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Graphic Design Glossary

January 15th, 2010

Below are many useful definitions and explanations the graphic design industry terms.


Adobe Illustrator
AI – Illustrator Document extension. See Illustrator.


Adobe Acrobat is really a collection of software tools that have a variety of uses. It started off as a digital proofing tool, which enable graphic designers to repurpose any file format into a document that could be read by any user, regardless of whether they had the original software that created the file, or which computer platform the user had.
Whilst this is still its primary use, it has now evolved into a sophisticated editorial digital proofing and pre-press tool.

Anchor points
Anchor points in vector drawing programs, such as Illustrator or Freehand, are located at the ends of vector paths. Anchor points can be smooth and create vector curves when they are adjusted, or they can have sharp corners, such as at the corner of a box shape.


Bezier curve
A bezier is a mathematical method of calculating a curve. In vector drawing programs, such as Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw or Freehand, it is used to draw precise curves and circles in diagrams.

extend. bitmap image, pixel-based image, resolution dependent images?A bitmap image is a graphics file that is made up of pixels. It’s quality and usable size are defined by the number of pixels per square inch (PPI). In direct contrast to a vector graphic image, bitmap images will lose quality if they are enlarged and gain quality if they are reduced in size. As such, they are resolution dependent.
Photographic images are bitmaps.

Bleed is the part of a printed document that is outside the bounds of the final size of the piece. It is used to make sure images and other design elements print all the way to the edge of the paper. It is the designer’s responsibility to set up the bleed in a document and an accepted standard is 1p6, or 1/4 of an inch, outside the size of the paper. When placing objects in a document that must go all the way to the edge of the page, make sure they extend to at least this quarter inch mark. Photoshop and Illustrator do not have an automatic way to add bleed, so it must be taken into account when setting up the page size. In layout programs such asInDesign, the bleed is set up separately from the actual page size; in other words, the bleed is in addition to the defined page size.

Short for “Web log.”
Noun: A special, public or private Web site where an individual or group can keep a journal on the Internet. The journal can be added to as often as the person maintaining the “blog” (the “blogger”) wants and is often updated daily. It is like an online dairy and can be used to share information about anything: personal thoughts and experiences, business news, reviews, products, audio and video, links, etc. Blog information that is instantly published to the Web, and it usually offers readers an opportunity to leave comments and/or link to their own blogs. Blogs typically use content management software that allows non-tech-savvy bloggers to easily maintain them. “Joe writes a great blog about deep sea fishing.”

The body of a layout (also called copy or body copy) is the main text.


Noun — pronounced “cash.”
There are many different types of caches but they all have the same function. They store recently-used information in a place where it can be accessed extremely fast.
As part of your computer system, “cache” generally refers to a bank of quickly accessible RAM (memory) in your computer. Specialized, small and fast, this memory is used for temporary storage of recently accessed data. Data is accessed faster from the “cache” than from the original source.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, the colors a printer works with, as opposed to the screen color space, RGB. This is also known as process color. CMYK is a subtractive color space; in other words, to make white, you take away all the colors.

The process of an algorithm making file sizes smaller by combining similar data. Most of the time this is a good thing, but it can also cause severe loss of quality, especially in regards to images.


Also known as comprehensives, these are the step after . This is usually where the designs are taken into the computer and the details such as backgrounds, color schemes and images are more thoroughly worked out. Comps are the “first draft” of design. Many times designers show several different styles in comps to a client and let the client decide on a look and feel that he or she desires. Then the comps go back to the designer with some feedback and changes from the client and usually several rounds of this feedback process occur. Sometimes the client may ask (or the designer may want to present)mock-ups.

Corporate Identity (Aka: Corporate ID)
The cumulative effect of all visual elements, both planned and unplanned, that represent an organization and affect the perceptions of various audiences.

Cropping is the trimming of an image to focus in an area of the image and discarding the unwanted areas. True cropping is generally carried out in graphics programs such as Photoshop or Corel Photo-Paint, where the image itself is trimmed.


Dots per inch is the more exact way to define the resolution for a file that is to be printed. Some use DPI and PPI interchangeably, though this is technically incorrect.

Adobe Acrobat Distiller is the design professional’s tool of choice for creating prepress ready PDF files. Although PDFs can be produced in many ways, Acrobat Distiller is generally the safest way to produce PDFs that will output correctly from an imgagesetter.

