Printing Terms & Jargon – Explained

Printing terms & jargon - explained

It’s sometimes easy for printers to forget that not everyone will understand some of the common terms and jargon that is spoken within the industry. For example, printers may refer to ‘process printing’, ‘CMYK’, ‘bleed’ or even ‘trapping’. But what do each of these actually mean? Here we explain …

Above the fold
This refers to the part of a document which you first see, for instance the top half of a document or, for websites, the part of a web page which you see without having to scroll down vertically.

Accordion fold
A way of folding a document or brochure so that it concertinas open/closed.

.ai file
An Adobe Illustrator file type (usually used for vector graphics like logos, charts or illustrations).

The letter &, meaning ‘and’.

Art paper
This is a type of paper, commonly used in commercial printing, which has a coating of a clay-based compound, to give it a very smooth surface on which the printer’s ink will sit without absorption. This usually results in the best type of printed result (e.g. saturated colours and good contrast).

The type of professional digital file supplied to commercial printers, from which to print (if digital printing) or make plates (if litho printing). Click here for a guide to supplying artwork.

The fastening together of pages (e.g. of a book, manual or brochure). Examples include perfect binding, wiro binding, saddle stitch binding, hard binding and soft binding.

An extra extension of images or graphics beyond the edge of a printed page or sheet (usually 3mm in width). This makes sure that, once trimmed, any images or graphic which extend to the edge of the sheet do not have an unwanted white margin.

Blind Emboss
An unprinted image, formed in relief, using a metal ‘die’ which is forced against the paper or card under pressure.

An abbreviation of black and white.

The Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and BlacK inks used in full colour ‘process’ printing. K is used for black (as opposed to B) to avoid confusion with the blue (cyan) process colour. More information.

Coated paper
Is the same thing as ‘art’ paper (see above). More information on paper types available here.

Abbreviation of ‘composite’ meaning a ‘rough’ or ‘scamp’ design visual.

Crop marks
These are printers’ marks which indicate the position of the corners of printed jobs before they are trimmed down to their final size.

Also known as a cutting die or cutting form: a series of shaped blades embedded into a ply backing board, used to punch out printed jobs which require trimming to an irregular shape.

Cutter guide
The artwork or true-to-scale diagram which shows the printer what shape needs to be made into a cutter (see above).

is the ‘C’ in ‘CMYK’ (see above) i.e. the bright blue used in ‘process printing’.

Means that the paper or card is indented (e.g. in the shape of lettering or a logo) using a metal die applied under pressure.

A metal block which has a graphic, lettering and/or logo incorporated into it, in relief. Used under pressure against paper, such dies can be used for embossing, de-bossing and foil blocking.

Die cut
This is the process of cutting paper down to an irregular shape (rather than square or rectangular) e.g. as required for folders with pockets, cartons, irregular shaped mailers and so on. Requires the use of a Cutter (see above).

Digital printing
This is a type of printing which is fast and, in small to medium quantities, comparatively inexpensive. It requires no printing plates (unlike litho printing – see below). More about our digital printing service is available here.

Dots-per-inch (dpi) or also known as pixels-per-inch (ppi), being the resolution of an image, e.g. photograph. Most digital and litho printing requires the resolution to be 300dpi minimum.

Abbreviation for double page spread (e.g. the 2-page spread you see if you open a book or standard brochure).

Double-sided printing.

You may see the phrase ’embed fonts’ or ’embed graphics’ when preparing artwork for print. This simply means that the resulting artwork file will incorporate the fonts and/or graphics, rather than simply linking to them externally, or omitting them completely (you do not want to do that!).

Means that the paper or card is raised, in relief, e.g. to the shape of lettering or a logo, using a metal die applied under pressure.

EPS format
This stands for ‘Encapsulated Postscript’ and is a professional type of file format, used in particular for vector graphics.

Finishing (or Print Finishing)
Any of the final processes to convert flat, unfinished printed sheets into the final, finished item. Finishing processes include trimming, laminating, encapsulating, folding, gluing, collating, drilling, creasing, etc.

