Designer Dictionary

Designer Dictionary

Commonly used print industry terms

The print industry, as any other, has its own “lingo”. It is important to know what these terms mean when starting your printing project. Become familiar with the print industry terms below and stay informed on your printing project.


Acid-free Paper: Paper made from pulp containing little or no acid so it resists deterioration from age. Also called alkaline paper, archival paper, neutral pH paper, permanent paper and thesis paper.

Against the Grain: At right angles to the grain direction of the paper being used, as compared to with the grain. Also called across the grain and cross grain. See also Grain Direction.

Alteration: Any change made by the customer after copy or artwork has been given to the service bureau, separator or printer. The change could be in copy, specifications or both. Also called AA, author alteration and customer alteration.

Aqueous Coating: Coating in a water base and applied like ink by a printing press to protect and enhance the printing underneath.

Artwork: All original copy, including type, photos and illustrations, intended for printing. Also called art.


Back Up: To print on the second side of a sheet already printed on one side.

Basis Weight: In the United States and Canada, the weight, in pounds, of a ream (500 sheets) of paper cut to the basic size. Also called ream weight and substance weight (sub weight). In countries using ISO paper sizes, the weight, in grams, of one square meter of paper. Also called grammage and ream weight.

Bind: Usually in the book arena, but not exclusively, the joining of leafs or signatures together with either wire, glue or other means.

Bindery: Usually a department within a printing company responsible for collating, folding and trimming various printing projects.

Blank: Category of paperboard ranging in thickness from 15 to 48 points.

Bleed: Printing that extends to the edge of a sheet or page after trimming.

Book Paper: Category of paper suitable for books, magazines, catalogs, advertising and general printing needs. Book paper is divided into uncoated paper (also called offset paper), coated paper (also called art paper, enamel paper, gloss paper and slick paper) and text paper.

Bulk: Thickness of paper relative to its basic weight.


C1S and C2S: Abbreviations for coated one side and coated two sides.

Caliper: The thickness of paper, usually measured in thousandths of an inch (mils).

Camera-ready Copy: Mechanicals, photographs and art fully prepared for reproduction according to the technical requirements of the printing process being used. Also called finished art and reproduction copy.

CMYK: Abbreviation for cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black), the four process colors.

Coated Paper: Paper with a coating of clay and other substances that improves reflectivity and ink holdout. The four major categories produced include cast, gloss, dull and matte coated.

Color Correct: To adjust the relationship among the process colors to achieve desirable colors.

Color Gamut: The entire range of hues or colors possible using a specific device, such as a computer screen, digital press or four-color process printing.

Color Separation: (1) Technique of using a camera, scanner or computer to divide continuous-tone color images into four halftone negatives. (2) The product resulting from color separating and subsequent four-color process printing. Also called separation.

Color Shift: Change in image color resulting from changes in register, ink densities or dot gain during four-color process printing.

Composite Proof: Proof of color separations in position with graphics and type. Also called final proof, imposition proof and stripping proof.

Comprehensive Dummy: Simulation of a printed piece complete with type, graphics and colors. Also called color comprehensive and comp.

Computer to Plate (CTP): Process where artwork or separation is imaged directly to a printing plate, eliminating the need for negatives.

Continuous-tone: Photographs and those illustrations having a range of shades not made up of dots, as compared to line copy or halftones.

Cover Paper: Category of thick paper used for products such as posters, menus, folders and covers of paperback books.

Crop Marks: Lines near the edges of an image indicating portions to be reproduced. Also called cut marks, tic marks or register marks.

Cross Grain: The direction across the grain of paper. Paper is generally weaker and more sensitive to humidity in the cross grain direction than with the grain of the paper.

Crossover: Type or art that continues from one page of a book or magazine across the gutter to the opposite page. Also called bridge, gutter bleed and gutter jump.

Cure: To dry inks, varnishes or other coatings after printing to ensure good adhesion and prevent setoff.

Customer Service Representative: Employee of a printer, service bureau, separator or other business who coordinates projects and keeps customers informed. Abbreviated CSR.