DMG (disk image file format)
The DMG file format is used on the Macintosh operating system, OS X. It is used to archive and compress files, particularly software, to maintain their integrity for transportation, particularly via the internet.
Opening a DMG archive will mount the files on a virtual volume known as a disk image.

Verb: To transfer or copy data (such as pictures, text files, audio/video, or programs) from another or remote computer, server or host computer to one’s own or local computer or device. To download is to request that a file be stored in the visitor’s file system, as opposed to being displayed on the screen as part of a Web page.



EPS stands for Encapsulated PostScript (not to be confused with ESP: Extra Sensory Perception). A common file format for exporting Illustrator files, it contains a bitmap preview of the image as well as instructions written in the PostScript language that describe how the object is to be printed. An EPS file is usually a vector, but sometimes people place photos in Illustrator and export them as an EPS, though I’m not sure why. Images for print should ideally be exported as TIFFs.

Verb: To press a pattern, image or shape into the underside of a sheet of paper with a metal or plastic die. This creates an area that is raised above the normal level of the material adding dimension and creating a visual and tactile effect like that of bas relief (sculptural relief where forms extend only slightly from the background such as on a coin).
Noun: A raised design or pattern pressed into a page using a die during embossing.


Feathering is a Photoshop technique that softens the edges of a selection. It can be achieved in a number of ways and in practice is a digital implementation of a traditional photographic technique. In Photoshop, a selection can be made and the feather tool can be chosen from a drop-down menu. It is then possible to enter a number for the amount of feathering that is required. The higher the number the softer, or more blurred, the edge of the selection will be.

File Extension (.Ai, .psd, .jpg, .gif, .tiff, .pdf)
A string of characters following the period after the name of a computer document that identifies the file type.

File Format

The specific structure or arrangement of data store in a file used by a specific software program to create, store, and view a file. Each different type of file has a different file format that defines the way it is stored and used and is software- and/or hardware-specific.

A string of characters, sometimes limited in number, used to identify a document stored in the file system of a computer, often includes a file extension.

As with most digital imaging terminology, the term filter also has its roots in the world of conventional photography. A filter in an image editor such as Photoshop, is a tool that will apply a special effect to a digital graphic. This can vary from adjusting the image’s colour, to stretching it, to distorting it in any number of ways.

Final Cut Pro
Final Cut Pro is a video editing production tool from Apple Computer. It supports a number of video formats, real time editing and numerous editing tools. Apple also offer an entry level video editing software application called Final Cut Express.


Flash is a vector-based animation technology developed by Macromedia (now Adobe). Used to develop interactive graphics for Web sites as well as desktop presentations and games (Windows and Mac). Flash animations download quickly, are of high quality, are browser independent (look the same on different browsers), and scale to fit the browser window.
However, Flash animations present accessibility challenges for screen reader users and people who use the keyboard to navigate, and may not be accessed or crawled by search engines.

Flash Drive
USB Flash drives are small, lightweight, removable and rewritable, solid-state storage devices integrated with a USB (universal serial bus) interface. Flash drives are a popular type of portable storage for small digital devices, such as digital cameras. Read this article to learn more about Flash Drives.


Technically, a font is the complete . A font also includes the design in various weights, such as bold or italic; it is more comprehensive and complicated to design than a typeface.

Four-Color Process / CMYK
Full color printing technique achieved by the separation of images into screened negatives of four process colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black       (CMYK). All four images are printed superimposed to simulate simulate the continuous tones and variety of colors in a color image. The standard color model used in the printing process as opposed to Red/Green/Blue (RGB), which is the standard for images reproduced on a computer. To gain a better understanding, study Wikipeida’s entries for color, and additive color and subtractive color.


A proprietary file format from CompuServe. It is used in web graphics and is best for images that are made of solid colors, like logos. GIFs support transparency (however, pixels are either transparent or opaque, nothing in between) and they can be animated. GIFs are also considered alossless format–meaning they do not suffer compression artifacts–as long as they do not exceed 256 colors.

Gloss Text? (Paper Stock)
Gloss Text paper stock is available in various thicknesses. The shiny finish provides an excellent opaque base for rich process color printing. This is popular paper stock for: brochures, catalog inserts, flyers, posters, etc.

