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Glossary of Printing Terms

Attaching pages and covers using glue, staples, threads, or other fasteners.

    A method of binding magazines and other publications in which the pages are trimmed on all four sides, then glued together, and to the cover, along the backbone edge.

    Method of binding publications that involves folding two-page spreads and binding them together in the gutter using staples, thread, or other means.

An image that runs to the edge of a trimmed page or a diecut. A bleed is printed with excess color beyond the edges of the final image area to allow for variations in trimming or cutting.

Mechanicals, art, or copy ready to be photographed as part of the prepress process. The process of photographing copy has largely been replaced by electronic page composition.


  • CMYK - The acronym for the four basic ink colors used in four-color process printing: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.

  • RGB - Abbreviation for the color system that uses the additive primary colors red, green, and blue to display images. Monitors and televisions display colors as RGB combinations. Images saved in RGB format must be converted to CMYK for most proofing and printing applications.

The process of printing a black and white laser for each color found in a document. E.g. a four-color process document will result in four lasers when color separated: cyan, magenta, yellow, black.

Color separation is the breaking down of a full-color image into the four basic colors used in process-color printing. Color originals are exposed to laser light scanning that, through the use of four color filters can “read” and record the amounts of cyan, magenta, yellow and black that is present. The recorded data is converted into digital form and saved to a computer for further processing and placement into page layout programs.

A means of creating printing plates in which a digital page file is read directly by the platemaking device which then produces the plate.

Written material to be printed. Copy also includes art in some contexts.

The process of cutting specific shapes from paper or board using a specially made metal cutting tool.

A simulation of a printed piece. For example, individual proofs of each page of a publication might be trimmed and bound to simulate one copy of the final printed product. Creating a dummy allows a customer to see the final product before incurring the expense of full-scale production.

When a single photograph is printed using two ink colors it becomes a duotone. The most common two-color combinations for duotones are black plus a color. Duotones can also be created using two PMS ink colors.

Film is photo-sensitized acetate sheet that is exposed to light to capture an image. Film is solid black before exposure. After exposure and processing, film image areas become transparent or clear. Film is used to make “film-based” proofs and printing plates.

The dimensions of a book or folded piece after it has been bound or folded into its finished state.

The dimensions of a book or brochure before it is folded into its final bound size.

Barrel folding is folding a sheet more than one time in the same direction.

An extra-wide page of a publication that is folded to fit within the trim of the publication.

A specific combination of typeface and type size. For example, Times Roman 10 point bold is a font, different from Times Roman 12 point bold.

  • FONT - SANS SERIF: A term that describes type that has no feet or decoration at the ends of parts of letters. ie. Arial

  • FONT - SERIF: A term used to describe type that has feet or decorations at the ends of letter parts. ie. Times Roman

The tonal range from very light gray (1% dot) to solid black (100% dot) in increments of 1% ink coverage.

The reproduction of continuous-tone artwork, such as photography or pencil sketches, through a digital screening process that converts shaded images into solid ink dots of various sizes and concentrations. A few, tiny dots produces highlight areas. A heavy concentration of large dots produces mid-tone and shadow areas.


  • EPS - Encapsulated PostScript. A file that is in a particular form of the PostScript language, which describes the appearance of a printed page.The letters “.eps” are often seen as a file name suffix.

  • GIF – Graphics Interchange Format. One of the two most common file formats for images displayed on the Internet, GIF images are compressed using a proprietary formula and carry the file suffix “.gif”.

  • JPEG - Joint Photographic Experts Group. A file format for images to be transmitted or displayed on the Internet. JPEG format is one of the two most common ways to display images on the Internet. Files usually carry the suffix “.jpg”. JPEG (pronounced jay-peg) files are compressed by selecting one of several compression formulas, depending on the size and quality desired in the final format.