Density: (1) Regarding ink, the relative thickness of a layer of printed ink. (2) Regarding color, the relative ability of a color to absorb light reflected from it or block light passing through it. (3) Regarding paper, the relative tightness or looseness of fibers.

Descender: That part of a lower case letter that extends below the body of type as in the letter “p”.

Desktop Publishing (DTP): Technique of using a personal computer to design images and pages, and assemble type and graphics, then using a laser printer or imagesetter to output the assembled pages onto paper, film or printing plate.

Die Cutting: Bindery process using steel rules to cut irregular shapes in paper or paperboard.

Digital Proofing: Page proofs produced through electronic memory transferred onto paper via laser or ink-jet.

Digital Dot: Dot created by a computer and printed out by a laser printer or imagesetter. Digital dots are uniform in size, as compared to halftone dots that vary in size.

Digital Color Proof: Color proof made by a laser, ink jet printer or other computer-controlled device without needing to make separation films first.

Digital Printing: Printing process that sends digital data directly to an imaging device or system.

Dot Gain: Phenomenon of halftone dots printing larger on paper than they are on films or plates, reducing detail and lowering contrast. Also called dot growth, dot spread and press gain.

Dot Size: Relative size of halftone dots as compared to dots of the screen ruling being used. There is no unit of measurement to express dot size. Dots are too large, too small or correct only in comparison to what the viewer finds attractive.

Dots-per-inch (DPI): Measure of resolution of input devices such as scanners, display devices such as monitors or output devices such as laser printers, imagesetters and monitors. Also called dot pitch.

Drawdown: Sample of inks specified for a job applied to the substrate specified for a job. Also called pulldown.

Drill: Bindery term that refers to drilling a hole in a printed matter.

Dull Finish: Flat (not glossy) finish on coated paper; slightly smoother than matte. Also called suede finish, velour finish and velvet finish.

Dummy: Simulation of the final product. Also called mockup.

Duotone: Two color halftone reproduction from a grey scale photograph.

Duplex Paper: Paper with a different color or finish on each side.


Em:  A unit of measurement that is exactly as wide and high as the point size being set.

Emboss: To press an image into paper so it lies above or beneath  the surface.

En: A unit of measurement that is exactly one half as wide as the point size being set.

Encapsulated PostScript file (EPS): File format used to transfer graphic images within compatible application to output devices. These files typically contain both text and graphics.

Estimate: Price that states what a job will probably cost. Also called bid, quotation and tender.


Fine Screen: Screen with ruling of 150 lines per inch (80 lines per centimeter) or more.

Finish: (1) Surface characteristics of paper. (2) General term for trimming, folding, binding and all other post press operations.

Finished Size: Size of product after production is completed, as compared to flat size. Also called trimmed size.

Flat Color: Any color created by printing only one ink, as compared to a color created by printing four-color process. Also called block color and spot color.

Flat Size: Size of product after printing and trimming, but before folding, as compared to finished size.

Flood: To print a sheet completely with an ink or varnish. flooding with ink is also called painting the sheet.

Flush Left (or right): Type set to line up along  the left (or right) side.

Fold Marks: With printed matter, markings indicating where a fold is to occur, usually located at the top edges.

Folio: The page number.

Font: An assortment of letters, numbers, punctuations, etc., of a given size and design of a typestyle.

Form: Each side of a signature.

Four-color Process Printing: Technique of printing that uses black, magenta, cyan and yellow to simulate full-color images. Also called color process printing, full color printing and process printing.

French Fold: A printed sheet, printed one side only, folded with two right angle folds to form a four page uncut section.


Gang: To reproduce two or more different printed products simultaneously on one sheet of paper during one press run. Also called combination run.

Gate Fold: A sheet that folds where both sides fold toward the gutter in overlapping layers.

Gloss: Consider the light reflecting on various objects in the printing industry (e.g., paper, ink, laminates, UV coating, varnish).

Grain Direction: Predominant direction in which fibers in paper become aligned during manufacturing. Also called machine direction.

Grain Long Paper: Paper whose fibers run parallel to the long dimension of the sheet. Also called long grain paper and narrow web paper.

Grain Short Paper: Paper whose fibers run parallel to the short dimension of the sheet. Also called short grain paper and wide web paper.

