Welcome to the fascinating realm of print jargon, where words like bleed, CMYK, and UV varnish hold the keys to unlocking the secrets of the printing world. In this comprehensive guide, we aim to decode the language that shapes the printing industry, starting with the standardized European paper sizes known as A sizes.

Beyond the A sizes, we’ll delve into an extensive array of terms, from the basics like black and white printing to advanced techniques such as die-cutting and digital printing. Whether you’re a design enthusiast, a seasoned professional, or someone exploring the possibilities of DIY printing, this guide is your passport to understanding the intricate tapestry of print terminology.

A-Sizes – Standard European sizes for cut paper sizes. See separate paper sizes page for more details*.

Art Paper –  Also known as coated paper, it has a coating usually of china clay. Art paper comes in gloss, silk or matt and is normally used for products such as brochures, high-quality flyers, folders, prospectuses and annual reports.

Backing Up – Printing the reverse side of a sheet already printed on one side.

Banding – Substandard rendering of a graduated tint by some systems can produce a banding effect. Unless intentional the result is always undesirable.

Black and White – Printed in a single colour (black).

Bleed – Printed area which extends off the trimmed area. It is not possible to print all the way to the edge of the paper sheet. To achieve this it is necessary to print a larger area than is required and then trim the paper down. If you are using a professional studio then this should be taken care of, but if you are having a go yourself then this is something you need to remember. Generally allow approximately 3mm.

Board – Thick paper over 170gsm in weight, commonly used for Folders, Brochure Covers, Cards etc.

Bond Paper – A basic uncoated stock, often used for copying or laser printers. The better quality bond papers can be used for letterheads or Business Stationery. Typically 80gsm to 120gsm in weight.

CMYK – Cyan (Blue), Magenta (Red), Yellow and Key (Black) – used as the basic colours in the printing industry. See ‘Four Colour Process’.

Coated Stock – See art paper

Cockling – (1) Describes the wavy or wrinkled appearance of paper when ink absorption limits have been exceeded. (2) A printing defect typically seen as deforming wrinkles on paper and usually caused by heavy ink loads or moisture.

Collate – To bring together and organise printed matter in a specific order.

Crop Marks – In printing, marks are placed on the copy to indicate the edge of the finished job. Used as a guide when cutting (or trimming) documents to finished size.

Die-Cutting – The process of cutting a shape in or cutting out some of the printed matter. It can be done with steel rules or with a specially made tool called a die. The most common use is on sticky labels. If they have round corners they have been die-cut.

Digital Printing – Printing process in which information is transferred from a computer directly onto paper, without the need for film and printing plates. Digital printing is very cost-effective for small print runs and allows special techniques such as personalisation and printing-on-demand. This is the fastest growing area in printing as quality improves month by month. Even print industry veterans can find it difficult to tell the difference between the best digital print and conventional litho print.

Dot Gain – The phenomenon that occurs when ink expands its coverage during printing onto a substrate; often caused by abnormal or excessive absorption by the substrate.

Dots Per Inch (DPI) – Measure of the resolution of input devices such as scanners, display devices such as monitors, and output devices such as laser printers, digital printing presses and monitors, as well as printed matter. The more dots per inch the higher the resolution and the sharper the print.

Dry Down – The amount of time until inks are stable.

Duplex – In printing doing two things at once – such as printing both sides of material in one pass (also known as perfecting) or printing the same image twice to halve the run length.

Encapsulation – A form of protective enclosure for papers and other flat objects; involves placing the item between two sheets of transparent polyester film (available in various thicknesses) that are subsequently sealed around all edges. Generally used for items such as menus.

Finishing – Any process that follows the actual printing. Can include trimming, folding, creasing, stitching, and binding.

Flexographic – A printing technique where a rubber or polymer plate comes in direct contact with the material that is being printed. Traditionally the cheap and nasty version of printing, progress over the last twenty years means that it is now the accepted means of production for on roll labels and most packaging products.

Flyer – A small Leaflet, normally designed to be given away, that promotes a product or a service.

Four-Colour Process – The most common system for producing full-colour print. The four ink colours are Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow and Black – often referred to as CMYK. The inks can be printed and combined in a variety of different proportions to produce a wide range of colours (See also indichrome.)

Full-Colour Printing – See ‘ Four-Colour Process’.

GSM – Abbreviation for ‘Grams per Square Metre’. This indicates the weight of paper or other stock. For example, a typical photocopier paper is 80gsm, a good letterhead paper might be 120 gsm, a postcard would be about 300gsm. It is the normal way of specifying paperweight in the UK.

Gamut – The colour gamut of a system defines the limits of the shades and hues that can be displayed or rendered on screen or in print.

Greyscale – Each pixel on a greyscale monitor can display gradations from white to black. This is important for the quality display of halftone black and white images.

