15 Printing Terms Every Designer Should Know

Image showing bleed and trim size

Contacting a printer for the first time to request a quote can be an intimidating experience. Your printer will have a lot of questions about the project you are planning, and understanding a few basic printing terms will help you give the right information, to be sure you get an accurate quote for your print job.

Here we offer an explanation of the basic printing terms you’ll need to know:

Bleed refers to the extra image area required when you need the graphics on your poster to extend right to the edges of the finished piece. Your printer will ask you to extend your design outside the intended edges. This extra border will be cut away to ensure full coverage of your finished piece. The amount of extra space required is referred to as the bleed.

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and ‘key’ (black). These are the four basic ink colours used in most full-colour printing. This type of printing is also referred to as four colour process. Every colour you can print is delivered using a combination of these four colours, to create the desired results.

CMYK colour model

Digital Printing refers to a printing method where your source file is loaded onto a computerized machine that reads your file and prints out a finished piece much like your desktop printer at home. There are many different types of digital printing available today, and the method your printer uses will depend on what you are printing. Digital printers offer a short set-up time compared with traditional printing methods, making them a cost effective option for short run jobs and specialty projects. Modern digital printers can work with a wide variety of materials – from paper to plastic, fabric and vinyl – with new materials being tested on a regular basis.

DPI stands for dots per inch. It’s a measure of the resolution of your source file. In general, a higher dpi will deliver a sharper printed result. The right dpi for your project will depend on the finished size of your printed piece and on the method of printing you choose. It’s important to make sure you use the right image resolution for your large format print project. Speak with your printer ahead of time to be sure you’re designing at the right DPI.

Ganging or gang-run printing refers to combining two or more projects to print at the same time on the same sheet. Grouping multiple projects into a single print run can offer significant cost savings. However, all projects must be on the same stock or they cannot be printed as a gang run. It’s also important to realize that a delay on any element of the group will affect delivery on everything.

Large Format is a term used to describe large commercial printers that can output really large prints. If you’re printing graphics that will be applied to walls, wrapped around a vehicle or a vending machine, or displayed outside on a billboard, bus shelter or exterior wall, chances are you need a large format printer. Hemlock Display offers large format print services using both digital and screen printing presses.

Litho (lithography) is a method of printing using plates that are specially created so that the image area attracts ink, while the rest of the plate repels it. The images are first printed onto a rubber blanket, then transferred from the blanket to the paper. This type of printing is also called offset.

Media in the printing world refers to the material your project will be printed on. Today’s specialty and commercial printers can work with a range of materials, including various fabrics, plastics, vinyl, screen, and paper products. If you can imagine it, there’s a good chance Hemlock Display can find a way to print it. 

Pantone is the widely accepted colour matching standard used by designers worldwide. Developed by the Pantone Company, pantone colours provide printers with very specific formulas for mixing ink to precisely match a desired colour. This allows you to send event posters to one printer and handouts to another, yet still have the colours on both pieces match exactly. Most agencies and design shops have Pantone colour guides on hand that show sample colours and express them as Pantone numbers, CMYK formulas and RGB values to allow colour matching across multiple platforms.

Over-run (Overs) are extra copies of the job that are printed over and above the quantity ordered. This is usually done when set up for the job is costly, to ensure that the printer has sufficient copies to handle any potential snags that crop up during the finishing process. Your printer may offer to sell you the overs that are left once the job is finished.

RIP (Raster Image Processor) is a computer that translates the output file into native printer data. During this process the operator can perform technical operations such as colour management, trapping, and imposition to ensure that the finished file is perfect.

RGB stands for red, green, blue and is the abbreviation for the colour system used by televisions and computer monitors. Every colour you see on your screen is actually a combination of red, green and blue pixels that trick your eye into seeing a range of colour. Digital SLR cameras also use RGB colour values.

RGB colour model

Spot Colour is used when you need to match a very specific colour. This colour is not printed using typical CMYK plates. Instead the ink is mixed specially for the job, and a special plate is created to print this colour onto the finished piece. Spot colour can be useful as a cost saving measure for pieces that only have one or two colours in them. For example, retail shelf strips are often printed using spot colour instead of full CMYK.

Screen printing is more than just t-shirts. It refers to a printing process where ink is forced through a fine mesh screen to create an image on paper or fabric. Large format screen printers can be very effective for retail and display media, projects requiring specialized inks, and short run retail applications. Hemlock Display has the largest screen printing press in Western Canada.

Trim Size is the actual size of the finished printed piece.

These are just a few of the common print terms you’ll hear when working with a large format and specialty commercial print shop. Got an unusual printing term to share or need an explanation of other common print terms? 

Get in Touch

Have a project to quote? Get in touch with a Hemlock Display print specialist. We’re here to help! 

Get in Touch

Have a project to quote? Get in touch with a Hemlock Display print specialist. We’re here to help!