Graphic Arts: The crafts, industries and professions related to designing and printing on paper and other substrates.

Graphic Design: Arrangement of type and visual elements along with specifications for paper, ink colors and printing processes that, when combined, convey a visual message.

Graphics: Visual elements that supplement type to make printed messages more clear or interesting.

Gray Scale: Strip of gray values ranging from white to black. Used by process camera and scanner operators to calibrate exposure times for film and plates. Also called step wedge.

Gripper Edge: Edge of a sheet held by grippers on a sheetfed press, thus going first through the press. Also called feeding edge and leading edge. This area is not printable, usually 1/2″ or less.

Gutter: The blank space between the printed copy and the binding.

Gutter Jump: Where copy crosses the blank space towards the binding edge and appears on the next page.


Hairline (Rule): Subjective term referring to very small space, thin line or close register. The meaning depends on who is using the term and in what circumstances. In four color process printing this is generally +/- 1/2 row of dots.

Halftone: The reproduction of continuous tone images through a screening process that converts the image into dots of various sizes.

House Sheet: Paper kept in stock by a printer and suitable for a variety of printing jobs. Also called floor sheet.

Hue: A specific color name such as yellow or green.


Image Area: The actual area on the printed matter that is not restricted to ink coverage,

Imposition: Arrangement of pages on mechanicals or flats so they will appear in proper sequence after press sheets are folded and bound.

Impression: Number of times one press sheet passes once through a printing unit.

Impression cylinder: The cylinder on a direct imaging printing press against which the paper picks up the impression form the inked plate or from the blanket in offset printing.

Impressions per hour: Refers to the speed of a press, one impression equals one press sheet passing once through the press.

Ink Holdout: Characteristic of paper that prevents it from absorbing ink, thus allowing ink to dry on the surface of the paper. Also called holdout.

Ink Jet Printing: Method of printing by spraying droplets of ink through computer-controlled nozzles.


Job Number: A number assigned to a specific printing project in a printing company for use in tracking and historical record keeping.



Laid Finish: Finish on bond or text paper on which grids of parallel lines simulate the surface of handmade paper. Laid lines are close together and run against the grain; chain lines are farther apart and run with the grain.

Layout: A sample of the original providing (showing) position of printed work (direction, instructions) needed and desired.

Leaf: One sheet of paper in a publication. Each side of a leaf is one page.

Letter fold: Two folds creating three panels that allow a sheet of letterhead to fit a business envelope. Also called barrel fold and wrap around fold.

Linen Finish: Embossed finish on text paper that simulates the pattern of linen cloth.

Lithography: Method of printing using plates whose image areas attract ink and whose nonimage areas repel ink. Nonimage areas may be coated with water to repel the oily ink or may have a surface, such as silicon, that repels ink.

Live Area: Area on a mechanical within which images will print. Also called safe area.


Makeready : (1) All activities required to prepare a press or other machine to function for a specific printing or bindery job, as compared to production run. Also called setup. (2) Paper used in the makeready process at any stage in production. Makeready paper is part of waste or spoilage.

Margin: Imprinted space around the edge of the printed material.

Mark-Up: Instructions written usually on a “dummy.”

Matte Finish: Flat (not glossy) finish on photographic paper or coated printing paper.

Midtones: In a photograph or illustration, tones created by dots between 30 percent and 70 percent of coverage, as compared to highlights and shadows.

Mock Up: A reproduction of the original printed matter and possibly containing instructions or direction.

Moire: Undesirable pattern resulting when halftones and screen tints are made with improperly aligned screens, or when a pattern in a photo, such as a plaid, interfaces with a halftone dot pattern.



Offset Printing: Printing technique that transfers ink from a plate to a blanket to paper instead of directly from plate to paper.

Opacity: (1) Characteristic of paper or other substrate that prevents printing on one side from showing through the other side. (2) Characteristic of ink that prevents the substrate from showing through.

Overprint: To print one image over a previously printed image, such as printing type over a screen tint. Also called surprint.

Over Run: Additional printed matter beyond order. Overage policy varies in the printing industry. Advance questions avoid blind knowledge.


Page: One side of a sheet (leaf) in a publication.

Panel: One page of a brochure, such as one panel of a rack brochure. One panel is on one side of the paper. A letter-folded sheet has six panels, not three.

Parallel Fold: Method of folding. Two parallel folds to a sheet will produce 6 panels.

Perforating: A process by which a line of small dotted wholes for the purpose of tearing-off a part of a printed matter (usually straight lines, vertical or horizontal).

Pixel: Short for picture element, a dot made by a computer, scanner or other digital device. Also called pel.

Plate: Piece of paper, metal, plastic or rubber carrying an image to be reproduced using a printing press.

Platemaker: In commercial lithography, a machine with a vacuum frame used to expose plates through film.

PMS: Obsolete reference to Pantone Matching System. The correct trade name of the colors in the Pantone Matching System is Pantone colors, not PMS Colors.

Point: (1) Regarding paper, a unit of thickness equating 1/1000 inch. (2) Regarding type, a unit of measure equaling 1/12 pica and .013875 inch (.351mm).

Prepress: Camera work, color separations, stripping, platemaking and other prepress functions performed by the printer, separator or a service bureau prior to printing. Also called preparation.

Prepress Proof: Any color proof made using ink jet, toner, dyes or overlays, as compared to a press proof printed using ink. Also called dry proof and off-press proof.

Press Check: Event at which makeready sheets from the press are examined before authorizing full production to begin.

Press Proof: Proof made on press using the plates, ink and paper specified for the job. Also called strike off and trial proof.

Press Time: Amount of time that one printing job spends on press, including time required for makeready.

Price Break: Quantity at which unit cost of paper or printing drops.

Printer Spreads: Mechanicals made so they are imposed for printing, as compared to reader spreads.

Printing: Any process that transfers to paper or another substrate an image from an original such as a film negative or positive, electronic memory, stencil, die or plate.

Printing Plate: Surface carrying an image to be printed. Quick printing uses paper or plastic plates; letterpress, engraving and commercial lithography use metal plates; flexography uses rubber or soft plastic plates. Gravure printing uses a cylinder. The screen printing is also called a plate.

Process Color (Inks): The colors used for four-color process printing: yellow, magenta, cyan and black.

Production Run: Press run intended to manufacture products as specified, as compared to makeready.

Proof: Test sheet made to reveal errors or flaws, predict results on press and record how a printing job is intended to appear when finished.


Quality: Subjective term relating to expectations by the customer, printer and other professionals associated with a printing job and whether the job meets those expectations.

Quarto: (1) Sheet folded twice, making pages one-fourth the size of the original sheet. A quarto makes an 8-page signature. (2) Book made from quarto sheets, traditionally measuring about 9? x 12?.

Quotation: Price offered by a printer to produce a specific job.


Raster Image Processor (RIP): Device that translates page description commands into bitmapped information for an output device such as a laser printer or imagesetter.

Reader Spread: Mechanicals made in two page spreads as readers would see the pages, as compared to printer spread.

Recycled Paper: New paper made entirely or in part from old paper.

Register: To place printing properly with regard to the edges of paper and other printing on the same sheet. Such printing is said to be in register.

Register Marks: Cross-hair lines on mechanicals and film that help keep flats, plates, and printing in register. Also called crossmarks and position marks.

Resolution: Sharpness of an image on film, paper, computer screen, disc, tape or other medium.

Reverse: Type, graphic or illustration reproduced by printing ink around its outline, thus allowing the underlying color or paper to show through and form the image. The image ‘reverses out’ of the ink color. Also called knockout and liftout.

RGB: Abbreviation for red, green, blue, the additive color primaries.

Rule: Line used as a graphic element to separate or organize copy.


Saddle Stitch: To bind by stapling sheets together where they fold at the spine, as compared to side stitch. Also called pamphlet stitch, saddle wire and stitch bind.

Scanner: Electronic device used to scan an image.

Score: To compress paper along a straight line so it folds more easily and accurately. Also called crease.

Screen Angles: Angles at which screens intersect with the horizontal line of the press sheet. The common screen angles for separations are black 45 degree, magenta 75 degree, yellow 90 degree and cyan 105 degree.

