The Ultimate Glossary of Printing Terms

A Glossary of Printing Terms: Understanding the Basics

Whether you’re a seasoned print manager, a budding graphic designer, or simply a print enthusiast, understanding the language of printing is crucial. It not only helps in making informed decisions but also ensures smoother communication with printing professionals.

In this article, we’ll dive into a comprehensive glossary of printing terms, demystifying jargon and making the complex world of printing a bit more accessible. So, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s embark on this enlightening journey together!

Table of Contents:

The Basics of Printing

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of printing terms, it’s essential to grasp the foundational concepts of printing. At its core, printing is the process of reproducing text and images, typically with ink on paper. While the basic concept remains the same, the techniques and technologies used have evolved remarkably over time.

The most common types of printing methods are:

Digital Printing:

This is a modern method that involves printing directly from a digital file. It’s highly efficient for short runs and variable data printing, as it requires less setup time and allows for easy modifications. Digital printers use either toner, similar to a laser printer, or large printers using liquid ink.

Offset Printing:

Known for its high and consistent image quality, offset printing is the method of choice for larger print runs. It works by transferring ink from a plate to a rubber blanket, and then onto the printing surface. While it requires more setup than digital printing, it’s more cost-effective for large quantities and offers superior quality in colour reproduction.


Often used for packaging and labels, flexography is versatile enough to print on various materials like plastic, metallic films, cellophane, and paper. It uses flexible relief plates and fast-drying inks, making it ideal for continuous patterns such as wallpapers.

Screen Printing:

This method involves creating a stencil (a screen), and then using that stencil to apply layers of ink on the printing surface. Each colour is applied using a different stencil, one at a time, to achieve the final look. It’s a popular method for t-shirts and other textiles, as well as various types of signage.

Gravure Printing:

Known for its excellent quality and ability to print on thin papers, gravure is often used for high-volume printing like magazines, mail order catalogs, packaging, and wallpaper.

Understanding these printing techniques is crucial for anyone in the field, whether you’re a graphic designer, print buyer, or print manager. Each method has its unique advantages and applications, and choosing the right one depends on factors like print quality, quantity, and the type of material being printed.

Glossary of Printing Terms


Artwork: In printing, this refers to the original design files prepared for printing. These files are usually in formats like PDF, EPS, or AI.


Blanket: In offset printing, this is a rubber-coated pad that transfers ink from the plate onto the paper. It’s a crucial component in achieving high-quality print results.

Bleed is an essential concept within the printing industry

Bleed: This is the part of your document that gives the printer a small amount of space to account for movement of the paper, and design inconsistencies. Artwork and background colours often extend into the bleed area. After trimming, the bleed ensures that no unprinted edges occur in the final trimmed document.

Bond: Refers to a type of paper known for its durability and strength. Bond is commonly used for letterheads, business forms, and documents, and is characterized by its higher quality, weight, and often a watermark.


Caliper: The measure of the thickness of paper expressed in thousandths of an inch. This measurement is important for ensuring that paper runs through the printing press without issues.

Casing In: The process of binding a book by placing the book block (the body of the book) into a hard cover.

CMYK: Standing for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black), CMYK is a colour model used in colour printing. This model works by partially or entirely masking colours on a lighter, usually white, background. The ink reduces the light that would otherwise be reflected.

Collate: In printing, this term refers to the arrangement of individual sheets or other printed components into a pre-determined sequence.

Crease: A pre-press process where a line is pressed into paper to make folding easier. This is essential in preparing materials like brochures and booklets.

Creep: In printing, creep is the shift in margin that occurs when multiple pages are folded together, such as in a booklet. This shift is more pronounced in thicker documents, causing inner pages to extend slightly more than the outer pages when trimmed. To ensure a neat finish, pages are adjusted during the design and trimming process to account for this effect.

Crop Marks: Small printed lines around the edges of a printed piece indicating where it should be trimmed. These marks guide the cutting process to ensure accuracy.


Die-Cut: A printing process that uses a die or a sharp steel blade to cut shapes in paper or other materials. Commonly used to create shaped printed products, like presentation folders or door hangers.

DPI (Dots Per Inch): A measure of the resolution of a printed document or digital scan. The higher the DPI, the sharper the image.

Drilling: Refers to the process of creating round holes in paper or other printed materials, typically for the purpose of binding or for inserting into binders, often with tabbed dividers. This is commonly used for creating holes in large quantities of paper at once, such as in reports, manuals, or notebooks.