A grayscale image (not greyscale) is a digital graphics file made up of 265 levels of gray. Grayscale is the normal method of sending an image to print for black and white images. Photoshop and other digital image editors are able to save files as grayscale, or to convert RGB or CMYK files into grayscale for black and white reproduction.


Noun: Refers to a continuous-tone image (such as a photograph) that has been converted into dots that can be printed to simulate the continuous tone.

Hue, Saturation, Brightness is a color space that you can use when dealing with images in graphics programs. It separates the hue—what you think of as color—from the saturation—how much white is mixed with the hue—and the brightness—how much black is mixed with the hue.


A vector often used by designers to create logos and work with or manipulate type.
Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based drawing program. It is used to create print quality line-art drawings, such as logos, illustrations and maps. Its only major rivals are Freehand, from Macromedia and Corel Draw.
Although it uses its own proprietary file format, .ai, Adobe Illustrator can also save files in .EPS format for importing into page layout programs such as QuarkXpress and Adobe InDesign.


The Internet is an enormous collection of networks and gateways that use the TCP/IP suite of protocols to communicate with one another. Millions of interconnected computers allow constant communication throughout the world. It includes: the World Wide Web, Electronic Mail (e-mail), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and USENET (news service).

extend: place, embed?External files and text are imported into graphics packages in a number of ways. In QuarkXpress, for example, the user creates a box and then navigates throught the file system until the required file is found. This file is displayed on the page, but is actually only linked to the original file.

INDD – InDesign

InDesign is used for page layout—assembling images and text—and is the Adobe version of Quark. It is capable of much more intricate and precise control over text.
A page layout or desktop publishing program used by designers to combine text and images.


JavaScript is a scripting language often used in client-side web development. JavaScript was influenced by several programming languages and has a look similar to Java, but it is easier for non-programmers to work with. JavaScript can also be used to enable scripting access to objects embedded in other applications.

An abbreviation for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the committee that created this file type. It is best used for photographs or images that have . Jpgs do not support transparency and cannot be animated.


Keynote is a visual presentation software application from Apple. In a similar way to Microsoft’s Powerpoint, Keynote can be used to built graphical and text-based presentations, with slides, animations and even voice-over recording.
Keynote comes as part of Apple’s iWork bundle of applications.


A layout is simply the designed and formatted pages of a document, with text and pictures in place. Page layout software tools include QuarkXpres, InDesign, Framemaker and Pagemaker.

Layers, as used in graphic design and creative software tools, can be seen as ‘virtual’ sheets or art-boards, which allow the creative to place different elements of the design onto different levels and apply edits to each layer separately.


Used to identify companies and other entities, a logo is a unique design, symbol, or other graphical element, sometimes combined with a logotype, that forms a trademark or brand. In branding and marketing, a logo is designed to facilitate immediate recognition, inspire trust and admiration, loyalty or an implied superiority.
The logo is one component of a company’s brand.

The opposite of lossy, lossless describes file types where there is no image data deleted or erased when that data is stored. Image formats like GIF, PNG and TIFF (without compression) are considered lossless.


extend: Mac, OS X, Apple, MacOs,?The Macintosh computer is a PC and operating system package, developed by Apple Computer. Apple Macs are the dominant form of computer hardware used in the graphic arts industry and in publishing. Although this is less the case than it used to be, as Windows based PCs have become easier to use and able to run graphics intensive software.

Matte Coated — Paper Stock
This stock is finely coated with a non-gloss finish. It provides an excellent opaque base for easy to read, crisp typography. Often used for brochures, catalog inserts, and flyers.

Matson Graphics

Mock (or Mock-up)
A close-to-reality rendition of a project. This is often used in packaging design to show how a proposed design would look on a box or other type of package. It is used to give the client/stakeholders a better idea of the final product. It can also be used in web design to show a rough approximation of what the final website would look like in a screen shot of a browser.


An unattractive and undesirable pattern that appears in images when halftones and screen tints are made with improperly aligned screens. Moire patterns can can also appear when patterns in an image, such as plaid, conflicts with a halftone dot pattern. Moire patterns also often result when previously printed (therefore, previously screened) are rescanned or re-screened.


Pantone Matching System – PMS

A proprietary, trademarked system of inks used in the printing industry to ensure consistent, reliable and predictable colors. Sometimes referred to as PMS.

