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Printing Terms Every Designer Should Know

by | Sep 1, 2015 | Articles, Graphic Design | 8 comments

Key Printing Terms

When you’re working with print, there is terminology that you’ll want to be familiar with. These terms are used to describe different aspects of the printing process. At the very least, you’ll need to know these terms when working with print shops. If you want your work to turn out as you intended, you’ll want to make sure you understand these printing terms.

cmyk - printing terms


Also referred to as cyan, magenta, yellow and black. They are the inks that make up the 4 color printing process. There are other types of inks, such as metallics, which can add a touch of elegance to your work.



Overprint is where you print one ink over the top of another. Instead of red and blue, you would have a purple tone where the inks overlap.

pantone - printing terms

Pantone Colors

Pantone colors are colors that are named and have a specific, standardized pantone number for accuracy. Most large companies have specific Pantone colors for their branding colors to promote consistency.

Foil Stamping - printing terms

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping is where you achieve a metallic effect using a foil overlay that is stamped into the paper. Foil stamping isn’t just for creating silver and gold, it can be any color of the rainbow.



Letterpress is where certain letters or shapes are pressed into the paper to create a dimensional effect.


Embossing is the opposite of letterpress, where certain letters or shapes are raised on the surface of the paper.


Most printers don’t print edge to edge. The printer can only print so close to the edge of the paper. If you want your design to go to the edge, you have to account for the spacing from the printer and work this value into your design. This value is called bleed. 1/8 of an inch of bleed allows plenty to room for most printers. After the design is printed, the excess paper is trimmed away to give an edgeless design effect.


Finish refers to the paper that you’re using for design projects. Different finishes usually involve different textures. Matte papers have a dull finish. Gloss finish creates a smooth, shiny surface. There are also linen and laid papers, which are textured.


This stands for Dots per Inch and refers to the numbers of dots per inch that are printed by a printer. The common sizes are 300DPI and 600DPI. You make prefer 300 DPI over 600 DPI on lower quality paper, due to color bleed, or when colors run together. 600DPI is relevant to laserjet printing. DPI is often confused with PPI, or pixels per inch. However, dots per inch is used for printing and pixels per inch refers to digital.

Die Cut

Die cut is usually post printing, but it is still part of the print design process. If you have special shapes or sections of your design are cut out, this is called a die cut. This can add a lot of costs to your printing expenses, but the effect will definitely get attention.

Have Any Questions?

If you have any questions about printing terms, post them in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list.

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