Electroink: Used in HP Indigo presses, this is a unique liquid ink that combines the advantages of electronic printing with the qualities of liquid ink. It provides high-quality, consistent colour output.

Embossing: A printing technique used to create a raised surface or texture on a print product. It involves pressing a design into paper or cardstock.

Encapsulate: A process similar to lamination, where a printed piece is sealed between two sheets of clear plastic. This is often used for protection and to enhance durability.

End Papers: Sheets of paper that are used to connect the inside pages of a book to its cover. These are often more substantial than the text pages and can be decorative, they are used when making Casebound Books.


Foil printing: A printing process that uses heat, pressure, and metallic paper (foil) to create shiny designs and graphics on paper.

Folio: A printing term referring to a page number or the sequence of pages in a book. It can also refer to a sheet of paper folded once to make two leaves (four pages) in bookbinding.


Gripper: A mechanical device on a printing press that holds and moves paper through the machine. Grippers ensure precise alignment and consistent print quality.

GSM (Grams per Square Meter): A measurement that indicates the weight of paper. It’s an important factor when considering the quality and durability of print materials.


Halftone: A technique that simulates continuous tone imagery through the use of dots, varying either in size or in spacing.


Indigo Printing: A digital printing process using HP Indigo presses, known for high-quality colour printing. It’s versatile for various printing needs, from commercial print to labels and packaging. At Flexpress, we have the HP Indigo 100K

Inkjet Printing: A type of digital printing that creates an image by propelling droplets of ink onto paper and plastic substrates.


Jogging: A process in which sheets of paper are straightened or aligned by vibrating them against a square edge.


Kerning: The adjustment of the space between characters in typesetting. This is crucial for ensuring the text is evenly and aesthetically spaced.

Knockout: A technique in printing where a certain colour or image is specifically not printed in areas where another colour or image will appear, allowing the underlying colour or paper to show through.


Lamination: A printing finishing process which involves applying a thin layer of plastic on paper or card sheets to enhance and protect the printed matter.

Lay: In printing, this refers to the correct positioning of paper and other substrates on the printing press.

Letterpress: An age-old printing technique where raised, inked surfaces are pressed onto paper to create an image. Known for its distinctive, tactile quality, letterpress is often used for high-end, artisanal projects.

Litho (Lithography): A form of printing using plates where the image area and non-image area coexist on the same plane. It relies on the repulsion of oil and water, producing high-quality printed images.


Matte Finish: A non-glossy, flat looking finish applied to paper, giving a more subtle and soft appearance.

Micron: A unit of measurement used in printing to denote the thickness of paper or other substrates. One micron equals one thousandth of a millimeter.

Monochrome: Printing in a single colour. Although it often refers to black-and-white printing, monochrome can involve any colour, where the output consists of varying shades of a single hue.


Newsprint: An economical, unbleached paper that is primarily used for printing newspapers. It is known for its lightweight quality.


Offset Printing: A commonly used printing technique where the inked image is transferred from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface.

Overprint: The process of printing one colour on top of another in overlapping layers, often used to create additional colours or effects in the final print.

Overs: Extra printed products that are produced beyond the quantity specified in the order. Overs are common in the printing industry to account for potential production errors and ensure the client receives the correct quantity.


Pantone Colours: A standardised colour matching system, utilized in printing to ensure colours match without direct contact with one another. PDF (Portable Document Format): A file format used to present documents independent of software, hardware, or operating systems. In printing, PDFs are widely used due to their ability to preserve the original formatting and layout of a document.

Perforate: The process of making a series of small cuts (perforations) in a paper, allowing it to be easily torn along a straight line. Commonly used in ticket printing, coupons, and other applications.

Plate: In printing, a plate is a flat surface with an image to be printed. In traditional printing methods like lithography, the plate holds the ink which is then transferred to the paper.

Printer’s Pairs: A layout method where pages are arranged according to how they will be printed and bound, rather than in sequential order. This ensures that when printed and folded, the pages will appear in the correct order.

Proof: A preliminary version of a printed document used for final review and corrections before the final print run.


Quarto: A printing term that refers to a sheet of paper folded twice to form eight leaves (four double-sided pages).


Raster Image: A digital image composed of a rectangular grid of pixels. Used in digital processes but requires careful handling to maintain resolution.