Portable Document Format. This file type is often used to send print materials to a print shop. It is also very useful for web, when there are multi-paged documents, reports, forms, etc. that have been designed in a specific format, which cannot be easily translated into HTML. Note: PDF is an Acrobat file, not an “Adobe” file. Adobe is a company and the manufacturer of Acrobat, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and many other programs related to media design and production.

A Pixel is a picture element. It is single smallest point on a screen or chip surface that is used to construct a video image. Pixels are arranged in rows and columns in order to produce a complete image. The number of pixels in an image is sometimes called the resolution, though resolution has a more specific definition.

PNG (PNG-24)
Portable Network Graphics are the ideal web graphic file types. They are completely lossless and they support alpha transparency. PNG-8 is essentially a GIF.

Press Check
A press check is where the designer goes to the print shop while the job is being set up to print. The printer will give you a press sheet to look at and this is the final time to check color and print quality, not the time to check for typos; that should be done with the proofs! When you go to a press check, in addition to accurate color, look for  (ask to use a loupe). Circle any problems you see and ask for another press sheet. It’s ok to ask for the pressman’s advice on fixing color (sincere flattery will do wonders for getting what you want!) and don’t be afraid to go back several times and ask for adjustments and a new press sheet.

PPI – Pixels per inch

Pixels per inch is part of how you would define the resolution. Some use DPI and PPI interchangeably, though this is technically incorrect.
Print?Print encompasses all design that is not on a screen in its finished state. Print can include brochures, reports, postcards, menus, billboards or identity systems (letterheads, envelopes, business cards).

Process Color

Also known as CMYK

Proof (color proof)
A test page of a print project used to review for errors and flaws, and to predict how a print project will work on press and what it will look like when complete.

Photoshop (.psd)
A design program used to manipulate images.

extend: MS Publisher?Microsoft Publisher is a DTP layout program which allows the creation of office newsletters, basic brochures and other page layout projects. It is generally used for in-house document production, rather than for professional graphic design production or advertising, where QuarkXpress or Adobe InDesign are usually the prefered programs.


The longest running and certainly the most popular of the professional desktop publishing page layout packages. QuarkXpress has been the primary layout design application, since it swept Pagemaker aside in the 1990’s, as the publishing package of choice amongst designers.
Although it has been getting stiff competition from Adobe’s InDesign in recent years, QuarkXpress still has a very large installed user base. It also has the advantage of years of experience and third party plugin products, called Xtensions, that enhance the product’s capabilities.
The program itself is actually called Xpress (often misspelled as Quark Express), Quark is the company name.


A raster or bitmap image is made out of . Raster images are typically photos, but they can also be illustrations that have been turned from vectors into pixels.

There are so many different meanings for “resolution” depending on who you are and what you do. The best definition I’ve read is from Real World Photoshop. The authors define resolution as “the number of pixels in each unit of measure.” There are two main ways to discuss resolution: you can talk about resolution in terms of image size: “The document is 5×7 inches at 300 ppi,” or you can talk about resolution as dimensions: “The document is 1500×2100 pixels.” Some people talk about resolution and want to know the file size, but then you have to start becoming familiar with a new way to measure things. Remember the image size dialog box in Photoshop? There is an input field for Resolution (the pixels per unit), and also a drop down box for the unit of measure, which is separate from the fields for the width and height of the image. In reality, these are all just different ways of talking about the same thing: the amount of . So if someone asks you the resolution of an image and you merely reply, “300 ppi,” you’re not telling the whole story.

Recycled paper
Paper made from old paper that has been de-inked and processed chemically.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue)
Red, Green and Blue are a monitor’s color space. RGB is considered an additive color space, meaning to make white you add all the colors together. You view the world in RBG, not CMYK.

RSS (most commonly expanded as “Really Simple Syndication”) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format.


Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)
Scalable Vector Graphics are an XML-based file format standard for vector graphics which have been developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.

A distinctive method of visual identification; many companies use both a logo and logotype to form a signature.

Source code
Software source code is the original or underlying programming code that a piece of software is written in. Source code is generally compiled (using a tool called a compiler) into a format that makes up the actual working software application.

Soy ink
An alternative to petroleum based ink that contains lower levels of VOCs and is biodegradable. Sustainable soy ink consists of non-GMO soybean oil.

Spot Color

Inks that are not mixed from the four . They are used for items, like logos, that need to be a consistent color no matter how or where they are printed. Any time you add an extra ink to a print job, it increases the price. Metallic inks are also spot colors.