These are essentially simple pieces of sales or marketing literature which are produced inexpensively, for example an A5 leaflet used for promotional purposes (often handed out).

Foil blocking
Printing mirror-like metallic foil onto paper or card, using a metal die to control the printed area (e.g. logo or text). Also known as hot foil. More information available here.

Abbreviation of ‘for position only’. This is often used as a remark on artwork for printing, to tell the printer that the item in question is only there to show the position that something should be i.e. it does not actually print.

A graduated colour (a.k.a. gradient or vignette) is an area of colour or tone which changes gradually to another colour, tone or opacity level. For example blue changing gradually to purple then red, without any visible steps.

Paper has a ‘grain’ which is the direction in which most of the paper’s fibres align. While invisible to the naked eye, the grain will govern whether any fold is ‘sharp’ (e.g. if folded across the grain) or ‘smooth’ and less sharp (e.g. if folded with the grain).

Greeked text
This is the dummy text some designers use in their layouts while awaiting the final text. This helps them to lay out the document and for it to be realistic despite not showing the ‘real’ text. Also known as ‘Greeking’.

Abbreviation for grams per square metre. This is how the ‘weight’ of paper is measured. Typical ‘budget’ photocopier paper is, for example, only 80gsm. Letterhead paper usually starts at 90gsm although anything between 100 and 120gsm will feel higher in quality. Business cards can be as high as 450gsm in weight.

The machine which cuts paper or card (in straight lines).

Usually the innermost unprinted margin in, for example, a book or brochure.

This is an image, e.g. photograph, which has been processed for commercial printing by breaking up any continuous (true photographic) tones into tiny dots. These are virtually invisible to the human eye, except under very close scrutiny, and allow the commercial printer to replicate changing tones.

IBC (and IFC, FC and BC)
IBC is an abbreviation of the ‘inside back cover’ of publication (e.g. brochure or book). IFC means ‘inside front cover’. FC means ‘front cover’ and, as you’d expect, BC simply means ‘back cover’.

This is a popular page layout programme, used by professionals in the graphics and printing industry, made by Adobe, the same software house that gave us Acrobat PDFs. InDesign files have the extension .indd

Justification, or ‘justified text’ means the type of layout you get when your columns of text have a hard left AND right-hand vertical edge. (Compare to ‘ranged left’ and ‘ranged right which each have one ragged edge).

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

The fine-tuning of the space between individual characters (letters) in a word. Manual kerning is sometimes necessary to ensure that the spacing is just right, visually, particularly when applied to certain ‘pairings’ of characters (e.g. a V next to an A). The font in question will also govern how pairings look.

Knocking out
Knocking out describes the process where one printed element ‘knocks out’ (doesn’t overprint) another. For example, a blue logo sitting on a yellow background turns green unless the blue ‘knocks out’ the underlying yellow.

Laid paper is a paper which has parallel lines of fine texture. You can get fine laid (e.g. classic Conqueror paper) up to broad laid (less common).

A very thin, plastic-based film adhered to the front and/or back of a printed sheet under pressure. This protects the paper or card as well as giving it a finish (often high gloss or silky matt) as well as making it hard to tear.

The ‘wide’ orientation of paper, painting or other object, making the width wider than the height.

(also known, more traditionally, as leading) is the vertical space between lines of text. Single linefeed means that the space between the lines is the same as the point size of the text involved. Double linefeed means the vertical spacing between lines is double the point size of the text concerned. Designers and printers usually specify linefeed in points (there are 72 points in an inch).

Line artwork
Artwork, or a graphic, which is made without tones, i.e. is ‘solid’ ink. Text characters are good examples of line artwork, however some logos are also produced in ‘line’. However if tones are required, some line artwork also accomplishes this using tiny dots (which, in themselves, are also ‘line’ artwork).

Litho or, in full, ‘lithographic’ printing was traditionally the most widely used printing process for the production of sales and marketing literature (ink on paper). It is still widely used, including at Firstpoint Print, and is still thought of as giving the ultimate quality for commercially printed literature, e.g. brochures etc. It requires printing plates, unlike ‘Digital’ printing (see above). Litho is not only the best quality, but also usually the most cost-effective printing process for medium-to-large volume printing. More information about litho printing is available here.

