7 Printing Terms All Designers Need to Learn

7 Printing Terms All Designers Need to Learn

Ordering printed products, from business cards to banner printing, should be relatively straightforward. Until that is, you get asked a load of questions – what format do you want? Do you want monotone or duotone?

These decisions are important for your business, especially when it comes to creating the right impression. With this in mind, we take a look at some of the more common printing terms you will come across and what they actually mean!

1) DPI

Dots Per Inch is a measure of print quality. The more dots, the better the quality.

Most printers work by printing dots per square inch on the printing medium to create an image or piece of text. The more dots per inch, the greater the detail and accuracy.

Commonly, 300 DPI and 600 DPI are standard for most print jobs, depending on the paper or printing medium used, and the printer used to create it.

Lightweight paper with a lighter DPI leads to something called bleed which reduces the clarity and impact of the final printed product. Laser styles printers offer a better-quality print, as does printing on glossy paper with a higher DPI.

However, unless the image printed is of high quality, altering the DPI won’t do anything to improve the sharpness or focus.


This refers to a four-colour printing process. Almost every printed material uses a CMYK printing model.

Each letter stands for the colour in the process – cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Each colour is created by mixing different values of each of the four colours and so you have something akin to an algebra equation as the ‘recipe’ for producing a colour accurately. For example, C:0 M:56 Y:62 K:0 (Find the colour here on page 2!)

Great for producing consistency.

3) Large Format

This is the phrase used to describe printing that requires a speciality printer, such as banner printing, posters and even billboards.

With large format printing, the process is designed to produce a final product that is designed to be viewed from a distance. It uses the same high-quality image or text etc., but the final print quality ‘up close’ may not look as great as when viewed from a distance. This is down to how the eye reacts and reads from a long distance and thus, the DPI is usually around 150.

4) Pantone

Recognised throughout the world, this system has been in use since 1963. It is a company that produces a universal system of colour matching with each colour and subsequent shade being given its own unique number. This ensures consistency across printed products, important if you intend producing various kinds of printed materials.

5) Ink

The types of inks available vary, from solid to pigment and dyes – and they are not all equal.

  • Solid ink – this rubs against the paper or printing medium in the place the printer tells it too and leave a mark. This produces a vibrant colour.
  • Pigment ink – made from a fine powder, it sits on top of the paper rather than soaking into it. It lasts a long time and is great for keeping its colour. It can be expensive.
  • Dye ink – this is a liquid-based ink that soaks into the paper to recreate the image and text. It produces vibrant colours initially but as it soaks into the substrate, this finish can dull a little.

6) Bleed

Bleed is essentially a ‘little wiggle room’ on whatever is being printed. In most cases, a printer will give you the printable area, bordered by the bleed area.

This is about setting everything to print accurately but with bleed allowed, it means that the final image or text etc. can be adjusted so that it ‘fits’ the product. If this happens, a small variation goes unnoticed but if there is no bleed area, what happens is something known as ‘dead space’. In other words, there is a gap that you didn’t want at the edge etc.

Work with a bleed of at least half an inch or more in mind. Our design team can explain more.

7) Mono and Duotone Colour

They look similar but give a slightly different finish. Both refer to a grayscale finish with a colour cast. They can appear black and white or coloured.  Both printing technique is often used to create a final look that is ‘old’ in feel or artistic.

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