Important Printing Terms

We collected some of the basic printing terms to help you make better choices with the production of your print collaterals. We included all the essentials you will need to know when it comes to printing or getting your files print-ready. These essential printing terms could help you to speed up the process  and make better decisions when it comes to printing.

Basic Printing Terms


All original copy, including type, photos and illustrations, intended for printing.


Printed colors that run to the edge of a the paper. To accommodate the bleed, the printer must make the bleed image area larger than the final trim size. The page is trimmed through the bleed area.


Acronym for the four process color inks used in 4-color printing: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. The “K” in CMYK does not necessarily stand for black, but rather, for the “Key” plate. The Key plate is the plate that holds the detail for the printed image, and in 4-color printing this is usually done with black ink.


A method for screening to simulate shades of gray. Darker tones are created with larger dots; lighter tones with smaller dots. This reproduction method contrasts with stochastic screening (same-size microdots) in a controlled random placement within a given area.

Layout /Mock Up

A drawing that gives the general appearance of the finished piece and usually indicates the relationship between illustrations and copy.

Offset printing (also called offset lithography)

A method of mass-production printing in which the images on metal plates are transferred (offset) to rubber blankets or rollers and then to the print media. The print media, usually paper, does not come into direct contact with the metal plates, which prolongs the life of the plates. The flexible rubber conforms readily to the print media surface, allowing the process to be used effectively on rough-surfaced media such as canvas, cloth or wood.


How resolution is defined in electronic imaging will depend upon what item is being referred to. Output devices, including presses, print with dots, so the resolution in their case is described as being dots per inch (DPI). On the other hand, digital images, whether obtained with a scanner or digital camera, are made up of pixels, so their resolution would be defined as being pixels per inch (PPI). Monitor resolution is also defined as pixels per inch (PPI) due to its display of electronic files in pixels. Scanner resolution is referred to as samples per inch (SPI) due to a scanner’s method for digitizing reflective art and/or transparencies, which is to sample the original at a particular frequency – a higher sample rate (like 300 SPI) means a higher scanning resolution than 150 SPI, which is only half that of 300 SPI. The higher the sample rate (samples per inch), the more closely the scan will represent the original’s appearance due to it having more samples from which to construct its representation of the original.


Acronym for Red-Green-Blue, the primary colors of the additive color model, which describes how monitors and RGB digital images represent color by blending these three primary colors together. When all three are combined over each other the color of light is white.


A mathematically described object or path used to create images in drawing programs (or any program that includes drawing tools in its list of capabilities).

Technical Printing Terms

Crop Mark

Symbols placed in the margin outside the image area that indicate an area to be printed and/or trimmed from the image.

Die Cutting

The process of using sharp steel dies to cut special shapes from printed sheets either on flatbed or rotary presses.

Gate Fold

An insert where one or two pages are bound into a publication so that one or more pages will fold out from the publication.


The oldest form of printing, in which a surface with raised letters is inked and pressed to the surface of the printing substrate to reproduce an image in reverse. Examples of letterpress printing include carved wood or stone block printing.


Non printing area of a page.

Trim Marks

Marks that indicate where a piece is to be cut.

Printing Terms about Finishes

Coated Paper

Paper coated with clay, white pigments and a binder.


To press an image into paper so it is raised above the surface.


A shiny coating on paper. Gloss coatings allow very little ink absorption, thus providing excellent color definition and contrast.


A coated paper with a non-shiny finish that inhibits ink from being absorbed by the paper.

Uncoated Paper

Paper that has not had a final coating applied for smoothness. Uncoated paper is absorbent and soft in appearance.


A clear, liquid, resinous coating, either matte or glossy, that is applied to a printed product for protection and appearance.

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