Basic Graphic Design Terms

There are an innumerable amount of terms involved in the process of getting idea from the abstract to the concrete. Graphic design, printing processes, color spaces, file extensions, typography and production all have a vernacular specific to their role in the process. And although many of the roles are separate, it is important to have a basic understanding of the process that comes before and after your part in the process. I have compiled a short list of (very) basic terms all graphic designers, publishers, printers and advertising agencies should have a preliminary understanding of. Here they are:

Live Area: The live area is the area within an ad space where all important text, pictures and information must be contained.

Trim/Page Size: the trim size is the dimension at which the printer will cut the page. No text should be within 0.375″ of this size.

Margins: Margins are the space from the trim size to the live area. Usually, margins are 0.375 – 0.5 inches all the way around a page. Bad margins will separate the amateurs from the professionals.

Bleed: The bleed is the part of the page that will get trimmed off in the printing process. If an ad is a full-page bleed, the graphics and art must extend 0.125 inches from the trim size on all sides.

Gutter: The gutter is the space created by the binding of a book or magazine. Depending on how large (how many pages) the book or magazine will have, the gutter will be larger or smaller to account for the parts of the page that will descend into the bind. Gutters are particularly important when working with spreads that cross the bind.

Resolution: In simple terms, resolution is how clearly a picture, graphic or text will appear. Standard print resolution is 300dpi (some publications and printers will even demand 350dpi for the sharpest results). Screen resolution is usually 72dpi or 96dpi.

CMYK/RGB: These are the 2 basic types of color space. CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) is the standard for most traditional printing processes resulting in a tangible piece. RGB (red,green,blue) is how your computer and TV display color.

Kerning: Kerning is a typography process by which the space between the characters of text are squeezed or stretched. To kern something -10 would shrink the space between each letter. Conversely, kerning something +10 would create more space between each letter.

Leading: Leading is similar to kerning but in the opposite direction. Leading doesn’t effect the space between letters but instead controls the spacing between lines of text. So to lead something -10 would bring each line of text closer to the lines above and below it. Leading +10 would space the lines further apart.

Slug: The slug is an optional space that a designer can add to a document that can be displyed but is not intended to be printed. Slugs can be a very good tool for a designer in the print business as it can be used for notes, suggestions, copyright information, and/or an infinite number of other things while proofing clients or supplying additional information to printers.

Alignment: Alignment is the positioning/arrangement of lines of text or an image. Alignment can be left, right, centered or justified.

Resample: This is a function accessible in image editing programs which allows the user to change the resolution of the image while keeping its pixel count in tact. It is especially important when up-sizing a 72dpi image to a printable 300dpi image to NOT resample the image. By not resampling, you are permitting the program to adjust the final size of an image in accordance to the radio you are increasing the resolution. This ensures that the re-sized image will not print pixilated.

Offset Printing: Also called Lithography, this is the most common printing process. It involves the transfer of ink from a plate to a blanket to paper instead of directly from plate to paper.

Digital Printing: This is often a cheaper alternative to offset printing and is essentially printing directly from a digital file to the page by skipping the plate making step.


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