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Learn to Speak Like a Graphic Designer

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Graphic Designers, like any other professional, have a language all their own. Learn these terms, and your Graphic Designer (and your Printer, Sign Fabricator or Apparel Decorator) will love you!

Ascender – Any part of a lower case letter which rises above the main body of the letter such as in “d”, “b” and “h”.

Bleed – Any element that extends up to or past the edge of a printed page or sign panel. Particularly importing during the screenprinting process where ink gets messy if you try and apply it all the way to the edge. The bleed process usually involves printing on oversized material and cutting the material down into the bleed line.

Bullet – A boldface square or dot used before a sentence to emphasize its importance.

Color separating – The processes of separating the primary color components (CMYK) for printing.

Crop – To reduce the size of an image.

CMYK – refers to the four inks used in some color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black).

Cyan – A shade of blue used in four-color process printing. The C in CMYK. Also referred to as process blue.

Drop shadow – A shadow image placed offset behind an image to create the affect of the image lifting off the page.

Kerning – The narrowing of space between two letters so that they become closer and take up less space on the page.

Landscape – A print document layout where the width is greater than the height. (the opposite of Portrait).

Leading – Space between lines of type. The distance in points between one baseline and the next.

Magenta – One of the four process colors, or CMYK, the M is for magenta. Magenta is a predominately red color with some blue. Magenta, cyan and yellow are also the three subtractive primary colors.

Negative space – It’s easy to focus on the words and text on the page, but a good way to get the best design is to look also at the negative space – the space around the words and text.

Portrait – A document layout in which the height is greater than the width. (the opposite of Landscape).

Raster image vs. vector image – There are two kinds of digital images. A raster image is made up of individual pixels. When you try to enlarge a raster image it looks pixelated because you are taking each block of information (pixel) and just making it bigger. Raster images are often created in programs like Photoshop and have the extension .JPEG or .GIF.

A vector image, on the other hand, is made up of points connected along a curve (or vector). Basically, the visual information is contained in the relationship between the points, not the points themselves, so the image can be expanded to an infinite size. Vector images are created in programs like Illustrator and have the file extension .EPS.

Resolution – Resolution is a measure of dots per inch (DPI) for printed works and pixels per inch (PPI) for digital work. If the resolution of an image is too low, your final product will come out looking grainy or pixelated.

If you’re downloading a stock photo, shoot for 300 DPI (at the very least) for print-quality images and 72 PPI for web work. And don’t try to scale up a too-small image; that only works if you’re using a vector image.

RGB – The color space of Red, Green and Blue. These are the primary colors of light, which computers use to display images on your screen. An RGB computer file must be translated into the CMYK (the primary colors of pigment) color space in order to be printed on a printing press.

Zip file – Zipping a sign file compresses one or more files into a smaller archive. It takes up less hard drive space and less time to transfer across a network or the internet.


Artisan Graphics has been a locally owned and operated company servicing the greater Charlotte, Lake Norman and Triad areas since 1993. Artisan’s focus has always been on branding companies through in-house manufacturing and printing of logos on all types of products, from large outdoor signage to paper printing to apparel decorating, such as screenprint and embroidery.