M stands for magenta, one of the four ‘process’ inks (see CMYK above). More information about CMYK printing also available here.

Moiré screen clash
This is the unintended, and undesired, ‘tartan’ pattern you get when you try to scan and print an image, e.g. photograph, which has already been broken into dots and printed at some previous point in time. What you’re doing is breaking a dotted image into even more dots. As these usually run in parallel lines, at certain angles, in both instances, a moiré pattern can occur due to the ‘clash’ of screen angles.

On-demand printing
‘On-demand’ printing refers to the running of printed jobs only as and when needed (as opposed to printing large batches which, for the most part, are kept in storage until needed). This is made possible, and cost-effective these days, through the use of digital printing presses which are economical for low to medium print runs (unlike more traditional litho presses). More information about our print-on-demand services is available here.

This is a lone line of text, situated at the very bottom of a text column, that really belongs to a larger paragraph, which follows at the start of the next column. Orphans are considered poor practice in design terms.

Outlined fonts
Outlining fonts or text refers to the practice of converting text to vectors (e.g. in professional packages like Adobe InDesign and Illustrator). Outlining text before handing over artwork files to professional printers means there is less likelihood of having font problems, in particular ‘missing’ fonts. Also see the ’embed’ section above.

Overprinting describes the process of printing one ink over (on top of) another. Rich blacks are an example of this. Here, to make any flat black more dense and dark, the black (K) ink is often printed on top of a tint (often 40% strength) of one or more of the other process colours. Overprinting is also used for black text which sits on a coloured background. By setting the black text to ‘overprint’ there is no chance of the black text showing any white edges (which would happen if the black text ‘knocked out’ the background, particularly if there was a slight mis-registration of the inks being printed).

Pantone is the most widely used colour matching system used in the commercial printing industry. Pantone colours each have their own number and this system helps to maintain colour accuracy between different locations and suppliers.

PDF is an abbreviation of Portable Document Format, a reliably ‘transferable’ file format invented by Adobe. PDF format is now the most widely used format for supply of professional artwork files destined to be commercially printed.

Perfect bound
A book or brochure which is perfect bound has pages which are glued into the spine (rather like a paperback book).

Printing plates are the metal sheets which accurately carry ink to the paper or card onto which the printed image needs to appear. Plates will have been produced in such a way so that the ‘image area’ on the plate accepts the ink whereas all other parts of the plate reject it. In this way the inked image can be ‘carried’ to the paper, very accurately. Litho print jobs require one plate for every ink being printed (compare to digital printing which requires no plates).

The orientation of a sheet of paper, painting or other object where the height is greater than the width.

Abbreviation for pixels per inch; see dpi section above.

Process printing
Process printing refers to the industry standard ‘4 colour process’ or ‘full colour’ printing process which uses 4 core inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black, also known as CMY and K) which are overlapped to make thousands of different colours possible, even including photographs.

Proofs are preliminary print-outs, which are accurate in terms of colour and content, that are used to check before committing to a full print run. Usually only one is required but more may be produced if significant changes are needed following the first proof. Firstpoint Print’s digital presses are very useful – and quick – ways of producing one-off proofs for customers.

Quark Express (a.k.a. ‘Quark’ for short) is a very popular design and layout programme that is used within the design and printing industry. However it has lost significant ground, in recent years, to Adobe InDesign.

This, as the name suggests, is the process of making sure that the various different inks being printed are kept in close register so that the final result is sharp, legible and accurate.

Registration marks
Registration marks are professional printers’ marks which appear outside the document edges, before being trimmed down, and help the printer to keep the printed inks in close register.

Resolution denotes the ‘density’ of information within a graphic or photo. The accepted resolution required for most digital and litho printing is 300 dots, or pixels, per inch (see dpi and ppi above). Generally the higher the resolution, the better the quality of the photo or graphic in terms of the amount, and clarity, of the detail. Resolution does not apply to vector graphics.

