Printing Terms Glossary

Print terms can be confusing. To save you from wondering what any of it means, we’ve assembled some of the most popular industry words and phrases and defined them for you in this handy printing terms glossary.

Printing Terms Glossary Index

A | B | C | D | E | FG | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | RS | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Click on the letters above to skip to a specific section of the printing terms glossary.

print terms glossary

A4 paper

The standard paper size (210mm x 297mm) everywhere except the United States and Canada (which is 8.5” x 11”).


Accordion fold

Six panels (front and back) with two parallel folds that go in opposite directions. This creates an accordion style.


Acid-free paper

Paper that deteriorates less over time than regular paper. It’s resistant to acidity from the atmosphere or natural aging.


Against the grain

Moving at right angles to the direction of the grain of the paper being used. It’s sometimes known as cross grain. It’s less than the best quality for four-color printing.



A small tool that sprays a fine mist of paint, ink, or dye. It’s used primarily to retouch photos or create illustrations.



An author or customer change that’s made after the printer or service bureau has received the artwork.



In computer graphics, it’s a process of smoothing the jagged edges between pixels of varying colors, curves, and diagonals. It creates a more blended transition.


Aqueous coating

A clear, glossy or matte coating used to protect printed pieces. It also helps to prevent dirt and fingerprints.



All the original, physical materials or electronic files (like photos, graphics, text) used to create a printed piece.



The part of a lower-case letter that goes above the primary part of the letter (such as d, b, or h).

printing terms glossary


The opposite of italic—this type leans to the left rather than the right.


Back Up

Two images in alignment with one another on two sides of a printed sheet.



Circular line around copy or text, referencing dialogue.


Base line

The imaginary horizontal line for type and punctuation.


Basis weight

The weight (in pounds) of a ream of paper (500 sheets) cut to the basic size for a specific paper grade.


Bible paper

Opaque paper used for Bibles and other books.



The part of a printing department that performs finishing tasks like cutting, folding, collating, and drilling.



The part of an offset press that takes the inked image from a printing plate and transfers it to the printed surface.



Printing that “bleeds” off the edge of a printed page after it’s been trimmed to the final size.


Blind image

Any image that’s not printed with ink or foil. Rather, it’s debossed, embossed, or stamped.



When printed sheets stick together and are damaged when they’re separated. The cause is typically from a lack of anti-offset powder or too much ink.



A prepress proof of a printed piece where all the images and text show as blue on white paper.



A typography term referencing the main part of a letter, excluding the ascenders or descenders.



A strong, durable type of paper that’s commonly used in writing, printing, and photocopying.


Book paper

A category of paper used in the production of books, magazines, catalogs, etc. It can be coated (matte or gloss) or uncoated (aka offset).



The improper positioning of a printed image on paper while traveling through a printing press. The image is “out of registration.” This means the overlapping colors that make up an image are out of alignment.


Bristol paper

Thicker paper between 90 pounds and 200 pounds. It’s used to print anything from documents and brochures to index cards, file folders, and much more.


Bromide paper

A type of photographic printing paper.



Dusting wet ink with a metallic powder (after printing).



The thickness of paper in relation to its weight.



A circle or other mark that’s used to designate importance at the beginning of a sentence or other text.

glossary of print terms

C1S and C2S

Acronyms for coated one side and coated two sides.



The thickness of paper measured in thousands of an inch (mils or points).


Catalog paper

Coated paper with a basis weight between 35# and 50#.


Camera-ready copy

Materials like photographs and art that are ready for reproduction in accordance with the technical requirements of the printing process. It’s also known as finished art.


Carbonless paper

Chemically coated paper that allows images to be transferred from one sheet to another with writing or typing.


Case binding

Books that are bound using hard board (or case) covers.


Cast coating

Paper that’s coated and pressure dried with a polished roller that gives it a hard-gloss finish.


Center spread

The two facing pages at the center of a book, catalog, or magazine.


Chain lines

Blemishes that show up on paper. They’re caused by tracking from the wires of a paper-making machine.


Clip art

Graphics, images, and designs used in a digital document.



In the printing world, CMYK is a popular color scheme that stands for “cyan magenta yellow key.” Key usually stands for black.


Coarse screen

Halftone screen (up to 100 lines per inch) typically used in newsprint.


Coated stock

A mineral coating applied to paper after it’s made. This gives it a smooth, reflective finish.


Coil (or spiral) binding

Metal or plastic wire is spiraled through holes punched in the side of a stack of paper. It’s commonly used in reports or manuals so the pages can lay flat on a surface.


Cold color

Colors that feature hues from blue-green through blue-violet. Most grays are included.



