Essential Terms Every Graphic Designer Should Know

Essential Terms Every Graphic Designer Should Know (And a few tips tossed in just for kicks!)

OMG I thought to myself. Where do I begin and how can I even do any graphic design at all to try to save me the cost of getting it done professionally.

Well it all started with searching the web… and searching some more… and more again!

Below is what I found and definitely helped. The great thing about it is not only did I teach myself the terminology of graphic design but I also learned the ‘lingo’ so that I can talk to and understand other graphic designers as we discuss requirements.

If you are a part-time or new designer, definitely someone in marketing, you should know that today, roughly 45% of visual content will be shared social media. It’s now become obvious and even necessary for all us marketing types to become familiar with basic knowledge of key design terms.

So, whether you’re a new designer, or maybe you are just a little curious, need a refresher or are simply trying to decipher your designer’s emails, sit back and relax as we break down some common terms for you.



The golden ratio occurs with two objects which, once you divide the larger by the smaller, result in the number 1.6180 (or thereabouts). The most famous golden ratio is the golden rectangle, which can be split into a perfect square and a rectangle the same aspect ratio as the original rectangle.
By using the golden ratio, you can ensure your images are eye-catching and beautifully formatted. Here’s an example of the golden ratio being used to divide space between the body of a website and the sidebar. Your eyes will follow a natural movement from the main page to the side-bar and back without proportion or size distractions:



The artistic arrangement of a word in a readable and visually appealing way. Typography usually concerns the design of each letter in a way that helps to better visually communicate ideas.




A serif is the little extra stroke or curves, at the ends of each letter.




“Sans” literally means “without”, and a sans serif font does not include any extra stroke at the ends of the letters.


This is the space between two characters in your type (between letters for example). Kerning usually aims to achieve a more proportional and pleasing balance of space between each character.


CMYK or ‘Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key’, is a color model that is used for print purposes. CMYK is a subtractive color, this means that we begin with white and end up with black. So, as we add more color, the result turns darker.



7. RGB
This refers to the area outside the trim that still prints in case the cuts are not exact. It gives the printer a small amount of space to account for the movement of the paper and design inconsistencies.



The ‘Pantone Matching System’ is a standardized system of colors for printing. Every Pantone shade is numbered, making it much easier for people to reference and identify exact shades of color.


This refers to the area outside the trim that still prints in case the cuts are not exact. It gives the printer a small amount of space to account for the movement of the paper and design inconsistencies.
Bleed is the overprinting edge of the sheet before trimming, In other words, the bleed is the area to be trimmed off. The cutting process may not be 100% accurate and is also an allowance for a margin of error of the design inconsistencies.


11. IMAGE FILE TYPES – Saving the best AND longest for last!
It can be a bewildering experience trying to save, if you’re not sure what you’re doing or the difference between image types after you’re done your design. We’re here to demystify the process for you by helping you understand the cold, hard truth:
There are only a handful of image formats that really matter.
Before we dive in you need to know each file format serves a particular purpose. But also be aware that a lot of them are specialized file types that you’ll never use, especially when designing for print.
Okay so that said, let’s get down to figuring out the image file types that matter most.
Raster vs. Vector images
To fully understand the difference between the image file types available to you, you first have to know the difference between vector file formats and raster file formats.
Raster images are created with pixels, and can be anything from simple illustrations to complex images like photographs.
Because raster images are made from a fixed set of pixels, they experience a loss of quality whenever resized, especially when you’re trying to make them larger. Raster images are typically used as the final product—something that is ready to be sent to the printer or published online.
Vector images aren’t exactly images at all—they’re like mathematical formulas that communicate directly with your computer to tell it what kind of shapes to render. Because of this, vector images can easily be changed or resized without any loss in quality, since the formula simply adjusts to render a new illustration at the desired size.
Vectors are typically used to create illustrations, text and logos, but they can’t handle complex images such as photographs. Vectors are typically used as working files (which are later converted to raster images for the web), but they can also be used as print-ready artwork.
Know your file types
 Both raster and vector file types are blanket terms that envelope a wide spectrum of different file types with different functions, purposes, benefits, advantages and disadvantages.


