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10 Graphic Design terms explained for non-graphic designers


CMYK, RGB, dpi, vectors and pixels: graphic terms that you often hear in the graphic design world. As a non-designer, all this jargon can be tricky. In this article you will explain the most common graphical terms. 

  1. CMYK

CMYK stands for the colours cyan, magenta, yellow and key. Key means black. This is a color mode used for printing. Logo designs, stationery, business cards, flyers, posters, etc.should all have this color mode. When you use this color mode for use on a screen, the colors will look very weird. That’s why images for a website or social media use the color mode RGB. 

  1. RGB

RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue and is a color mode used for image intended for the display. Images for websites and social media are all in RGB.

What should you do if your file is in the wrong color mode?

You can convert files to a different color mode. You can do this for example in Photoshop. Go to Image > Mode > and choose the correct color mode. In Illustrator choose File > Document color mode > correct color mode. 

  1. Pantone

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is based on 15 basic colours, each of which has its own name. In addition, there are more than 1000 colours that are only indicated by a code. The advantage of PMS colours is that when a pantone colour is printed on the same type of paper, the colours are always identical. With CMYK, there may be small colour differences in the printed matter. If you need 1 or 2 specific colours, Pantone can be a good choice. Does your design have more than 2 colours or does it contain photos? Then CMYK is your only option. Converting PMS colours to CMYK is difficult to get exactly the right colour. Whether or not you have to choose Pantone colours depends very much on how you use the final design. 

  1. DPI

Dpi stands for Dots per inch. These are the number of pixels per inch. One inch is 2.54 centimeters. The more of these dots (pixels) on a small area, the higher the resolution and the sharper the image. For printed matter, the ideal number is DPI 300, the minimum number of DPI is 150. For screens, the minimum requirement is 72 dpi, but for retina screens, double that is actually required. Often 72 dpi on a retina screen will be a bit out of focus, but 144 dpi is super sharp again.

  1. Vectors

A vector-based file is a file that is scalable. Your logo should therefore always be a vector file (.ai or eps), because you can make this file bigger and smaller without loss of quality. Vectors consist of dots. Your logo must always be a vector. It has to be both small and large to use, from business cards to billboards. 

  1. Pixels

Pixels are actually small squares that make an image together. For example, think of the classic Nintendo games: Mario always looked rather blocky, didn’t he? That’s because Mario is made up of small squares, or pixels. The advantage of pixels is that all these squares together in large numbers can give a detailed picture. The downside is that the edges don’t look tight when zooming in. This is in contrast to vectors that have tight and smooth edges at all times.

  1. The confusion with an EPS file

Often customers think that when you have an eps file, it automatically means that you also have a vector file. This is not the case! If you have a pixel-based file and save it as eps then you simply have a pixel-based .eps. Only when your source file is a vector (e.g. an Illustrator file), you also have a vector-based eps file. 


  1. Expiry

By bleed, also known as bleed, is meant an extra edge in printed matter designs. The background (and possibly images) of the design runs through the bleed. This extra edge is usually 3 mm and will be cut off after printing. It ensures that there are no unsightly white edges on the printed matter. Sometimes it happens that when a stack of printed matter is cut clean, it shifts slightly due to the pressure of the knife, so that you could have a small edge of white after the cut. This prevents this problem and ensures that all your printed matter will look neat and tidy. 

  1. Margin

In printing terms, the margin means the free space between the edge of the paper and the printout. It is important that you do not use this space for text, because it can look very messy. In any case, it is not useful to place important elements close to the edge, as this risks causing them to just fall off when you cut them clean.

  1. Logo, logo, word mark

Logo, logo and wordmark are terms that are all used in logo design, but sometimes this can cause some confusion. Often these terms are used interchangeably. A logo often consists of a logo (an icon, monogram, etc.) and a word mark (this is the company name and possibly a slogan or pay-off). A logo is therefore a combination of a logo and a word mark. 

Sometimes a logo only consists of a word mark. A well-known example of this in the FedEx logo. Coca-Cola also only has a word mark as a logo. Most brands cannot afford to only have a logo. This is only possible for the largest brands in the world. For example, Apple only has its well-known logo of an apple with a bite out of it. Nike’s swoosh is also often depicted without their word mark. Of course there are also some exceptions. For example, C&A has a stamp as a logo and FC Barcelona has an emblem.