Most Common Graphic Design Terms – Every Graphic Designer Must Know

ADMEC Multimedia Institute > Graphic Design > Most Common Graphic Design Terms – Every Graphic Designer Must Know

You’ve got a creative mind and a desire to apply your design flairs in a career, but it’s a little daunting experience to hang out with a group of designers who casually throw around industry terms you don’t see every day: CMYK? PPI? 

Although it might be a bit confusing at first, learning the graphic design terms will not only beneficial in your work, but it could also enhance your reputation in the industry.

Enquiring from an experienced designer to translate these terms would only make you look like an inexperienced designer—and you definitely don’t want that.

Getting a formal graphic design training will surely play a vital role in understanding these terms.

Most Common Graphic Design Terms

In this blog, we enlisted some of the important terminologies for newbies to know. Although the following list is not an exhaustive list of graphic design terms, but it is a great place to start. Read on to explore the list of terminologies which you should know:


Common Graphic Design Terms: CMYK

It stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key, which refers to Black. It is also known as four-color process. It is a color model that refers to the four inks used in some color printing for a magazine, newspaper, flyer, brochure, annual report and much more.

2. RGB

Common Graphic Design Terms: RGB

RGB stands for red, green, blue, and is used for screen output. It’s a color mode used for all images shown through an electronic display, such as a computer or television. Since CMYK has a more limited color range than RGB, you can experience a loss of color when converting from RGB to CMYK in these applications.

3. Resolution

Common Graphic Design Terms: Resolution

The detail of an image based on the number of pixels is known as resolution. It is the image quality in the design based on dots per inch for printed works and pixels per inch for digital work. Photos will be crisp if the resolution will be high.

4. DPI

Common Graphic Design Terms: DPI

It is only concerned when you’re creating work for printed output. It also stands for ‘dots per inch’ and refers to the number of dots per inch on a printed page. Generally, the more dots per inch, the better quality the image. 300DPI is the standard for printing images. For example, a 300dpi image at 1200×1800 pixels will become as a 4×6-inch print.

5. PPI

Common Graphic Design Terms: PPI

It stands for ‘pixels per inch’ and, as you’d expect, refers to the number of pixels per inch in your image. For example: If you make an image larger in Photoshop, you will increase the number of pixels per inch and you will lose quality.

6. Grids

Common Graphic Design Terms: Grids

They are a series of intersecting vertical and horizontal lines used to organize and structure content. Whether you’re working in different graphic design applications like InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator, setting up a grid enables you to get your composition right and balance your type and imagery.

7. Offset Printing

Common Graphic Design Terms: Offset Printing

This is the most common type of printing done for bigger jobs, mainly in publishing – where the inked image is transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket, and then onto the printing surface. You’ll typically give files to the printer in PDF format, before they make them into separate CMYK plates for printing (with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black all being applied separately).

8. Digital Printing

Common Graphic Design Terms: Digital Printing

It’s the same as printing at home or in the office, but with a better quality (unless you have a top-of-the-line inkjet at your disposal). If you’re doing a lot of printing work for small-scale jobs it might be worth investing in a high-end inkjet – not just because you’ll save money, but because you can magnificently control the color calibration from screen to output.

9. Flexography

Common Graphic Design Terms: Flexography

If you’re printing on plastic for medium or large runs, it’s likely you’ll use Flexo printing. It basically uses quick-drying ink on flexible plates wrapped around rotating cylinders. The substrate – the material you’re printing on – is often supplied in large rolls, meaning the press can run with minimal interruptions. 

10. Trim

Common Graphic Design Terms: Trim

It is the final size of a printed piece after it has been trimmed from its page. This In other words, it represents the final dimensions of your project. Trimming can be done along crop marks that show where to cut.

11. Bleed

Common Graphic Design Terms: Bleed

It refers to the area outside the trim that still prints in case the cuts are not exact. It gives the printer a small amount of space to account for the movement of the paper and design discrepancies.

12. Composition

Common Graphic Design Terms: Composition

It is the process of arranging design elements that form a whole image. A successful composition attracts the viewer to keep an eye on the design. In visual art, it is referred as “form.” In graphic design, it’s often called layout. Composition constitutes up of a number of several visual design elements, including balance, proximity, alignment, repetition, contrast and white space.

13. Balance

Common Graphic Design Terms: Balance
Balance can be seen in each logo

It involves the placement of elements on the page so that the text and graphic elements are evenly distributed. There are three different ways to accomplish balance: symmetrically, asymmetrically and radially.

14. Typography

Common Graphic Design Terms: Typography

It is a method and art of arranging type to make written language readable, legible and appealing when displayed on print or on screen. It can consist of anything from the creation or modification of custom type packages, to the finer details involved in choosing typefaces, point sizes, line lengths and spacing.

15. Widows and Orphans

Common Graphic Design Terms: Orphan and Widow

Widows and Orphans in typesetting refer to the singular word or line of text that is disconnected to the main body of a paragraph. Orphans are the solo word sitting on its own line at the end of a paragraph. They are paragraph-ending lines that can be seen at the start of the following page or column. It’s the job of a good graphic designer to avoid these from appearing.

Understanding graphic design terms is just a small step in becoming a professional graphic designer. Now that you’ve got a strong start in expanding your graphic design vocabulary and knowledge, it’s time to take it to the next level. Also, it will be helpful to know these few yet important graphic design terms at the time of enrolling in graphic design courses. If you’re getting design work done, knowing the right terminology will help you communicate with one another and get the results you envision.

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