To assemble printed pages in the proper order.



The printer’s or publisher’s emblem and/or statement at the end of a book.


Color balance

The amount of process colors used to simulate the original colors of a scene or image.


Color bars

A color test strip printed on the trim area of a press sheet. This helps a press operator oversee the quality of the printing process (like ink density, registration, and dot gain).


Color cast

Unwanted color that affects the normal color balance of an image.


Color correction

Using image editing software to adjust the elements of a color image (like color balance, saturation, contrast, etc.).


Color gamut

The entire range of hues possible to reproduce on a specific system, like a computer screen, or four-color printing press.


Color key

This is the brand name (and sometimes the generic name) for an overlay color proof.


Color separating

Separating the CMYK color components for printing.


Color sequence

The order of printing process inks on a printing press.


Color shift

Changes in image color during four-color process printing.


Color transparency

A positive color image produced on transparent film.


Comb binding

Binding papers together with round, plastic spines—aka “combs.” It’s commonly used in reports or manuals.


Commercial printer

A printer that produces a variety of printed products—from brochures and books to magazines and posters.


Composite proof

Proof (aka final proof) of all the color separations in conjunction with the graphics, images, and type.


Condensed type

A typeface that’s narrow and elongated.



The process of storing paper in the pressroom prior to printing so it has a chance to match the moisture level and temperature in the room.


Continuous Form

Forms that are folded or wound on rolls with an image and text that continues through a print run. The forms can be personalized with information like names, dates, and more.



The tones in an image, from highlights to shadows.



A specific type of thick paper used for the covers of books and other publications. One sheet amounts to four covers.



How much ink covers the surface of a printed sheet. It’s typically expressed as light, medium, or heavy.


Crop marks

Small printed lines along the edge of a printed piece detailing where a cut is to be made from the larger sheet.



An item (like a line, image, etc.) on one printed page of a book or magazine that carries over to an adjacent page. The crossover area is called a gutter.


Cutting machine

A machine that cuts, scores, and/or creases stacks of paper to a specific size.



This is the C in the CMYK process colors. Cyan is a greenish-blue color. It’s sometimes called process blue.

printing definitions


Part of an offset printing press where rollers transfer a solution to a plate that covers the non-printing area. It rejects ink in those areas.



To stamp an image into paper so it’s indented.


Deckle edge

The edge of paper is left ragged (or feathered) rather than being cleanly cut.



An instrument that’s used to measure the photographic density of ink or color on a printed image (film or photo).



Measured by a densitometer:

  • Ink – The thickness of a layer of printed ink.
  • Color – The ability of color to absorb that light reflected from it or to keep light from passing through it.
  • Paper – How tight or loose the paper fibers are.



The part of a lower-case letter that goes below the primary part of the letter (such as p).


Desktop publishing (DTP)

Using a personal computer to design pages (including all type and graphics), then printing to paper, film, or a printing plate with a laser printer.


Die cut

Cutting irregular shapes into paper using a die.


Digital proof

Page proofs printed via laser or ink-jet printer.



Averaging between different-colored pixels. It creates a smooth transition between the edge of two areas.



The smallest individual part of a halftone.


Dot gain

When halftone dots are printing larger than they should.


Dots-per-inch (DPI)

The measure of resolution from devices like scanners, monitors, laser printers, and monitors.


Double bump

To print in one place twice so it has two layers of ink.



Drilling holes into paper for binding.


Drop shadow

A shadowed image placed behind an image to make it look like it’s raised off the page.


Dull finish

A semi-gloss finish on paper—somewhere between glossy and matte finishes.



A simulation of the final product.



The two-color halftone reproduction of one color photo.


Dye sublimation

A color print produced using heated dyes instead of ink. It’s often used as a proof.



The brand name for the photographic paper that’s used to create blueline proofs.


print definition


To stamp a design into paper so it lies above the surface so it’s raised above the surface.



Paper that’s coated with gloss.



Printing method using a plate (or die) with an image cut into the surface.



Abbreviation for encapsulated post script, a standard file format used to transfer formatting information from one program to another.



A statement that says what a project will likely cost. It’s sometimes referred to as a bid or quotation.



To carve an image into metal, glass, or film with chemicals.

direct mail glossary

Felt side

When paper is created, there are two sides: the felt side, which is smoother, and the wire side, which is rougher. This difference is eliminated when the paper is coated.


Film gauge

The thickness of film (typically 0.004 inches for graphic arts film).



Paper’s surface quality.



The registration of different colors on a printed sheet.