Halftones – A continuous tone image, such as a photograph, that has been converted into a black-and-white image. Halftones are created through a process called dithering, in which the density and pattern of black and white dots are varied to simulate different shades of gray.

Ivory Board – A highly finished cardboard that is clay-coated on both sides; used for art printing and menu cards.

Laid Paper – Uncoated paper often used for business stationery which has a textured pattern of parallel lines similar to hand made paper. Compare to Wove Paper.

Lamination – A plastic film bonded by heat and pressure to a printed sheet for protection. Available in matt or gloss finish in various thicknesses. Generally used on covers of catalogues, brochures, and folders.

Landscape – An oblong artwork or photograph where the horizontal dimension is greater than the vertical.

Leaflet – A Leaflet usually consists of a printed sheet of paper not larger than the international standard A4 in size. Leaflets are used to convey information and are commonly used by companies, organisations and individuals to advertise products, services, events and activities…

Lithographic Printing (litho) – A conventional (non-digital) print process. The process works by first transferring an image to thin metal, paper, or plastic printing plates. Rollers apply oil-based ink and water to the plates. Only the inked image portion is transferred to a rubber blanket that then transfers the image onto the paper as it passes between it and another cylinder beneath the paper.

Micron – Although paper is usually measured in grams per square metre (weight), it is sometimes measured in microns (thickness). Whilst related to the weight (GSM) of a piece of paper, different production methods produce different thicknesses when compared to the weight. A micron is a unit of measure equal to one-millionth of a metre or .00004

Pantone – Pantone, Pantone Matching System and PMS + are Pantone Inc’s industry-standard trademarks for colour standards, colour data, colour reproduction and colour reproduction materials, and other colour-related products and services, meeting its specifications, control and quality requirements.

PDF – Portable Document Format – The industry standard for saving files in an acceptable format. Quick, cheap and increasingly stable, often used for viewing proofs and for supply of final artwork. The version to print from should always be high-resolution. Free to download from the internet, the viewer enables universal viewing of PDFs.

Perfect Bound – A way of adhesive binding multi-section jobs. Individual sections are collected together and the spine is ground off (typically 3mm). Glue is then applied to the spine and a cover is pulled on before the product is trimmed to size.

Portrait – An upright, oblong artwork or photograph where the vertical dimension is greater than the horizontal.

Pre-Press – All procedures (and costs) associated with bringing a job to press, such as design, artwork, proofs, set-up etc. Has replaced “reprographics” as the normal term for these activities. Nowadays is always done with the use of computers, very often on Apple Macs rather than PCs.

Proof – A version of the document to be produced for the client to sign off as ready to print and the printer to run to. Normally produced from a digital printer and only colour correct if specified by the customer. Nowadays proofs are often supplied as a low-resolution PDF for checking on screen or for the client to output. Please note that these proofs are never colour-correct.

Ream – Five hundred sheets of paper (approximately)

RGB – Red, Green, Blue additive primary colours. When designing for printing it is rarely correct to use RGB. Use CMYK instead.

Saddle Stitch – In binding, fasten a booklet by wiring it (stapling) through the middle fold of the sheets. Normal saddle stitching has two staples/stitches.

Score – To impress or indent a mark in the paper, to make folding easier and to stop the print from cracking. This process is used on board and not generally on paper stocks.

Spiral Binding – A binding, as used in notebooks, in which the pages are fastened together by a spiral of wire or plastic that coils through a series of holes punched along the edge of the document.

Spot UV / Scodix – A way of highlighting an area of a page by selectively applying a gloss varnish to it. Can look very classy on top of matt lamination.

SRA Paper Sizes – Oversized paper sheet sizes, used to allow for crops and bleed (see crops, and bleed). See separate paper sizes page for more details*.

Stock – Paper or other material to be printed.

Trim Marks – See ‘Crop Marks’.

UV Varnish – Varnish applied to a stock and dried using ultra violet lamps. Is normally the method of spot varnishing as well as an overall varnish.

Vector Graphics – The use of geometrical algorithms (such as points, lines, curves, and polygons) to represent images in computer graphics. By contrast, the term raster graphics is the representation of images as a collection of pixels (dots).

Wove Paper – Uncoated paper often used for business stationery which has no obvious surface texture or pattern. Compare to Laid Paper.

WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get. Refers to the ability to output data from computers exactly as it appears on the screen.

Congratulations, you’ve embarked on a journey through the rich lexicon of print jargon! From A sizes to vector graphics, you’ve gained insights into the language that shapes the visual world around us. Armed with this knowledge, you’re better equipped to communicate effectively with printing professionals, experiment with DIY projects, or simply appreciate the intricacies behind the materials you encounter every day. The world of printing is dynamic and ever-evolving, but with this guide as your companion, you’re well-prepared to navigate its complexities and make informed decisions in your printing endeavours. May your future designs be bold, your prints flawless, and your understanding of print jargon unparalleled!