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Learn How To Talk Like (or to) A Designer

By Maxine Howe
February 15, 2015

Like all industry sectors, graphic designers have their own lingo and jargon. Some of it dates back to the days of hand drawn artwork, whereas other terms have come about more recently as a result of the digital evolution.

Here at Identity Studio, we’re big advocates of using plain speech with our clients, but we’re all too aware that we occasionally slip into designer speak without even realising it! So we thought it’d be helpful to demystify the terminology for you…


CMYK – abbreviation for cyan, magenta, yellow and black (key), which are the four process colours used in printing

RGB – abbreviation for red, green and blue, which are the three colours of visual light used to display computer graphics

Spot colours – specially mixed ink using in printing based on the Pantone Matching System

Warm colours – reds, oranges and yellows

Cool colours – blues, greens and many purples


Bitmap image – collection of thousand of individual dots (pixels); can be manipulated in software like Photoshop, but if they’re enlarged too much they become jagged or “pixelated”

Vector graphic – made up of points connected along a path (vector); they don’t lose quality when resized, so they’re best for logos and other graphics that will need to be produced on large items, e.g. flags, banners etc.

File formats

EPS – used for scalable vector images, or images that contain both text and graphics

PDF – ideal for exporting documents to share, like design layouts; can be viewed on the free software Adobe Acrobat

GIF – used for small image files with few colours and designs; can be animated

JPEG – one of the leading formats for saving compressed photos from your camera

PNG – used for screen applications like websites and presentations as are RGB only; great for inserting on top of graphical backgrounds because you can have transparent backgrounds (unlike JPGs)

TIFF – used for storing high colour depth images

ZIP – compresses multiple files into a single folder without losing any data


Both paper and card stock come in different finishes, which affect the appearance and feel of the printed item.

Gloss – often used for full-colour printing as it reflects light off the paper’s surface, but marks easily if handled a lot

Silk – a paper or card with a softer sheen finish

Uncoated – a matt paper that’s absorbent

Gloss laminate – glossy coating applied to the paper’s surface to create a high gloss covering

Matt laminate – a coating applied to the paper’s surface to create an ultra-soft feel


A typeface consists of a series of fonts and a full range of characters, such as numbers, letters and punctuations.

Serif – characters that have a “tail” or serif crossing the ending of a stroke, e.g. Times New Roman

Sans serif – characters without a serif (tail), e.g. Arial or Calibri

Slab serif – block-like fonts with serifs, e.g. Rockwell, Museo

Script – normally italicised, fluid fonts like elegant handwriting


Bleed – printed image that ‘bleeds’ off the edge of the page instead of having a border around it

Kerning – space between individual letters

Leading (pronounced “led-ding”) – space between lines of text

Negative (or white) space – blank space surrounding text and images

Orphan – first line of a paragraph that appears alone at the bottom of a page, with the remainder on the next page

Widow – single word that carries over from the end of a paragraph to the next column or page

In Part 2, we thought we’d take a look at some specific web design terms. These will help you communicate more effectively with your designer and developer – whether you’re having a new website built or updating an existing one. So watch this space!

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