Splash Page
A splash page is a temporary web page (Coming Soon Page).

You often hear terms like “stock photography” in a graphic design environment. Stock–photos that have already been taken in a variety of general scenarios with a general selection of smiling people, illustrations or icons with a general or abstract theme. Notice the term general here; you probably won’t ever find that perfect artwork you need, but it’ll be close enough and cheaper than, say, staging your own photo shoot. (Stock can also refer to the paper a project is printed on)

Style sheets (CSS)
extend. Stylesheets?Style sheets, as used in page layout software, are used to mark up the appearance of a section of type, or even just one character. For example a style sheet can be set up so that, at the click of a mouse, a paragraph can appear in bold type and in blue. Customized keyboard shortcuts can also be applied to style sheets to make the formatting process even faster.


Refers to paper that is 11 x 17 inches.

Template pages are used by a number of desktop publishing applications, such as InDesign and QuarkXpress. They are used as master pages by designers so that a design style can be carried forward throughout a given document.

The raster version of EPS. TIFF can be a lossless format if you choose the No Compression option, which is the default in Photoshop. TIFF supports percentages of opacity like PNG and is ideal for the final file type of pixel-based images for print. You can also have layers in the TIFF format, but this will increase the file size.

Small scale rough sketches of a design concept. They are among the first stages of the creative process. Before thumbnails, designers often collect a design or creative brief, do research and/or word associations and sometimes wire frames as a separate step. Thumbnailing is a process that designers use to quickly illustrate ideas for a design. The longer a designer spends in the thumbnail stage, the more detail that is put into these sketches, the faster the next stage, comps, goes. Thumbnails are to design what an outline is to writing a paper.

Trim Size
The finished size of a printed piece after folding and trimming waste.

A typeface is simply a design or look of letters and maybe numbers. It does not include glyph and character variations or weights like bold (think display or ornamental faces such as Grave Ornamental or Willow), and may not even include numbers or upper or lower case letters (obviously it would have to include either upper or lower case letters, but not necessarily both). A typeface also does not mean that a design is complete; many movie title treatments are merely typefaces (only the letters in the title have been created), though some have been developed further into fonts.


Uncoated Text
Paper Stock- Papers of various weights and finished with no dull, matte or gloss coating. Often used for stationery and envelopes and on calendars and newsletters. These uncoated (non-glossy) stocks are usually safe for desktop laser printing. Many common stationery stocks are not appropriate for 4-color printing.

Verb: When one sends information to another, it is called uploading — the transfer of data files FROM a local computer up to a specified remote computer, server, or host. “I’m going to upload my pictures to Shutterfly.”
Regarding authoring of Web pages, it means transferring files from a local computer to the Web server. “I uploaded a new page for my Web site.”    The opposite of upload is download. In a communications session, upload means transmit, and download means receive.


Uniform Resource Locator? – An address for a resource on the Internet. A uniform resource locator identifies the location on the Internet of where a World Wide Web page can be found. Each page has a unique URL. Web pages are located on servers with unique DNS numbers. When a domain name is registered, it is associated with a server using the server’s DNS number. That is why you can’t just change hosts without going through a process – the pointers associating the site with its physical location must be changed.



Vectors can most readily be recognized as illustrations, particularly from programs like Illustrator or Freehand. But not all illustrations are necessarily vector-based. Vectors work by defining points and what fills the space between those points in a document and they are stored as mathematical formulas. Vector files (like Illustrator files) are fractions the size of raster files because there is less data needed to create the images.


Web safe colors

Color palette consisting of a collection of 216 colors which remain consistent across Macintosh and Windows based computer screens, without dithering. Traditionally web designers stuck to these rules rigidly, especially when dealing with solid colors for logos and buttons.
With the advent of modern computers and graphics cards making use of the web safe color palette is becoming less important.

Wire frame

A wire frame is a basic layout . It is generally used in web design as a means to plan where navigation and content will sit on the page.

Well, I hope these Graphic Design Definitions have helped you find what your looking for. If you have any further questions shoot me an email.


Seth Matson

Matson Graphics |  18920 Breezy Lane  |  Huntington Beach  |  CA  |  92648
714  596  5019  (office) Best Option  |  714  493  3777  (cell)   |  714  625  8210  (fax)
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