Professional designers, photographers and artworkers will ‘retouch’ details or even whole photographs, e.g. using Photoshop, in order to correct imperfections, montage different elements together, or to accomplish certain effects (e.g. colour casts, contrast, light and shade etc.).

RGB is an abbreviation of Red, Green, Blue — the 3 colours which are used on electronic screens of PCs, Macs, handheld devices etc. As such, images saved in RGB format are intended only for ‘screen’ use and are not ideal for commercial printing. Standard full colour printing requires CMYK mode (see CMYK above or compare them both here).

A brochure which is saddle-stitched has visible ‘staples’ along the spine. This is a fast and inexpensive document binding process.

Screen ruling
The ‘screen ruling’ in a photo, printed halftone or tint denotes the frequency of the spacing of the tiny grid of dots which make up the image. A fine screen ruling uses closely-spaced dots whereas a coarse screen ruling has larger, more visible dots with a wider spacing.

Spot colour
Spot colours are liquid inks which are mixed to the right Pantone colour before being used on a printing process. This is the most accurate way of matching colours and is in contrast to ‘full colour process’ printing which uses only the four process colours to simulate them (see ‘CMYK’ above). Spot colour is used with litho printing presses and is not possible on digital presses. One printing plate is required for every spot colour used. More info.

Spot varnish
This describes the process of varnishing a printed job but only in certain areas (for example, over photographs but not the surrounding area). More information about varnishes and similar printing techniques is available here.

This is a printer’s term for paper or card. Types of stock are discussed here.

A tint is a visually paler version of a colour or ink and is accomplished by breaking the solid colour/ink up into tiny dots, which are regularly spaced, with gaps. Learn more.

A printing process which involves adding a powder to the still-wet printed image, shaking off the excess and applying heat to melt the remaining thermographic powder. This fuses the powder into a glossy, raised relief. Thermography is also unofficially known as ‘thermo’ within the printing trade. Learn more about specialist printing techniques and finishes.

If you ‘trap’ your colours, you overlap them slightly so that, if there is any mis-registration, there will be no gap between the colours/inks concerned. Usually trapping is in tenths of a millimetre so is not noticeable using the naked eye.

Trim marks
These are printers’ marks which denote the position of the corners of the printed sheet before it’s trimmed.

This is an abbreviation of ‘typographical error’.

Uncoated stock is paper or card which doesn’t have the clay-based compound found on ‘art’ or ‘coated’ papers. As such, uncoated papers and boards tend to have a very matt surface and one which sucks up the ink into the fibres which form it, making the final printed result less punchy and contrasty compared to the same image printed onto coated stocks. However, this can look very contemporary in style, so is very popular.

UV varnish
UV varnish is a highly glossy varnish, similar in appearance to gloss lamination, which can be added to print jobs either as an overall varnish or as a ‘spot’ varnish. Learn more here.

Variable data printing
Variable data printing refers to printing which is linked to a database, thereby making it possible, although only if digitally printed, to personalise every sheet, for example with a name, address, company name or even image. See our blog post for more information.

Vector graphic
A vector graphic is one which is made using a programme like Adobe Illustrator and means that the resulting image is non-rasterised (non bitmap) i.e. there are no pixels making up the image. Instead the image uses mathematical ‘paths’ to denote the edges of elements etc. As such, vector graphics can be scaled to any scale without loss of quality and sharpness.

See ‘graduation’ above.

This is a single word which appears all on its own as the final line of a paragraph. This is perceived as bad practice in the design and printing world so measures should be taken to make sure that widows do not occur.

Wove is a particular type of paper which has a smooth, uncoated surface with only a hint of texture. Conqueror Wove is a common example.

Y is an abbreviation of the ‘yellow’ ink, as found in process printing (see CMYK above).

You may notice that paper sizes like ‘SRA2’, ‘RA1’, ‘DL’ and ‘A0’ are not included in the list above. That’s because they are explained elsewhere in our blog, so we simply didn’t want to repeat ourselves. Click here for full details of UK paper sizes.

For all your litho printing, digital printing, large format printing and graphic design/artwork requirements, contact your nearest branch of Firstpoint Print — we have 3 Central London branches: