An A-Z of Printing Terms

A-Z of printing terms

If you’re involved in buying printing but are not a designer or printer yourself, you’ll probably have come across some printing jargon that, at some point, has left you a little confused. ‘CMYK’, ‘bleed’ and ‘outlining fonts’ are possible examples. Such terminology often crops up at the worst possible time too — in print quotes or just when you are in a hurry to finalise artwork. Fear not, though, as we’re here to help you make sense of it all. Here is our handy A to Z of common printing terms:

Originating from printed items like newsletters and brochures that were often supplied folded in half, the term ‘above the fold’ refers to the first part of the document that’s visible initially i.e. the top section above the position of the ‘fold line’ where items either are, or could be, folded. Similarly, for websites, it refers to the part of the page you can initially see without having to scroll down vertically.

A type of ‘concertina’ document fold, typically used for leaflets and small brochures.

An Adobe Illustrator file format that’s typically used for vector graphics for things like logos, diagrams and digital illustrations.

The character “&” on a keyboard (short for “and”).

A high quality, popular type of printing paper that incorporates a thin, clay-based compound on its surface. This coating lends itself to printing as the ink tends not to absorb through into the paper, thereby allowing colours to appear rich and contrast to be punchy, particularly in comparison to uncoated papers.

(a.k.a. ‘finished artwork’). This is the type of digital file generated by graphic design and page layout applications for hand-over to commercial printers. Most commonly this will be a high resolution, print-ready Acrobat PDF file. However, some printers also accept ‘native’ file types including InDesign files, Illustrator files, Quark Express files and even Photoshop files although they then usually then convert them to PDF files in-house. The PDF artwork file will then be used to go direct to print if digital printing, or to produce printing plates if litho printing.

The secure fastening of pages, for example, into a book, brochure or bound report. There are various binding techniques available including saddle stitched binding, perfect binding, case or hard binding, soft binding, wire binding, comb binding and velo binding. Southside Print can help with any of these.

When printing colours, graphics or photos to the edge of printed documents, the artwork for those elements is usually extended by an additional 3mm off the relevant edges. This extra 3mm is called ‘bleed’ and is included so that, once the sheet is trimmed, no white margins feature on the final print even if the document is not trimmed accurately to the millimetre.

A slightly three-dimensional, raised and unprinted image achieved by forcing a shaped metal die against the reverse side of the sheet of paper, card, board or (sometimes) leather/leatherette. The ‘blind’ part refers to there being no printed pigment involved. Blind embossing usually looks sophisticated, yet subtle, and often features smaller graphics like logos, titles, etc. It can also have a ‘relief’ i.e. detail within the embossed area.

This means black and white, strictly speaking, although can also refer to greyscale.

CMYK printing is also known as ‘process’ printing. It uses just four coloured inks to achieve a huge range of different colours, tints and tones. The letters stem from the four inks used, being cyan (‘C’; a bright blue), magenta (‘M’; a deep pink), yellow (‘Y’) and black (‘K’, which is used instead of ‘B’ so as to avoid confusion with blue).

Also known as art paper (see above).

A ‘comp’ is short for a ‘composite’ and is more commonly known as a ‘rough’, ‘scamp’ or design ‘visual’ in the world of graphic design.

Crop marks are the little lines that appear on artwork and un-cropped printed sheets. They denote where the sheet should be trimmed. Usually they fall about 3mm outside of the trimmed areas and signify the position of edges, where they meet at corners.

A cutter is a device used in print finishing, required when the final trimmed shape is going to be irregular, for example, a folder with rounded corners or with a shaped pocket. Also known as a ‘cutting die’ or ‘cutting form’ it usually consists of a ply backing board featuring embedded cutting and creasing blades, that will stamp out the sheet to shape, when applied under pressure.

This is the part of the finished artwork file that shows the printer the shape that’s required when a printed job is destined to be cut out in an irregular shape (e.g. a shaped folder). The printer will then use this to produce a ‘cutter’ or ‘cutting form’ (see above).

Cyan is the bright blue coloured ink used in ‘CYMK’ (a.k.a. ‘process’) printing. Cyan is the ‘C’ part.

