be print savvy: an a-z guide to printing terms

Benjamin Burrows

Managing Director

be print savvy: an a-z guide to printing terms

Like any industry, commercial printing uses jargon that you may not always understand.

This A-Z guide to printing terms will help you get to grips with commonly used words and phrases so you can feel more confident when you brief your next printing project.

A to Z graphic

Do you know what RGB and CMYK mean? Is the difference between litho and digital printing completely clear?

Whether you’re a regular print buyer in need of a refresher, or a complete novice wanting to get to grips with unfamiliar printing terminology, we hope this will help:

Bleed – extending an image or colour beyond the finished trim

Case binding – attaching covered board to a block of pages to create a hardback book

CMYK – abbreviation of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, the coloured inks used in 4-colour process printing. Why K for black? It stands for ‘Key’, the colour to which the other colours are aligned

Coated paper – paper coated with China clay to create a smooth surface. The coating stops the ink from soaking into the paper, producing sharper images and better contrast

Colour conversion – changing colour specifications from RGB to CMYK or spot colours

Colour gamut – a range of colours produced by a given set of inks

Colour value – a description of a colour’s lightness or darkness

Colour variance – a slight change in the ink’s appearance on a printed surface during a print run

Deboss – the process of pressing an image or design onto paper so that it is indented below the surface (the opposite of emboss)

Digital printing – a printing process where digital files are reproduced directly onto paper using inkjets or dry toner presses

Double-page spread – two facing pages in a bound document

Emboss – creating a raised image or design on the paper’s surface (the opposite of deboss)

Endpapers – sheets of paper fixed to the inside covers at the front and back of a book

Extent – the number of pages in a document

Foil – a layer of thin metal stamped onto a printed surface or book cloth using heat and adhesive

Fold line – an indication of where the printed sheets will be folded

Gloss lamination – a film applied after printing to create a high gloss finish

GSM – abbreviation of Grammes per Square Metre, the measurement of paper weight

Greyscale printing – using only black ink to produce a range of grey tones from black to white

Ink density – the amount of ink absorbed or reflected by light on a surface. Ink density is measured on press to ensure colour consistency

Ink saturation – the point at which ink is absorbed into a surface

Leaf/Leaves – a sheet/sheets of paper

Lithographic (litho) printing – the highest quality and most productive way to print. Litho printing is a process in which aluminium plates are imaged using lasers. The image area is greasy, repelling water, and the non-image area is receptive to water. On press, a damping system, tightly balanced with the inking system, allows ink to be precisely transferred to a compression blanket cylinder and the image is pressed onto paper

Matt lamination – a film applied after printing to create a matt finish

Offset printing – another term for Lithographic printing (see above)

Out of gamut – inability to accurately reproduce on-screen colour(s) in print

Overprint – one colour being printed directly over another causing them to mix

Perfect binding – binding pages to a soft cover using hot melt adhesive under pressure

Proof – a pre-production representation of how your files will look when printed

Proof slip – a legal contract that confirms details such as the size, extent, choice of materials, etc, and that the proof is correct and approved to print

RGB – an abbreviation for Red, Green and Blue, the building blocks of on-screen colour

Quiet area – a margin that prevents text and images from entering the bleed area

Rich black – a darker black than ‘Standard black’ (see below) produced by combining Cyan, Magenta and Yellow ink, traditionally 100% K + 50% C

Saddle stitch – a simple way to bind folded pages together using wire or staples along the spine

Section – a collection of usually 16 or 24 sides printed on a single sheet which is folded to create collated pages for binding (also known as a ‘signature’)

Side – a printed page

Silk paper – a coated paper with a smooth finish and slight sheen

Soft touch lamination – a film applied after printing with a soft, velvety texture

Spot colour – a specific solid colour that is premixed, rather than formed from the CMYK process, usually a Pantone colour

Spot UV – a gloss varnish applied to highlight specific areas of print and cured with UV light

Standard black – the colour produced with 100% K ink

Thread sewn – a traditional and hardwearing way to bind pages using thread to bind page sections together prior to attaching either a soft or hardcover

Trim line – a guide indicating the finished size of the printing

Uncoated paper – paper with no coating or finish which has an absorbent surface and tactile feel. This allows the ink to soak into the paper, producing softer images.


If that was a lot to take in, why not bookmark this page for easy reference when you next come across a printing term that you’re unsure of?

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert to work with us. We’re always happy to explain your options, share our printing know-how, and show you in person what results you can expect from your choice of paper and printing techniques. Our goal is to help you achieve the results you want, within your budget and timeframe. We've created several quick guides to help you get a better understanding of design and printing topics, including:

If you have a question about how to achieve the best print results, give us a call on 01865 242098 or contact us using the button below.

get in touch button
Sort by: