The A to Z of Design

Ever had to endure the agonising pain of listening to a designer explain to you something about your artwork? Kerning, CMYK, spot colours, gutters, RGB, OMG… Designers have a vocabulary all of their own. If you’re getting any design work done, knowing the right terminology will help the communication process go a lot smoother.


Posted by Salomi Mouton on June 05, 2019 • 0 Comments

Artboard: an artboard is the area (inside a designers software) that designers use to design a project.

Align: alignment is the position of text or graphics, whether left, right, centred or full justified.

Asymmetrical: When graphics and text are not equal on both sides of a central line, a design is said to be asymmetrical.

Bleed:  in printing, bleed is the graphics that goes beyond the edge of where the sheet will be trimmed. In other words, this is the excess that will be trimmed off after printing. The bleeds helps the printers with a small amount of space to account for movement of the paper, and design inconsistencies.

Brush: is a tool used in software (like Photoshop) to create pixels.

Border: in graphic design, a border is a line or pattern that surrounds an object.

Crop Marks: are lines placed on exported artwork to show the printers where to cut the graphics – for example, business cards will have crop marks to show where is must be trimed.

CMYK: The CMYK process is a method of printing colour by using four inks—cyan, magenta, yellow and black. 

Drop Shadow: in graphic design, a drop shadow is a visual effect element which looks like the shadow of an object, giving the impression that the object is raised above the objects behind it.

Dimensions: is the size of a particular object, design or project. For example, the dimensions of a business card are 90mm x 50mm.

DPI: short for dots-per-inch, represents the quality of your design project – high quality artwork will have a dpi of 300. 


Export: exporting artwork is the process of saving artwork in a specific format in order to use it in  a different program. For example, you would export graphics to JPG in order to use it in your social media feed.

EPS: short for Encapsulated PostScript format, EPS is a universal vector file format that can be imported into Illustrator or CorelDraw. In general, a printer will request that artwork be sent in EPS or PDF format.

Flatten: Flattening or Converting artwork to curves means converting all fonts, gradients and strokes to shapes. By flattening the artwork, you ensure that no font or line thickness issues occur when sending it for printing.

Font: Font is the style of writing used in designs.

Flexographic: In printing, Flexography is a form of printing process which utilizes a flexible, rubbery plate. It is essentially a modern version of letterpress which can be used for printing on almost any type of substrate, including plastic, metallic films, cellophane, and paper.

Grid: a grid is a series of intersecting vertical, horizontal, angular or curved lines used to organize graphic elements on a page.

Gutter: is the space between columns.

GIF: short for graphics interchange format, a GIF is a short animation (without audio) that can be used on websites and/or smartphones.

Hex Colour: A hex code is a way of specifying colour using hexadecimal values. The code made up of alphabetical and numerical values, consists of 6-digits. This code is mainly used in HTML or website development and design.

Horizontal: The terms horizontal describes the direction a line or a plane goes. Horizontal line goes across, and a vertical line goes up and down .

Import: in computer terminology, importing means to bring a file from a different program into the program that you’re using.

JPG / JPEG: is a file format used for pictures and photos. Short for Joint Photographic Experts Group, JPG can be opened by most editing software.

Kerning: kerning is the space between two characters in your type. Also known as tracking, the kerning helps achieve a more proportional and pleasing balance of space between character.




Lowercase: lowercase refers to the small letters of a typeface.

Margin: margins are the spaces (top, bottom, left and right) between the edge of the page (or artboard) and the design or type. Typically known as whitespace, margins are crucial for any design project.




Pixel: A pixel is the basic unit of programmable colour on a computer display or in a computer image. The physical size of a pixel depends on how you’ve set the resolution for the display screen. What’s the difference between Vector and Pixel? Read more about it HERE.

PNG: A PNG file is an image file saved as Portable Network Graphic (PNG) format. What makes a PNG file so unique is, a PNG image can be saved without a background colour or image. Making it ideal to be used on top of other designs.

Pantone: Pantone Colour is a colour-matching system universally used by printers and graphic designers. A Pantone book helps designers to colour-match specific colours regardless of the process used to produce the colour. Each colour in the Pantone book has its own unique number (PMS number) and this allows an exact match for every colour.

PDF: A PDF (Portable Document Format) is a file format developed by Adobe to present documents in a manner independent of any application software, hardware, and/or operating systems.

Quede: In printing, queuing means that your job/order has been placed in a line to be processed.

Reversed: Reversed out means making a design inverted. For example, if your text/design is black and your background is white, reversing it out will mean making the text white and the background black.

RGB: RGB (red, green, and blue) refers to a system for representing the colours to be used on a screen display. Red, green, and blue can be combined in various proportions to obtain any colour in the visible spectrum.

Slug: A slug is usually non-printing information (located in the bleeds area) such as a title and date used to identify a document.

Scale: Scale refers to the size of an object/project in relation to another object. For example, a business card will be designed to scale (90mm x 50mm) but a billboard – because of its size – will be designed at half size.

Spot Colour: A spot colour is a special premixed ink that is used instead of, or in addition to, CMYK process inks, and that requires its own printing plate on a printing press. A spot colour can be special white inks or additional glazed inks.

Small Caps: are uppercase characters that are the same height as lowercase letters.

Saturation: is the intensity of colour.

Typography: is the style and appearance of text.

Texture: giving an object a raised or rough feeling.

Underline: underlining means placing a solid line underneath the written text.

UV Ink: UV printing is a form of digital printing that uses ultra-violet lights to dry or cure ink as it is printed.

Uppercase: the large, capital letters of a typeface are uppercase.

Vector: Vector graphics are computer graphics images that are defined in terms of 2D points, which are connected by lines and curves to form polygons and other shapes. What’s the difference between Vector and Pixel? Read more about it HERE.

Vertical: The terms vertical describes the direction a line or a plane goes. Vertical line goes up and down, and a horizontal line goes across.

Watermark: A watermark is a semi-transparent image or text that has been applied to an image to either protect the original image or to make it harder to copy the item.

White Space: also known as negative space, is the parts of a design that doesn’t have any imagery or text



Zoom: vvv

Really think about the colours – although colour theory is very complex and as a designer myself, I still struggle to get to grips with it all – here are the most basics to always keep in mind:

short tips

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