Common print design terms you ought to know

Picture this: a designer submitted your company’s marketing collateral for print. Upon picking up the digital press operator noted they reviewed the file and no bleeds were set-up, it was designed up to the trim section, type was not converted, and once they printed a sample, they notice images were not formatted to CMYK. To add insult to injury, they also remarked that black wasn’t set to “true” black, effecting readability of your body text. 

The biggest regret? When you tell the designer they have no clue how to fix these things! 

This is a situation you may have experienced before and is why Print Design Terms are important in the graphic design industry. Not only to enhance your own marketing and have your job turn out exactly how you want it, but to establish a good relationship with a printer who doesn’t need to take the time fixing any errors that might come up. 

So today I like to share a glossary of important print design terms you ought to know to ensure your marketing prints in tip-top shape!


If you have images that extend off the page after printing, you need a bleed setup. When the page is trimmed, the image “bleeds” off the page or sheet. Standard bleed size is .125” all the way around your document. 


Rgb stands for Red, Green, and Blue. RGB color mode is ideal when creating digital designs, as the combination of those three colors are what make up what colors we see on electronic screens. When its time to print, if the color mode of your photograph or document is set to RBG mode, turn it to CMYK mode for optimum results in printed colors. You’ll still retain the correct color intent and in doing so you’ll ensure a more reliable reproduction. 

Here’s how to do so:

In Photoshop 

Go to Image -> Color Mode -> CMYK color

In Illustrator

File -> Document Color Mode -> CMYK color


CMYK is named for the four inks Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black and, accordingly, is commonly referred to as four-color (or plate) process printing. Every printed material you can think of – from magazines to brochures and business cards, is printed using a CMYK color model. 

Colors are created using a mixture of values – the one you should pay most attention to is Black. It’s recommended you set black text to true black as in K=100 (K is the acronym for black) as this will ensure any elements underneath don’t bleed though. 

To ensure the best and most accurate print job be sure to convert documents to CMYK before printing.

common print design terms - by stephanie design

Pantone Colors

Many companies use Pantone colors to maintain consistent print quality across mediums. Pantone has a storied history as the universal system for understanding and matching colors. 

What exactly is the difference between Pantone and CMYK? 

In an ideal world green would be green and purple would be purple, but the reality is there are so many tints and shades and options in general for each color. 

When it comes to printing it comes down to to the level of accuracy in the final colors. The Pantone system will deliver the exact color every time, no matter who is designing your marketing collateral, whereas with CMYK there may be slight color variances from one job to the next. 

And this is why Pantone colors are suggested to keep your marketing consistent across the board. 

Crop Marks 

Also known as trim marks, Crop marks are the lines printed in the corner of your publications sheet or sheets of paper to show the printer where to trim the paper. 


Your print jobs Finish is what happens after the piece is printed. Common finishes include folding, trimming, and assembling sections. binding by sewing, wire stitching, or gluing; and die-cutting are also common. 

Offset printing

Offset printing can often be more suited for higher volume printing, which begins to be economical at about 2,000+. 


Now it’s time to review! Your proof is the printed document that serves as a preliminary piece for you to review. It’s a good representation of how the final piece will appear when printed. You’ll want to request this first from your printer so your both in agreement as to how the final piece should appear. 


For printing, 300dpi is the ideal format and what every print document a designer creates starts at. dpi means ‘dots per inch’ so you can see how rich your image quality will be at that amount. Send a document with a lower dpi and the printer will make up pixels to fill the space. 

Trim size 

The trim size refers to the dimensions of a document after it has been printed and cut down to its desired width and height from a larger sheet, prior to any folding.

If you ever have a question about a print term you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to run it by your designer. We’ll walk you through the lingo and hopefully set you at ease when it comes to printing your business materials.

February 12th, 2023


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By Stephanie Hamilton