A slightly three-dimensional, indented image achieved by forcing a shaped metal die against the front side of the sheet of paper, card, board or (sometimes) leather/leatherette. Debossing usually looks sophisticated, yet subtle, with the indented edges catching the light a little. Debossed images can be printed or unprinted (the unprinted version would be known as blind debossing). Traditional foil blocked printing is similar in respect of the image being indented by pressure from a shaped die.

A metal block that has been carefully shaped so as to incorporate some kind of graphic (e.g. a logo, symbol or lettering) and sometimes also including detail via etching or a bas-relief approach. Dies are used under pressure for embossing and debossing and also with hot foiling, where heat is also applied.

Die cutting is the process whereby sheets of paper, card or board are cut down to shape using a bladed cutter. Usually die cutting is required because the shape of the final piece is irregular (otherwise guillotining would simply be used), for example folders with pockets and slits, brochures with shaped pages and so on.

Digital printing is a modern printing process whereby a computer tells the printer where to print the ink, without the need for printing plates. As such it’s faster and usually cheaper to set up. Digital printing is usually competitively priced for short to medium printing volumes.

Dpi stands for dots per inch and is a measure of how fine the detail is in printed items. A printing press with a fine dpi will give superior results to a press with a low dpi setting (in the latter you may notice the dots). To all intents and purposes, dpi is very similar to pixels per inch (ppi), which is a measure of the resolution in a digital image, for example a photograph when viewed in an application like Photoshop.

DPS means double page spread (like you’d see if you open a book or standard brochure i.e. a left-hand page opposite a right-hand page).

Duplex printing simply means double-sided printing.

Embedding graphics, photographs and illustrations into artwork files means that they are copied into the file rather than being externally linked to. Embedding such graphics means there is less chance of problems when it comes to printing, because there are no links to potentially ‘break’.

Embossing is a process whereby the paper, card, board or leather/leatherette is raised, in relief by stamping a shaped metal die applied under pressure from the reverse. Embossing can also be done in bas-relief i.e. with detail in the raised area. Embossing is usually used for smaller areas like logos, titles, or occasionally background textures. Embossed areas will catch the light and can be printed or unprinted (the latter being known as ‘blind’ embossing).

EPS is the ‘Encapsulated PostScript’ file format used in professional graphics and drawing applications like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. It is particularly useful for saving vector graphics.

Print finishing refers to one of a variety of different processes that are undertaken after sheets have been printed. Examples of print finishing processes include folding, trimming, lamination, collating, drilling etc.

Flyers are simple printed items, are used for sales and marketing purposes, and are usually inexpensively produced. A typical example of a flyer would be an A5 leaflet.

A printing process that allows a mirror-like foil to be ‘printed’ onto the surface of paper, card, board or even leather. Traditional hot foiling uses a metal die to stamp the foil onto the card under pressure and with heat applied at the same time. Modern digital foiling does not require the metal die and is faster to set up.

Generally used for finished artwork, FPO means ‘for position only’ and, as the name suggests, draws the printer’s attention to elements that are shown on the artwork for reference purposes only. Such items do not actually print.

Also known as a vignette, a graduation describes a printed colour or ink that fades from one colour, tint or tone to another, without any visible steps showing.

Paper has a ‘grain’ and this denotes the direction in which many of the paper’s fibres lie. Because they tend to align in one direction more than the other (this is due to the production process), bent, creased or folded paper can behave slightly differently depending upon whether it is bent with the grain, or against it. For example, creasing paper in the same direction as the grain results in a smooth crease, while creasing against the grain results in a sharper, but slightly less pristine, crease.

Greeked text (also known as ‘Greeking’) refers to dummy text often used by designers in early stage design visuals.

Grams per square inch (gsm) is a measure of the ‘weight’ of paper, card and board.

A guillotine, when used in terms of printing, is a machine that cuts sheets of paper in a straight line.

When referring to a book or brochure layout, the ‘gutter’ is the unprinted margin closest to the inner spine.

A halftone is a graphic or photograph (usually the latter) that no longer has true photographic ‘continuous tone’. Instead, tones and variations in colour are achieved by the image being processed to use tiny dots of ink that are virtually invisible to the naked eye on the final printing.

