (pixels or bits) in a pattern that, when viewed from afar, creates an overall image. A bitmap image is a grid made of rows and columns where a specific cell (the pixels) is given a value that fills it in or leaves it blank, thus creating an image out of the data.

16. JPEG

A JPEG is an example of a file type that is a bitmap image. This is one of the most common file types. If scaled, a jpeg image will lose quality as it used the bitmap form. You should check the image resolution when using JPEGs and bitmap files in large format print.

17. Pixel

A pixel is the smallest part of an image, many pixels make up an image or a digital display. Pixels are often referred to as dots. 

18. Tracking

Tracking is similar to Kerning. However, instead of the space between two letters, tracking refers to the space between letters in the full word.

19. Saturation

Saturation is the intensity of colour in an image. High saturation can make the colours seem hyper-real and low saturation will dim the colours, even make it grayscale.

20. Tone

Tone is the lightness or darkness something. For example with colour, you can have tones to create a contrast and a difference between design elements.

21. Style guide

A style guide gives you a specific way to use your branding or design. Typically this document will outline how to use your logo, how much space should be around it, along with scale, colours, imagery and type as a minimum. They are really useful to create consistency in your identity.

22. Widow 

A widow is a very short line at the end of a paragraph or column. A widow is considered poor typography because it leaves too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page. It just doesn’t look great.

23. Orphan

Like a widow, an orphan is a single word, part of a word or very short line, except it appears at the beginning of a column or a page. This results in poor horizontal alignment at the top of the column or page

24. Mock-Up

Designers will use mock-ups to show clients what a design will look like without actually making the real thing. Mock-Ups are typically used to present an idea to a client. To give them a real-world view of the outcome without the expense of creating it for real. 

25. Negative space

The space surrounding the words and shapes in your design. Negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition. It can be used to create awesome features in a design. For example, the arrow found between the “E” and the “X” of the FedEx logo.

26. Typography

Typography is the art of letterforms and how they are used as typefaces and fonts. It can be used to display a message or purely for aesthetic reasons.

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