50 Design terms to make you sound like an expert.

50 Design terms to make you sound like an expert.

I recently had a meeting with a client who was trying to describe exactly what kind of image she wanted me to draw, but the harder she tried the more confused and frustrated she got.

“I want it to be cartoony, but not too detailed, and I want it to tell a story, but not be too busy. The message should be easy to grasp while displaying a little bit of light humour in the background. I need the person to be simple but not just a stick man. And I need it to be easily recognizable as my brand. And I’m going to need a whole series of them.”

I did a quick Google search for ‘old business fax cartoons’

“YES!!! That’s exactly the style if want.”

When you’re talking to your marketing person, graphic artist, designer or printer, there are going to be times when you don’t have the right words to communicate what you need. It’s pretty much the same as when you take your car to the mechanic and try to describe the random whining noise it only makes when you take the dog to the vet.

So here are a few terms that might help you sound like an expert.


  1. Body Copy This is the main text for your website, book, newsletter.
  2. Kerningis the balance of space between the letters, alternatively called letter-spacing.
  3. Leading (pronounced ledding)
    is the space between the lines of text, alternatively called line-spacing.
  4. Ascender, Descender, X-heightAscender is the top part of the t, f, h etc…
    Descender is the bottom part of the g, y, p etc …
    X-Height is the actual height of the lowercase x
  5. Orphans and WidowsA very common term when you have multiple columns of text. The Orphan is when the first line of a paragraph is on its own at the end of a column.
    The Widow is when the last line of a paragraph is on its own at the top of a column.
    It’s good practice to group them in pairs.
  6. Serif and Sans SerifSerif typefaces have the little ‘ticks’ and ‘shelves’ on each letter, while Sans Serif is smooth without the decoration.
  7. Copy
    refers to the editorial text for your brochure, newsletter or website.
  8. Weight
    is the thickness of the line, whether this is the outline on display text, the boldness of regular text, or the thickness of an actual line.
  9. Lorem Ipsum, Gobidy Gook, Greeking is the dummy copy or filler that a designer will put in place while waiting for the real text. It’s very commonly used during the design stage to provide a realistic effect.


  1. Palette is your selection of brand colours that work well together.
  2. CMYK, RGB, HEX are various colour models used depending on the need.
    CMYK is used for offset printing & magazines. (Also known as 4 colour)
    RGB is the standard used in images for digital, website or social media.
    HEX is a colour code used in computer code to identify the RGB colour.
  3. Pantone, PMS Printers and Signwriters will have a swatch chart with specific colours to choose from. Each will it’s own PMS colour but also a CMYK, RGB and HEX associated with it.
    (Many swatches will display coated, uncoated, CMYK & RGB versions of each swatch so you can see how a single colour choice can print differently.)
  4. Greyscale, Mono, Lab are various terms used when you only want a black and white image. Various shades of grey will be used to replace the colours.
  5. Gradient is the gradual change in colour from one to another.
    Linear is from one side to another, Radial is from the centre in a circular pattern to the outside.
  6. Opacity, Transparency is the degree of transparency (see-throughness) an element has.


  1. Resolution, DPI, LPI is the amount of clarity and detail an image has at a specific size. If you enlarge a low-resolution image, it may appear Pixelated or Blurry.
  2. Stock Photo, ClipArt are images you are licensed to use, either by purchased license or through a free service. Note: Royalty Free does not mean you do not have to pay for the license to use the image.
  3. Graphic Formats EPS, AI, PDF, are uncompressed scaleable file commonly supplied for printers, also known as vector files.
    GIF, PNG, SVG is often used for transparent images and line items for digital work
    GIF may also be animated.
    JPG is a photo file which can be supplied either compressed or not.
    TIF is for very large images which can also be kept as in their original layers.
  4. Route, Etch, Mask, Clip
    are all different terms to describe painting out, removing or hiding areas of an image.
  5. Weight
    is the thickness of the line, whether this is the outline on display text, the boldness of regular text, or the thickness of an actual line.
  6. Brandis more than just a logo. Your brand is your overall image, the logo, colours, style, wording, font, dictionary, image styles …
    Each brand should have a Style Guide specifying the requirements.


  1. Margins are the space between elements and around the edge of the page inside the trim area. These should be kept consistent throughout.
  2. Bleed
    is when an element is extended past the trim area so that when the document is cut, there is no chance of unwanted white space around the edge.
  3. Die Cutis a printing term describing that the paper has been cut. You may have rounded die-cut corners on your business card.
  4. Proof
    a copy of the artwork for checking. When you receive your ‘proof’, you should ‘proof-read‘ it carefully for typos.
  5. Comp, Dummy, Hard Copy
    is a mockup made to show what the design project will look like when finished. This may be a booklet roughly paginated, or a box cut and glued together.
  6. Double Page Spread
    usually used in magazines and newspapers, when the layout extends across two pages.
  7. Master
    is the page created with all the repeatable items, such as the head, foot, page numbers etc…
  8. Mockup
    is a rough created so you can check the designer is heading in the right direction. The mockup may be digital, or it might be a pencil drawing with instructions attached.
  9. Overlay, Overprint
    When you want something to appear over another element. This may be text over a photo.
  10. Page Size (or Trim) v finished size.
    is the actual size of the final cut page – before folding.
    eg: A4 (page size) folded to DL (finished size)




Note: Not everything you read on the internet is accurate. While I make every effort to check my facts and stats, this article is base on my opinions from over 30 years in the printing, marketing and advertising industry.

Graphic Artist & Designer
AndyK Design