These are abbreviations denoting specific pages in a book, booklet or brochure. IBC means ‘inside back cover’. IFC means ‘inside front cover’. FC and BC mean ‘front cover’ and ‘back cover’ respectively.

This is the most popular design/page layout application used by professional graphic designers, printers and finished artists and is made by Adobe. InDesign most commonly saves .indd and .pdf file types.

Justification refers to a particular type of alignment in a column of text. Justified text has a hard left and a hard right alignment so that every line of text is exactly the same width (with the exception of the final line in a paragraph, particularly if it contains few words, unless every line is ‘force justified’).

K means the Black ink when referring to the four ‘process colours’ of C (cyan), M (magenta), Y (yellow) and K (black).

Kerning refers to the careful fine-tuning of the space between letters in a word. Sometimes this is necessary when one letter looks too close or too distant from the next. Kerning can be done automatically by many page make-up programmes but may also need to be manually fine-tuned in some instances, particularly where a character pairing is a little awkward (for example an A next to a V, which can sometimes look too ‘gappy’ without manual intervention).

In finished artwork and in printing, one colour may need to ‘knock out’ an underlying colour rather than overprinting it. For example, if you have some cyan text on a red background, it will need to ‘knock out’ the red because, if it doesn’t, it will become virtually black on the final printing due to the two colours overlapping.

‘Laid’ paper features a linear pattern in the material itself, formed during manufacture. You can get papers with different variants, including fine laid right up to broad laid. Classic ‘Conqueror laid’ is one of the most well-known laid papers and comes somewhere in the middle.

In the printing industry, lamination refers to the process whereby printed sheets have a plastic-based film adhered to their surface. This can offer some protection from moisture and wear as well as looking attractive. Lamination comes in a variety of finishes including gloss, matte and ‘soft touch’, which looks like matte lamination but has a softer, more velvety feel to it.

Landscape format refers to a document or image whose width is greater than its height.

This is a typographic term that refers to the vertical space between different lines of text. Traditionally it is measured in points but many modern page make-up applications also allow it to be set in terms of millimetres or in multiples of the point size used for the font itself (for example single spaced leading or double spaced linefeed, etc).

Line artwork refers to artwork of graphics, fonts or elements that are formed using a solid colour without tints or tones. However, tones and tints can be accomplished in line artwork if needed. This would be accomplished by converting a tint to dots of the solid colour being printed.

Litho (or ‘lithographic’) printing is the traditional method of printing commercial literature and requires traditional printing plates and separations etc. It is still used today, despite the popularity of digital (plate-less) printing presses because it is extremely high quality and, as such, represents the benchmark against which other printing processes are compared (for example, good digital printing might be described as ‘near litho quality’). Litho printing also allows the printing of spot colours, which is simply impossible using most digital presses. Litho printing is most economical for medium and large print volumes.

M means the magenta (deep pink) ink when referring to the four ‘process colours’ of C (cyan), M (magenta), Y (yellow) and K (black).

This is an unintended clash of ‘screens’ that’s evident occasionally on printed jobs. It looks like a kind of tartan pattern, for example appearing on tints, tones and photographs in the final print. Moiré screen clash occurs if a printed image, that is made up of tiny, regular dots in a grid, is rescanned again (resulting in another screen of tiny, regular dots, perhaps going in a slightly different direction, hence the ‘clash’ of screens). Ways to avoid it include scanning original images instead of printed ones, various Photoshop tricks and using a stochastic (random) dot formation instead of a regular one.

‘On demand’ printing means the supply of printed jobs only as and when needed. This is in contrast to printing large quantities and perhaps partially storing a portion of them for possible future use. On demand printing is viable these days because of the advent of digital printing presses. Unlike traditional litho printing presses, these make one-off and low quantity printing viable and economical.

An orphan refers to a lone line of text at the bottom or top of a text column, having been separated from the rest of its paragraph due to the paragraph in question running from one column to the next. It is considered poor practice from a design perspective and a good designer will usually try to avoid orphans.

Outlining text refers to the practice of converting ‘live’ text into vectors at artwork stage. This is often done so as to completely avoid the chance of there being any font issues when the job goes to print.

In contrast to ‘knocking out’ (see above), overprinting refers to the practice of printing one colour ink directly on top of another. There are various reasons for overprinting, including making black text easier to register, making blacks ‘deeper’ and, of course, to form additional colours from a limited set of ink colours (for example overprinting magenta over yellow results in a primary red). It’s important to get the overprint settings right at digital artwork stage.

Pantone is a colour reference and benchmarking system, commonly used by graphic designers, to specify colours so that they remain consistent even when generated via different imaging processes, suppliers and locations.

PDF means ‘portable document format’ and is also known as an ‘Acrobat PDF’. Invented by Adobe, PDF format is the preferred artwork file format used in the printing industry.

Perfect binding is the type of bookbinding that you commonly see on something like a paperback book. Pages are glued into the spine and the outer cover is usually made of a medium thick card, also glued at the spine.

Printing ‘plates’ are metal sheets that carry the printing ink from the printing press to the sheets of paper or card being printed. They are carefully prepared (photographically or digitally) to attract or repel ink as appropriate for the image being printed on the paper. Litho printing requires traditional printing plates, whereas most digital printing machines do not.

Portrait format refers to a document or image whose height is greater than its width.

Abbreviation of pixels per inch (see dpi section above for more information).

Process printing describes the most popular form of commercial printing, whereby the four ‘process’ ink colours (cyan, magenta, yellow and black, also known as ‘CMYK’) are used to print a huge range of ‘full colour’ images through the use of tiny dots and tints of each of the four ink colours. These can be overlapped and combined so that full colour photographs can be printed using just the four inks.

Proofs are preliminary print-outs that are generated in order to check the printing before committing to a full print run. Usually only one is required but additional proofs can be generated should any issues be identified on the first proof. Southside Print’s digital presses are very useful, accurate and rapid ways of producing one-off proofs for customers. Litho presses traditionally used a different type of proof called a Chromalin.

This used to be the premier graphic design and page make-up application used in the design industry. However, in recent years, most designers have switched to Adobe InDesign because of its familiar interface, which is similar to Photoshop and Illustrator (also both made by Adobe).

Registration refers to ensuring that printing ink passes are kept in close register with each other, so that the resulting composite image is sharp and legible. So, with CMYK (‘process’ printing), there would be four ink colours to keep in register. This is easier with digital presses, as it’s done mostly automatically whereas, with litho printing, the machine operator has to manually register the colours.

Registration marks are the printers’ marks that appear on untrimmed printed sheets in order to help the machine operator keep the printed colours in close register (see Registration above). They usually sit alongside colour test bars and trim marks (also see above) and are trimmed off during the finishing stage of production.

Resolution is a measure of the ‘density’ of information held within a digital graphic or photograph file. The preferred resolution for digital artwork is usually 300 dots, or pixels, per inch (see dpi and ppi above) although the absolute optimum setting depends upon the screen ruling that imagery is going to be printed in. Resolution does not apply to vector graphics.

Retouching images refers to the process of correcting any imperfections in photographs or other graphics. For example, if a digital photograph shows dust, hair or other imperfections, they can usually be fixed via the use of professional image manipulation packages like Adobe Photoshop. Similarly, any colour imbalances can also be fine-tuned. Such things are known collectively as retouching.

RGB is short for Red, Green and Blue, which are the three core light colours used on screens of computers and other devices. Images saved in RGB mode are therefore suitable for screen. However, for use in digital and litho printing, the colour space must be switched and saved to CMYK mode, otherwise it is likely to give unintended printing results.

Saddle-stitched essentially means stapled, to all intents and purposes. Saddle-stitched binding is a quick, easy and inexpensive means of binding documents like multi-page brochures and booklets. It is usually accomplished using two metal wires stapled to hold the pages at the spine.

The ‘screen ruling’ in a printed photo or tint specifies the frequency of the spacing of the tiny dots which make up the image once it’s printed. A fine screen ruling uses closely-spaced dots while a coarse screen ruling uses wider spacing, so is more visible to the naked eye.