  • PDF - Portable Document Format. A format (Adobe Acrobat) for digital files which allows them to be transported among different devices, platforms, and software applications. BECAUSE THEY ARE VERY DIFFICULT TO EDIT, PDF files are used to transport final versions of files. They carry the suffix “.pdf”.

  • PICT - An early format for saving image files. PICT (short for picture) files no longer work well on output devices.

  • TIFF - Tagged Image File Format. A common file format for exchange of graphic files. They carry the suffix “.tif”.

  • RASTER IMAGES - A method of representing characters or graphics by defining the image as a grid of pixels. These images are often photographs manipulated in Adobe Photoshop.

  • VECTOR IMAGES - A method of representing characters or graphics by defining the edges of shapes in the image. These images are often line art and logos manipulated in Adobe Illustrator.

Device that produces output as film or plates from digital file input.

The process of placing pages in the correct position on the film and printing plate so that the printing, folding, and binding operations result in a publication with the right margins and with correctly ordered pages.

U.S. Postal Service information that is printed on a piece to be mailed.

A type of printing in which ink is sprayed onto the substrate through tiny computer-controlled nozzles.

A piece, printed separately from a publication, that is placed in the publication during the binding operation.

A type of printing, declining in use, in which ink is applied to a plate containing a raised cut of the subject to be printed. Ink is then transferred from the plate to the substrate. Also used for embossing and foil stamping.

The printing process based on the theory that water and oil will not mix. The lithographic printing process uses a planographic plate to control where the printed image will appear. This plate is sensitized to be ink-receptive in the image areas and water-receptive in the non-image areas. After the plate is placed on the printing press, ink is applied to the surface of the plate and stays in the image-designated areas. A miniscule amount of a water solution is applied to, and stays in, the non-image areas of the plate. This process of keeping the ink area separated from the water area has an accuracy of 1/1000 of an inch.

Printing plates that are created with printer’s film negatives are negative-processed printing plates. Negative-processing is also used to make film-based proofs for clients to review before printing begins.

This is different from how many sheets of paper. A single piece of paper has two sides and therefore is two pages.

The tendency of a material to prevent light from being transmitted through it. This term is a characteristic of paper: high opacity prevents showthrough. Thick papers are more opaque than thin papers; rough papers more opaque than smooth; groundwood more opaque than free sheet.

Output is the end result of converting digital art files into prepress materials used for printing production. Imagesetters output film negatives or film positives (used to make printing plates). Platesetters directly output printing plates without the film intermediary.

A complete disk not requiring further production other then to "rip" to film or plate if on a digital press. It should also contain folders for all of your images and fonts used.

Plates are the carriers of the images to be printed. One printing plate is required for each ink color printed. Metal plates are used to produce high quality, close-register printed images. Lesser quality plates can also be made out of plastic and paper.

PMS is the acronym for Pantone Matching System and was developed by the Pantone Company for color identification. The system assists clients, designers and printers to communicate about color. Each PMS color has a unique number and formula for ink mixing. PMS colors are also referred to as “spot” colors.

The four basic ink colors used in process-color printing are cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). These colors are semi-transparent inks that “process” with each other when overprinted in predetermined amounts. E.g., When cyan overprints yellow, it produces shades of green. When yellow overprints magenta, it produces shades of orange. Controlled screen tint combinations of the four basic ink colors allow the full spectrum of colors to be produced on a printing press.

Color separation is the breaking down of a full-color image into the four basic ink colors used in process-color printing. The making of a color separation involves the use of a laser light scanner which, through the use of four color filterings, can “read” and record the amounts of cyan, magenta, yellow and black that is present in any particular area of a color original. The recording of this data is converted into digital form and saved to a computer for further processing and placement into page layout programs.

The term offset is often used interchangeably with lithography. In fact, lithography is the whole printing process (based on the theory that oil and water don’t mix). Offset is a step used within the lithographic process. Offset is a type of printing in which ink is first delivered to a plate, then transferred to a blanket, before being applied to the substrate.

