Common Printing Terms

Communicating with professionals in other fields can sometimes feel like listening to a foreign language. This can not only be confusing, but also quite frustrating especially when the success of your project relies on their expertise. To help ensure you don’t get that feeling talking to your printer, and walk away with what you’ve asked for, we’ve deciphered these 12 common printing terms.


The term artwork refers to everything on the original document submitted to the printer. This includes all of its design elements, such as text copy, images and other graphics.


Binding is the process of joining pages together to create items like booklets, brochures, magazines or books. There are different methods to bind your prints for example, with wire, glue or stitching. What you use will depend on what you’re looking to produce. When deciding, remember that some bindings require a minimum number of pages.


Bleed refers to any design element on your document that exceeds the edge of the paper. Ideally, you should try to set up your document with a 3mm bleed. If your artwork features frameless elements, this can help ensure there won’t be any unwanted white edges as it can be extremely difficult to print right to the edge of a paper.


CMYK stands for cyan (blue), magenta, yellow and key (black). These are the four main colours used in digital printing to print any shade on the colour spectrum. If you have images in your document, they should always be printed in CMYK. If they are in a different colour format, like RGB, you’ll need to convert them before exporting your document otherwise, your colours might print differently to what you intended.

Crop marks

The crop marks are two thin black lines in each corner of your document. They usually hover a few millimetres above the page and show you where your page is going to be trimmed.

Digital printing

Digital printing also described as 4-colour process printing is commonly used for smaller print jobs of about 250 to 1000 copies. This is when it’s most cost effective. It also requires less preparation prior to the job as opposed to offset printing.


A finish describes the surface of the paper stock that you use for printing. There are different paper types that have different finishes and can, therefore, change up the overall look of your document. Some finishes, such as lamination or varnishes, can also be applied to your print after the fact.

Offset printing

The alternative to digital printing, offset printing is used for larger jobs of 1000 copies or more. It’s a little more complex to set up as it requires a different plate for each of the four main colours. This is why offset printing is typically not used for smaller print jobs. Once set up, the print is run through each of the plates to create the final piece. An offset printing press can make use of both CMYK and Pantone colours.

Pantone colours

The Pantone Color Matching System (PMS) was developed by Pantone in 1963 to create a better way for printers to communicate with one another and their clients. Pantone colours feature a range of universal shades that each come with a CMYK, RGB, hexadecimal, and Pantone colour code. These allow printers around the world to preserve colour consistency across the colour spectrum.


PPI and DPI are abbreviations for ‘pixels per inch’ and ‘dots per inch’. They both refer to the resolution of an image and can be used interchangeably. The higher the PPI/DPI count on an image, the better its quality. The optimal image resolution for print is set at 300dpi, whereas you only need 72dpi for digital purposes.


Before your job goes into production, your printer will set up your file for print. To make sure it’s correct, it’s converted to a PDF and sent to you for review. This document is called a ‘proof’ and is used to prevent unexpected design or content flaws ending up in the final document. Once you give your thumbs up, it’s ‘go time’!


RGB stands for red, green and blue. These are the shades that help bring the colours on your digital screens to life. So, if you’re viewing an image or document on your computer, it’s likely set to RGB. If you want to print a digital file in RGB, you must first convert it to CMYK to ensure the colours on your document stay the same.

Of course, the dictionary of print and design doesn’t end here. But these common terms are a good starting point to better understanding your printer and to help you get what you want out of your next print job.