Spot colours are colours that have to be printed in a separate pass, using an ink pre-mixed to that specific colour. As such, spot colours are usually only possible using traditional lithographic printing presses and a separate printing plate. Spot colours can often accomplish more saturated colours than process colours, for example ‘Reflex Blue’, fluorescent colours and also liquid metallic inks.

Spot varnish is varnish that’s applied to only specific parts of the printed sheet, for example over photographs or on a logo. There are various different types including machine varnish, UV varnish (very glossy) and digital variants too.

Stock is another printer’s term for paper or card. So, for example, a letterhead might be printed on Conqueror “stock”.

A tint means a solid ink colour that has been made to look lighter by breaking it up into a grid of tiny spaced dots. To the naked eye the colour simply looks lighter and the dots are not usually noticeable.

Thermography (‘thermo’ for short) is an inexpensive printing process that adds a glossy coating to printed text or graphics. This is achieved by sprinkling thermographic powder onto the still wet, printed image, shaking off the excess where it hasn’t stuck to the wet ink and then applying heat. This melts the thermographic powder, fusing it to the ink and causes the printed areas to become highly glossy and slightly raised.

‘Trapping’ printed colours means very slightly overlapping them so that any slightly misaligned registration will not result in gaps between the two colours. Trapping is not visible to the naked eye and is usually set up as part of the digital artwork.

Trim marks are printers’ marks which show printers where the printing sheets should be cut. They are usually positioned in the corners of the artwork, outside the document area, and are cut off when the job is guillotined down to final size.

A typo is short for a ‘typographical error’.

Uncoated paper does not have the thin, clay-based compound that’s found on the surface of ‘art’ and ‘coated’ papers. Because of this, printing on uncoated papers looks less punchy (because more of the ink is absorbed into the paper fibres) and less contrasty. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, because many designers like the more organic feel of uncoated print jobs if that particular look suits the subject matter.

This is a high gloss varnish that can either be printed over the entire surface of a printed job, or applied on a ‘spot’ basis. Overall UV varnish is inexpensive (as no separate printing plate is required) and is therefore a useful alternative to gloss lamination. In fact, it’s difficult to tell the two apart. However spot UV varnish tends to be more expensive as it requires a separate printing plate and is usually accomplished via a silk screen printing process … although there are also modern digital processes that offer similar alternatives.

Modern digital printing allows a database to be linked directly to printing presses. This allows data to be injected into the printed images on-the-fly. For example, each sheet could include a unique addressee, so that the recipient is addressed by name within the printed text. However, it can be taken much further than that, with even different images being possible on every sheet. This is called Variable Data Printing.

Vector graphics are images without pixels as they instead use mathematical paths to define edges, shapes, colour fills and so on. Because of this, vector graphics can be enlarged to any scale without quality loss. Vector graphics are usually generated with applications like Adobe Illustrator. Charts, diagrams, illustrations and more are possible using vector graphics.

This is the same as a ‘graduation’ (see above).

A widow is a lone word appearing on its own on the final line of a paragraph. Widows are thought of as bad form in the graphic design industry, so most designers will try to alter things so that the lone word is somehow no longer on its own.

‘Wove’ paper features a smooth, uncoated surface with little or no perceived texture. Conqueror Wove is a well-known example and is commonly used for printed stationery.

Y means the yellow ink when referring to the four ‘process colours’ of C (cyan), M (magenta), Y (yellow) and K (black).

Please note that we have excluded paper sizes from the list above (for example A4, SRA2 etc.). Paper sizes are the topic of their own article here.

We hope that this ready reference to printing terms and design jargon will be useful to you. Please don’t forget to bookmark this post in case you need to translate such industry jargon in the future.

Please don’t forget to bookmark this post

Contact Southside Print SE1 for design & printing

Southside Print are commercial printers based in Tabard Street, Borough, SE1, close to Borough High Street and London Bridge. We’re digital printers, large format printers and graphic designers who also offer a huge range of other printing-related services. Whether you require printed brochures, leaflets, flyers, booklets, annual reports, letterheads, business cards, stationery, posters or display and exhibition graphics, we can help. Quality is superb and prices are very competitive. If you’d like to know more, call 020 7378 6754, request a free quotation here or contact us here and we’ll be happy to help.