Raster Formats

The JPEG or JPG file format uses lossy compression, which is great when you want to reduce image file size, but isn’t high enough quality to look good in print and definitely shouldn’t be used for a logo design.
Because of this low file size, JPEGs are primarily used in web design, as the format allows web pages to load faster. The JPG format is also used heavily in digital photography, since the loss in quality isn’t as noticeable and the low file size means being able to store more photographs on a memory card or hard drive.
JPG has become somewhat of a “default” file type for those outside of the design industry.


Either way you sat it, “jif” like the peanut butter or the hard “G” Gif, the acronym stands for Graphics Interchange Format and it’s a file type used primarily in web design.
The biggest thing GIFs have going for them (in comparison to other web image formats) are their ability to be animated; you’ve probably seen plenty of them in the form of funny cat memes and reaction GIFs.
GIFs can also handle transparencies and maintain a low file size. However, low is a relative term here—the more colors you use, the larger your GIF will be, which doesn’t really make it a good format for photography (unless you need it to be animated for some reason).


The PNG format combines qualities of JPG and GIF, but it’s also in a league of its own. Like JPGs, PNGs are great for detailed images like photographs, but they’re also capable of producing higher quality images than JPG.
Like a GIF, PNG can include transparencies, so it’s a boon to digital designers who want to use transparent elements but don’t want to sacrifice image quality.
The biggest downside to files with a .PNG extension is that the high image quality comes at the price of image size, so too many of them can slow down a website’s load time. They’re best when used sparingly on the elements that absolutely need better quality than what a JPEG or GIF can handle (such as high resolution logos). PNG is also a raster image type, so you’ll lose some of that quality if you need to resize your graphics.


TIFF (or sometimes TIF) is a lossless file format, which means nothing is lost when the file is saved and compressed. TIFFs also have the capacity to support layers.
For this reason, it’s common to see TIFF referred to as the “print-ready” image format, though many printers prefer to work with native file types such as AI and PSD.
The TIFF file format is big—too big to ever be used in web design. Be sure to have copies of your design in formats that can be used for other media.


PSD is Adobe Photoshop’s native format, meaning files of this type can be edited non-destructively in Photoshop.

You’d never embed a PSD on a web page and it’s not a great choice for sending clients previews of your design (unless they’re familiar with Photoshop), but it’s a great format for sending to printers and fellow designers.

Vector Formats



EPS is a standard vector file format—which means it’s basically just a bunch of formulas and numbers that create a vector illustration. It’s an essential file format for any type of design element that might need to be resized, including logos.
The EPS file format is print-ready, but it’s not something you’d ever use directly in web design. Instead, EPS design elements are usually converted to PNG, JPG or GIF for use on the web.
Design elements saved as an EPS can be loaded into any design program that supports vector illustration and can be resized or altered.


The AI file type is like EPS’s Adobe-branded cousin—both are vector file types, but AI is Adobe Illustrator’s native format. Anytime you edit, save, or open an ongoing project in Illustrator, you’re working with an AI file.
An AI file can’t be embedded on the web and it’s likely to make your head spin unless you’re a tech savvy Adobe geek. But it’s good for internal use and sharing with your printer.

Other File Types


Adobe’s PDF file format is the best of both worlds—good for both digital and print distribution. It’s a file format that will please both your client and your printer, while also giving you the option to share directly with the audience as well. PDFs may contain either raster or vector images, or even a bit of both.
You’ll hardly ever embed a PDF directly on a website, but you can offer it as a downloadable file that can be read on any PDF reader. It’s also a good file format for sending to your client as a preview of what their final design will look like.
However, this only really works for book-shaped documents like brochures or pamphlets. For print designs that have to be cut and assembled (like presentation folders), you’re better off using a mock up template to show your clients what the final design will look like.


Graphic Files Types


Read more about the Difference Between Bitmap and Vector Images

Ready to apply these graphic design terms?
Understanding graphic design terms is just a small step in dealing with your vendor or becoming a part-time or professional designer yourself.
Now that you’ve got a strong start in expanding your graphic design vocabulary and knowledge, it’s time to take it to your next level!

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