Demythifying Design Terms

Published by Holly Mullinax in Design on January 23, 2020

Jargon is used in almost every single industry. The word negative typically means that something is bad, but in the medical industry it means something — or someone — is normal. In the design world, there are a variety of words that sound like they have different meanings — bleed, wireframes, indicia. Ever wonder what all those complex design terms mean? The Symphony Agency’s Art Director, Holly Mullinax, breaks it down and explains the most common design terms and concepts.

What is the difference between a digital print press and an offset (traditional) print press?

Both offset and digital printing have their benefits, but they’re often used for different applications. Offset is a printing process in which the ink transferred from an aluminum plate to a rubber sheet is then rolled on to paper. The term offset is used because the ink is not directly applied to the paper, but is offset to an aluminum plate. Offset printing is ideal for large quantities, unique inks and papers (e.g. Pantones, metallics, uv spot colors, textured paper, etc.), or print projects where a higher quality print or a more consistent color output is needed. Offset printing requires more set up time, materials, and resources which can often make it more expensive — if printing in small quantities — than digital printing.

Digital printing doesn’t use plates, but instead digitally transfers an image from a computer onto electrostatic rollers that apply the ink and toner directly to paper the way a regular inkjet printer would. Unlike offset printing, digital printing is ideal for printing quickly and in smaller quantities, and allows the use of variable data — such as addresses, phone numbers, indicia, and more.

What is CMYK?

CMYK is a subtractive color model used for offset color printing. The term CMYK refers to the four color pigments used in this printing process — cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). In offset printing, four separate aluminum plates are made using these color values. These plates are then rolled on to a rubber sheet and applied to paper directly in layers resulting in a completed printed image.

What is the most common file format, asked for by print vendors?

This is highly variable and dependent on the printer and the project at hand. Some printers will request working or packaged files. Others will ask for outlined photoshop and illustrator files or outlined PDFs.

What is a bleed?

It is very difficult for printers to print completely to the edges of a document. To ensure that no areas of your document are left unprinted, the printer will often require a bleed be added to the file — this allows the document to be printed slightly larger and then trimmed down to its final size. The bleed is the area of the document that is trimmed off.

How do I match a paint (can) color to the color of my brand?

In some cases, you may want to match a paint can color to the colors found in your digital brand. You will need to first determine the Pantone color for your brand. Many paint stores and brands offer Pantone color matching and can provide you with the correct paint.

What is Pantone?

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a color matching system that allows designers to match and reproduce exact and specific colors despite what kind of printer or materials are used. Pantone ink is more expensive to print, as an additional plate needs to be created for Pantone application in offset printing.

Why do logos and images have to be different resolutions when they’re used online vs in print?

This is somewhat of a myth. It’s not that they need to be different resolutions, it’s that resolution really only matters when talking about print. Resolution tells the printer how many dots of ink per inch (DPI) are needed to create a detailed print-ready image. It’s perfectly fine for a web image to be high resolution as this does not affect its output. This is not the case with printed images and low resolution. Standard print resolutions or DPIs are 150, 300, or 600 (depending on the print piece and vendor specifications).

What is a creative brief?

A creative brief is a one-page document that explains the creative messaging around a client’s brand. It acts as the North Star or a guiding light for all projects, messaging, and visuals created for the brand. A creative brief helps to ensure brand consistency across all messaging.

What software do designers use the most?

This is heavily dependent on preference, the type of designer, and the industry. For me, it’s Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. While there is some overlap, these programs are not interchangeable and each have their own specific use-cases.

Are different software products better for photography, digital design, and print design?

Better is all personal opinion. While some designers use other methods — either because of resource restrictions or preference —  the current industry standard is to use Adobe Creative Suite for all three. Adobe Creative Suite provides a variety of programs that make it easy to create, edit, and manage projects. And, because they’re all a part of the same creative suite, they work seamlessly together.

What is Indicia?

This is a common printing term. It refers to a mark on mail pieces that indicates the sender has prepaid the postage.

When working on print projects like direct mail, what is high gloss?

Paper stocks come in many finishes. High gloss means exactly what it sounds like — very glossy. There are some practical uses for high gloss (e.g. more vibrant color, crisp imagery, etc.), but for the most part, it’s just a preference.

How would you translate the following print specifications into layman terms?

5 3/16″ x 8″ Postcard

This indicates size and type of a print piece. Postcard implies there will be blank space designed into the piece to allow for variable data and indicia.

4/4 on 10 pt c2s

4/4 is a print term that’s meant to indicate how many colors are used on the front and back of the printed piece. In this instance, four represents full-color printing (CMYK), so these specs indicate that the final piece will be printed in full color on both sides. 10pt — or 10 point — is a reference to the paper weight while c2s is a reference that the final piece will be coated on both sides.

UV coating on both sides of postcard

UV coating adds a gloss layer that protects your project from the sun and/or creates a raised finish. It’s typically added after the printing is done.

3.5″ x 6″ full color magnet glue affixed (3 glue stripes) over lamination

These are very specific printer notes and product details that are provided by the printer as part of a job description. It’s meant for their records and workflow and doesn’t really provide the designer with anything of note other than the size and type of print piece being requested.

High res PDF output

This indicates how the final PDF file should be printed. In this case, the final file should be a print-resolution (300dpi) and exported as a print-ready PDF.

⅛” Bleeds

This indicates that the printer requires a .125” bleed on all edges. As mentioned above, the bleed is to help prevent artwork from being cut off when printed.

Why do print vendors send mock ups/final artwork back to the original designer, before committing to the print run?

This is called proofing. This is a way for designers to double check their final work before the final print job begins. This is an approval process that ensures the designer’s and printer’s expectations are in alignment on the final printed piece.

What is a style guide — in the context of web design?

A style guide is a document of code outlining the visual styles and design rules (i.e. buttons, colors, fonts, patterns, etc.) are present in a website design. Well-defined style guides allow for faster build times and design consistency throughout the website — meaning a nicer looking website for your business.

What are wireframes?

Wireframes are low-fidelity representations of a user-interface. It is used as an outline for the structure of the website and helps the UX designer to determine content hierarchy and establish user-flow. The idea is to quickly sketch and be able to change things in the early stages of the projects — before beginning high-fidelity mockups or final art/products.

The Symphony Agency Helps You Stand Out

We don’t just talk the talk… Our design team creates marketing materials that look good, elevate your brand, and help drive leads to your business. From custom web sites to booth displays and other print materials, our designers have the skills and knowledge to make your brand presence come to life.

For more information about print marketing and how it can help your business, contact us, or email your account manager.

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