Sheet-fed printing sends pre-cut sheets of paper through the printing press rather than paper fed from rolls.

Web printing feeds paper through the printing press from a roll rather than using pre-cut sheets.

A representation of the content of an element to be printed that predicts to some degree how the print will appear. Proofs may represent color, content, dot structure, and other characteristics of an element to be printed. Different types of proofs vary widely in how accurately they predict the appearance of the print.

    Proofs created using film to carry and transfer the image to the proofing sheet.

    A film-based proof that shows type, graphic images, page layout, folding, and color breaks-but not in color. Bluelines are most often used for one- or two-color printing orders. While the images on the proof appear only in shades of blue, they still show extensive detail in image contrast, shading, and halftone resolution.

    A film-based proof that uses colored acetate overlay sheets to show four-color process printing and 21 other custom ink colors. Each colored overlay sheet is exposed to light using a film negative to control where the printed image will fall. Each overlay is registered with the other colors to be printed and laminated to white proofing paper. Color Keys are not as accurate as other color proofing systems because the color is being viewed through plastic carrier sheets rather than as color directly applied to proofing paper.

    Proofs created directly from digital art files-not film. Examples of digital proofs are toner-based black and white or color lasers or ink-jet prints.

    Film-based proofs are created using printer’s film negatives output from an imagesetter. Film-based proofs are highly accurate representations of what the final printed product will look like and are shown to clients for final review and approval. After approval. the film negatives are used to make the printing plates. Examples of film proofs are Blueline, WaterProof, Color Key, and Matchprint.

    Laser proofs are black and white or color digital proofs. They can be printed as composite or color-separated sheets. Composite laser proofs show all colors that will print on one sheet. Color-separated laser proofs show each ink color to be printed on its own separate sheet. E.g. a four-color process document will result in four lasers when color separated: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black.

    Trade name for a 3M process for making high-quality color proofs from film. A colored film is mounted on a board and exposed to the film containing images to be printed. This is repeated for each color to be printed to produce a full-color proof.

    Soft Proofing, Also known as digital proofing or PDF proofing; electronic proofs (usually in the form of PDF) that are transmitted via e-mail or other electronic method to authors and proofreaders for on-screen proofreading and correction using digital markup and comment tools. Pages or image are viewed on a monitor. Because of the wide variety of ways that different monitors and different platforms display color, this isn’t the best representation of the final colors coming off a press.

How many do you need? It is a good idea to list 3 quantities, as the unit pricing is better when the press is running.

The quantification of output quality designated in dots per inch (dpi) when applied to paper output, and in lines per inch (lpi) when applied to film or plate output. Laser printers commonly hold resolutions from 300 to 1200 dpi. Film output units (imagesetters) use a resolution specified based on the surface type of papers to be printed. Newsprint can hold a resolution from 65 to 100 line screen. Uncoated papers typically use 133 to 150 line screens. Coated papers can hold resolutions of 175 to 200+ line screens. Higher resolution means a sharper, more detailed image with a larger digital file size.

Another name for PMS ink colors. PMS is the acronym for Pantone Matching System and was developed by the Pantone Company for color identification. The system assists clients, designers and printers to communicate about color. Each PMS color has a unique number and formula for ink mixing.

The process of printing a black and white laser for each spot (PMS) color found in a document. E.g. A document designed using PMS 185 red and PMS 286 blue will result in two lasers when color separated.

A lighter weight stock. If there were not a separate cover, then would be the only paper used (i.e. a "self cover") or if there is a separate heavier cover printed then this would refer to the inside paper.

Heavier card type stock and also used for the outside 4 pages of your printed item, should it be different from the text. If it is not, then your printed item is a "self cover".

The process of placing characters and images required for printing in the proper position for use on press. The term derives from the largely obsolete technology that required setting actual pieces of type in a bed to produce required text. While the term is still in use, today it usually refers to typing the proper text, which is then manipulated digitally and with film to make it usable on press.


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