Screen Density: Refers to the percentage of ink coverage that a screen tint allows to print. Also called screen percentage.

Screen Ruling: Number of rows or lines of dots per inch or centimeter in a screen for making a screen tint or halftone. Also called line count, ruling, screen frequency, screen size and screen value.

Self Cover: Usually in the book arena, a publication not having a cover stock. A publication only using text stock throughout.

Self Mailer: A printed item independent of an envelope. A printed item capable of travel in the mailing arena independently.

Separations: Usually in the four-color process arena, separate film holding qimages of one specific color per piece of film. Black, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Can also separate specific PMS colors through film.

Shade: Hue made darker by the addition of black, as compared to tint.

Shadows: Darkest areas of a photograph or illustration, as compared to midtones and high-lights.

Sheetfed Press: Press that prints sheets of paper, as compared to a web press.

Side stitch: To bind by stapling through sheets along, one edge, as compared to saddle stitch. Also called cleat stitch and side wire.

Signature: Printed sheet folded at least once, possibly many times, to become part of a book, magazine or other publication.

Solid: Any area of the sheet receiving 100 percent ink coverage, as compared to a screen tint.

Soy-based Inks: Inks using vegetable oils instead of petroleum products as pigment vehicles, thus are easier on the environment.

Specifications: Complete and precise written description of features of a printing job such as type size and leading, paper grade and quantity, printing or binding method. Abbreviated specs.

Spine: Back or binding edge of a publication

Spot Color or Varnish: One ink or varnish applied to portions of a sheet, as compared to flood or painted sheet.

Spread: (1) Two pages that face each other and are designed as one visual or production unit. (2) Technique of slightly enlarging the size of an image to accomplish a hairline trap with another image. Also called fatty.

Subtractive Color: Color produced by light reflected from a surface, as compared to additive color. Subtractive color includes hues in color photos and colors created by inks on paper.

Subtractive Primary Color: Yellow, magenta and cyan. In the graphic arts, these are known as process colors because, along with black, they are the inks colors used in color-process printing.

Surprint: Taking an already printed matter and re-printing again on the same.

SWOP: Abbreviation for specifications for web offset publications, specifications recommended for web printing of publications.


Tabloid: 11×17 paper dimensions.

Tagged Image File Format (TIFF): Computer file format used to store images from scanners and video devices. Abbreviated TIFF.

Target Ink Densities: Densities of the four process inks as recommended for various printing processes and grades of paper. See also Total Area Coverage.

Text Paper: Designation for printing papers with textured surfaces such as laid or linen. Some mills also use ‘text’ to refer to any paper they consider top-of-the-line, whether or not its surface has a texture.

Tint: Screening or adding white to a solid color for results of lightening that specific color.

Total Area Coverage: Total of the dot percentages of the process colors in the final film. Abbreviated for TAC. Also called density of tone, maximum density, shadow saturation, total dot density and total ink coverage.

Trap: To print one ink over another or to print a coating, such as varnish, over an ink. The first liquid traps the second liquid. See also Dry Traps and Wet Traps.

Trim Size: The size of the printed material in its finished stage (e.g., the finished trim size is 5 1\2 x 8 1\2).


Uncoated Paper: Paper that has not been coated with clay. Also called offset paper.

Undercolor Removal: Technique of making color separations such that the amount of cyan, magenta and yellow ink is reduced in midtone and shadow areas while the amount of black is increased. Abbreviated UCR.

Up: Term to indicate multiple copies of one image printed in one impression on a single sheet. “Two up” or “three up” means printing the identical piece twice or three times on each sheet.

UV Coating: Liquid applied to a printed sheet, then bonded and cured with ultraviolet light.


Varnish: Liquid applied as a coating for protection and appearance.


Watermark: Translucent logo in paper created during manufacturing by slight embossing from a dandy roll while paper is still approximately 90 percent water.

With the Grain: Parallel to the grain direction of the paper being used, as compared to against the grain. See also Grain Direction.

Wove: Paper manufactured without visible wire marks, usually a fine textured paper.




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Designer Dictionary June 7, 2015