15+ Basic Print Terms

Printing terminology can be quite confusing, but this post will help you get started. It defines the most commonly used printing terms in a way that is easy to understand.

  • Lithograph printing: A lithograph is any printmaking technique that uses a flat surface, such as stone or metal, to transfer ink onto paper. Lithographs are not etched but they can be printed by using different types of printing presses.
  • Etching printing: An etching requires acid to bite into the material below the surface of the plate in order to leave an image on paper. Etchings are most often printed with offset printing because it doesn’t require special equipment like other techniques do.
  • Batch production: Batch printing is the process of printing many prints of the same design at one time. Batch printing works best for large quantities because it cuts down on individual setups, set-up costs are less expensive than they would be with a single unit order, and setup times can be faster.
  • Binding: Binding is the final step of making a printed piece lay flat and stay in tact. When books are bound, paper stock is inserted into cases where they are glued onto a spine which forms an edge for each page. As you can see below, this makes the pages easier to flip through quickly! Even though many commercial printers use machines to bind their work, there are still some jobs where people do it by hand.
  • Bleed: Bleed is a term used when the image extends beyond the edge or trim of the paper. Printing images with bleed is important because it ensures that all of your artwork will print and allow you to have a finished product without any unwanted white space on your printed piece.
  • Colour: A color separation is a way of printing that uses different colored inks in order to create different colors. This technique works best with spot colors which are only one color in different sizes (i.e., PMS 485 C). Spot color separations are necessary because it would be very hard, if not impossible, to get 100% coverage of a solid ink using only CMYK process colors alone (cyan, magenta, yellow & black). The image below shows how each process color results into different solid print colors when used separately from others.
  • Die-Cut: Die-cutting is the process of cutting shapes out of paper with a die. This can be done by hand or through machines and it is most often used in printing because it creates shippable, mass produced products.
  • Digital Printing: Digital printing is when advertising images are printed on a computer using software and/or specialty printers called digital presses. These machines work like traditional offset presses but they print from files instead of plates. It’s important to note that there are two different types; direct-to-plate and direct-to-press (as described below). Direct-to-plate involves the creation of plates where ink is transferred directly to press while direct-to print does not use these plates at all instead opting for full color directly on the press.
  • Process Colours: Process color is a term used to describe four colors CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow & black) that are mixed together in equal parts to create different printed colors. For example, if you add red to your mix of process color it will result into orange; however if you add blue to the same mix it will result into green. This technique can be used on its own or as a back up for spot colors which are only one color in different sizes (i.e., PMS 485 C).
  • Foiling: Foiling is the process where metallic or colored ink is applied to a printing surface in order to create attractive visual effects. Depending on how you apply it, foiling can either give your piece a thin shiny glaze or an opaque coating. When the ink comes into contact with heat such as that which would be produced by a printing press its color becomes apparent. It’s important to note that foil jobs are higher priced and require strict attention to detail in order for them to look seamless and beautiful.
  • GSM: GSM or “grams per square meter” is a term used to describe the thickness of paper. The higher the GSM, the thicker and better quality your sheet will be.
  • Image ownership: Image ownership refers to whether or not you are one hundred percent legally allowed to print an image on whatever product you’d like. If this is covered in your contract it’s known as “all rights.” On the other hand, if it states that you have been given usage rights only then you must contact the owner directly for permission and negotiate terms before going any further with your project.
  • Lightfastness: Lightfastness is a measure of how long an ink color can withstand light exposure without loosing its brilliance or brightness over time. Inks used for packaging and printing are specially formulated to resist fading over long time periods. It is extremely important that you check the lightfastness ratings of inks with regards to your specific product because they will fade differently depending on what the colors are printed upon.
  • Litho: Litho refers to one of two print methods; lithography or offset printing. Lithography is a printing technique where an image is drawn chemically onto a plate (via crayon, pencil etc) after which it’s exposed to stone (lithographic limestone). After being dipped into water and scraped off this same image now appears on paper as raised ink. The second method, offset printing, is when liquid flows from one reel head onto another creating images sheets in multiples.
  • Lithographic limestone: Lithographic limestone is a soft stone that is used in lithography and offset printing. After the image has been drawn onto it, this same medium is dipped into water to reveal an image on paper as raised ink.
  • Laminating: Laminating is the process in which a thin transparent plastic sheet is glued to colored stock, wrapping it securely. This same process can also be used for packaging. Laminations are typically made as matte or gloss finishes and come in varying thicknesses depending on how much you’d like to spend.
  • Quiet Zone: Quiet zone is the portion of a print piece that doesn’t contain any printing. For example, if your project contains an image A1 and this same image runs off the edges of a page onto the next it is known as a quiet zone. Many printers charge extra for quiet zones although some are willing to work with clients on pricing arrangements depending on how tight their budgets are.
  • Spot UV: Spot UV (i.e., ultraviolet) refers to coating or overprinting parts of your printed piece with reflective material. This can be done so in order to draw attention, make packaging appear more luxurious, or just finish off a job quickly and efficiently. It’s important to note that spot UV jobs are higher priced than regular ones as they require special finishes and inks.
  • Trim: Trim refers to the part of your printed piece that has not been coated with a laminate or film. Therefore, anything that is visible before you laminate a print job is referred to as trim.

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