25 Graphic Design Definitions You Need to Know …

Feeling confused by the sea of techy terms being used by your graphic designer?

We designers have our own language. So, to help smooth over the creative process, here is a short list of terms and definitions to help you get through your next conversation …


Bad Break:
Refers to windows or “orphans” in text copy; any break that causes awkward reading.

When a graphic object extends through another in an unwanted manner. It is then trimmed so there is no chance for a white line on the edges of a document.

Stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and key colour (aka. Black). This colour model (also known as “process colour” or “four colour”) is a subtractive colour model used in colour printing.

An ornament used in typesetting to add space around an image or symbol.

Dot Gain:
When the ink hits the paper, it is absorbed and spreads out.

DPI (dots per inch):
A term used to describe the measurement of sharpness within an image.

EPS (encapsulated post script):

This is a graphics file format used to transfer PostScript documents that contain an image within another PostScript document.

Four-Colour Process:
A printing technique that creates colours by combining cyan, magenta, yellow and black (also known as “CMYK”).

GIF (graphics interchange format):
This file format displays up to 256 colours and supports animation while allowing for an individual palette of 256 colours per frame. The colour limitation makes a GIF format inappropriate for reproducing colour photographs. GIF images are compressed using the LZW lossless data compression method to decrease the size of the file without corrupting the visual quality.

This is the white space formed by the inner margins of a spread in book production which is near the spines.

High-Resolution Image:
An image with an extreme level of sharpness and clarity.

A term used for the modification of the horizontal space between letters.

A term that refers to the amount of added vertical spaces between lines of text.

These are guidelines in page layout software that shows the user the body copy and/or image areas. It also allows the user to indicate dimensions. Margins do not show up during the printing process.

Negative Space:
This term indicates areas of the page that does not contain words or images (also known as “white space”).

This is a term used to describe the development of pixels that contain random colours.

Orphan Line:
This is the first line of a paragraph appearing on its own at the bottom of a page with the remaining part of the paragraph appearing on the next page.

Pantone Matching System:
This system is used for defining and blending match colours. It accommodates designers with swatches of over 700 colours and gives printers the formulas for making those colours.

The smallest picture content that can be individually assigned a colour.

PNG (portable network graphic):
This term is usually pronounced “ping” and is used for lossless compression. A PNG file format displays images without jagged edges while keeping file sizes rather small (most popular for web).

An image is said to be “rasterized” when transformed from a vector image into a bitmapped image. When opening a vector image in a bitmap-based editing program, the user is generally presented with a dialog box of options for rasterizing the image.

This is a very important definition as the resolution of an image is a very important factor in deciding the attainable output quality. The higher the resolution, the less pixelated it will be, and the edges of the image will appear smoother.

Sans Serif:
This term refers to a style of typeface that means “without feet”. Usual typefaces that fall under this category are: Arial, Helvetica, AvantGarde and Verdana.

This term refers to two pages that face each other and are created as one visual or production unit.

Vector Graphic:
A vector graphic is a file format that allows the user to expand or reduce the file size (usually artwork, logos, patterns, etc.) without any loss in quality using curves, points, lines and polygons.


Understanding graphic design terms is just a small step in building a good working relationship. If you’ve reviewed this list and still have some terms you need clarification on feel free to add them to the comments and I will help you discover their true meaning and make your designer/client life a heck of a lot easier!

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Crystal Kordalchuk

Crystal is an artist, a writer, an organizer, a dreamer, a doer, and down-right proud of it NERD!.

Struck with a love for #AllThings creative at a very young age, Crystal dreamed of a life fueled by her passion for creating and bringing the stories and images in her mind into reality.

As she worked toward her dreams, she earned a diploma as a Computer Applications Specialist then another in Graphic Design and from there began to develop her extensive background in multimedia and the arts. She began her worked in the magazine industry as a layout designer and had a succession of design jobs thereafter. It was her role as a graphic/web designer that gave her the first real glimpse of her future. Soon she began a side job as a freelance designer while keeping one foot in the corporate world. A spark was lit! She turned her freelance gig into a full-time business combining design work with her other passion: creating organization from virtual chaos.

Crystal is one of the most organized individuals on the planet. She is by all means a Zen master of her crafts. She excels at helping others become “untangled” and provides her clients with tools to run their businesses smoothly while she takes care of the details behind the scenes. Thus Virtually Untangled was born. A successful business where her work as a top notch creative in graphic and web — with a twist of virtual assistant — married into one amazing place where clients can come with their virtual messes and become magically untangled. Crystal can always make sense of even the most unorganized chaos and offers a virtual detox of order and peace, so her clients can get busy doing the work that they love the most.

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