Ream: A standard unit of paper quantity. One ream typically contains 500 sheets of paper and is a standard measure for purchasing and comparing different types of paper.

Registration: In printing, this refers to the alignment of colours on a single print. Proper registration ensures that colours print in the correct position relative to one another.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue): A colour model used for digital devices like cameras, computer screens, and more. In printing, RGB images must be converted to CMYK for accurate colour reproduction.

RIP (Raster Image Processor): A component in digital printing systems that translates data and images into a format that a printer can understand and print. It’s essential for high-quality digital printing.


Saddle-Stitch: A method of binding where folded sheets are gathered together one inside the other and then stapled through the fold line with wire staples. This is commonly used for booklets, magazines, and brochures.

Score: A crease put into paper to help it fold more easily, usually used for thicker papers that are difficult to fold cleanly without scoring.

Self-Cover booklets allow for substantial cost savings over booklets with heavier covers.

Self-Cover: Refers to publications where the cover is printed on the same paper stock as the inside pages. This method is often used for its cost-effectiveness and simplicity.

Separation: In printing, this refers to the process of dividing a colour image into its primary colour components for printing. This is essential in the preparation of files for colour printing.

Set-off: An issue in printing where ink from a freshly printed sheet transfers onto another sheet. This is often a concern in high-volume printing runs.

Soft Touch: A finishing technique that gives printed materials a suede-like texture, resulting in a soft, tactile surface. This effect is often used on premium products like business cards, brochures, and book covers to convey luxury and quality.

Specification: Detailed descriptions or instructions regarding the requirements of a printing job. This includes information on paper type, ink colours, binding methods, and more, ensuring that the final product meets the client’s expectations.

Spot Colour: A printing technique that uses pre-mixed ink to achieve a specific colour, typically used when only one or two colour printing is needed.

Spot UV: A finishing technique used to apply a glossy varnish to specific areas of a printed piece. This selective coating creates a unique visual and tactile effect, often used for accentuating certain design elements. We at Flexpress provide completely free Spot UV test sheets for you to test your designs before printing.

Spread: In printing, a spread refers to two pages that face each other in a publication. Designers often create artwork for spreads to ensure visual continuity across the pages.

Stabbing: A binding process where the pages of a document are physically stabbed through with wire or thread to hold them together, typically used for legal documents and notebooks.


Tint: A shade or variety of a colour, usually a lighter version. In printing, tints are used to create depth or a soft effect.

Trim Size: The final size of a printed page after excess edges have been cut off.

Typesetting: The process of arranging and formatting text for printing. This includes selecting font types, sizes, line lengths, line-spacing, and letter-spacing. Typesetting is essential for ensuring that the printed material is readable and visually appealing.


Uncoated: Paper that has no coated pigment applied, resulting in a more natural and porous surface. This type of paper is best for writing and standard printing, where a glossy finish is not desired.

UV Coating: A very glossy, shiny liquid coating applied to a printed paper surface and cured on a printing press or special machine using ultraviolet light.


Varnish: A liquid coating applied to a printed surface to add a clear, glossy, matte, or satin finish.

Vector: In graphic design, vector refers to artwork made up of points, lines, and curves that are based on mathematical equations, rather than pixels. Therefore vector graphics are ideal for printing as they can be scaled to any size without losing quality.


Wash Up: In printing, this refers to the process of cleaning the ink from rollers, plates, and other components of a printing press. It’s an essential step during job changes or when maintaining the press.

Watermark: A faint design made in some paper during manufacture which is visible when held against the light and typically identifies the maker.

Wire-O Binding: A type of binding in which a wire or plastic spiral is threaded through holes along the binding edge. This allows the printed document to lay flat when opened and is often used for , reports, and calendars.


Xerography: A dry copying process in which black or coloured powder adheres to a statically charged image on paper.


Yellow: One of the four colours of the CMYK colour model.


Z-Fold: A method of folding paper where the folds create a shape resembling the letter Z. This folding style is often used for brochures, letters, and flyers.

ZIP: A method of transferring large file sizes.


We hope this glossary has shed light on the often intricate world of printing. Whether you’re discussing a project with a printer, designing your next big piece, or managing a print order, these terms will help you navigate the conversation with confidence and clarity. Remember, a well-informed print buyer or graphic designer is an empowered one. Happy printing!

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