A form of printing on a web press using flexible rubber or plastic plates to print on items that aren’t flat, like cans, bottles, plastics, fabrics, and other items.


Fifth color

A non-standard color added to the 4-color (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) printing process.


Fixed costs

Some costs involved in a print job remain the same regardless of how many pieces are printed. This is typically copywriting, photography, and/or graphic design.



Thin metal sheet (usually gold) applied to paper with foil stamping.


Foil embossing

Embossing a pattern under foil to create a 3D (raised) section.


Foil stamping

Impressing foil onto paper with a heated die.


Fold marks

The markings on printed materials indicating where to fold (typically top edges).



A complete typeface featuring all the characters.


Four-color process printing

The use of black, magenta, cyan, and yellow to produce four-color images. Also known as full-color printing.



For position only. Low-res or mockup images that show where something goes in a design. Not intended for final production.


Free sheet

Paper without wood pulp impurities.


Fugitive Glue

A non-abrasive glue used to bind paper together without causing damage to the paper when it’s pulled apart. It’s sometimes called booger glue.

direct mail terms

Galley proof

A replica proof (oftentimes uncut and unbound) that’s created before printing for review.



Combining multiple print jobs on one sheet of paper.


Gate fold

Two outside panels fold in and meet in the center or gutter.



Also known as collating, this is when sheets of paper and signatures are assembled into the proper sequence.



When a faint image appears on a printed sheet where it wasn’t intended to be. This is caused by the vapors from drying ink that have been transferred from the front of one sheet to the back of another.



Term used to determine the differences between different types of printing paper. It could be the category or class of paper, or the type of finish or brand.



Paper fibers that move in a similar direction on a sheet of paper.


Gray scale

The changes in gray values from white to black.



The metal fingers that holds a sheet of paper while passing through a printing press.


Groundwood paper

Inexpensive paper like newsprint that’s made from pulp.



The inside margins or blank space between printed components or along the edge of the binding of a book.

printing terms glossary


Small dots create the impression of a continuous-tone image. The dots vary by size and number per square inch.


Hairline (rule)

A very small space or thin line.


Halo effect

A slight shadow sometimes seen around printed halftone dots.



The margin at the top of a page.



A mark on the printing plate that creates a spot in the printing.


High-fidelity color

Rather than using a standard four-color printing process, color is reproduced using six, eight, or 12 separations.


High-key photo

A photo whose primary details are located in the highlights.



The lightest tones in a photo, halftone, or illustration.


Hot melt

Binding adhesive that needs heat to be applied.


House sheet

Paper that a printer always has on hand in their shop. It works for a wide variety of print projects.

printing terms defined

Image area

The part of a printing plate that transfers the ink and prints onto paper.



A laser printer that uses photosensitive paper or film.



The proper order of pages to be printed, with all elements in alignment, before making the plates for printing.



An element (text or image) that’s used to replace a stamp on mailing envelopes.


Ink dry back

The part of a printing plate that transfers the ink and prints onto paper.


Inkjet printing

Computer printing process where ink is sprayed through nozzles onto paper, plastic, etc.


Ink fountain

The part of a printing press that holds the ink.



A printed element, page, or thin booklet that’s inserted into a larger piece of printed material.



Abbreviation for International Standard Book Number. This number is given to a published work and it’s usually placed on the front or back of the title page.



Slanted text used to show emphasis.

guide to print terms


The paper covering around a hardbound book. Also known as dust jacket.


Job number

The number assigned by a printing company to a project.



A machine that vibrates to align loose pages for trimming and binding.



Adjusting words and characters so they completely fill a line of text from left to right.

printing terms guide


An abbreviation for black in four-color process printing. The K in CMYK stands for black.



To narrow the space between the letters of a word in order to take up less space.



Lines on artwork that indicate precisely where pictures and other elements are supposed to appear.


Kraft paper

Strong paper used to make grocery bags. Also used for wrapping.

printing industry helpful terms

Laid finish

Paper that looks like it’s hand-crafted. It features textured, parallel lines.



A transparent plastic covering that provides protection to a piece of paper.



Turning a piece of paper so the width is longer than the length. Its opposite is portrait.



The final placement of all the elements on a page.



The space between lines of type on a page.


Letterpress printing

Printing from a raised, inked metal plate onto sheets or a roll of paper.



Adding space between typeset letters.


Line copy

Reproducing copy without a halftone screen.



Paper with the look and feel of linen cloth.



Using a treated flat surface to make the printed images. The ink is repelled except for where it’s required for printing.


Live area

The space on a mechanical where images will print.


Lock Up

Where the ends of a printing plate meet. Because no ink is transferred here, it’s sometimes moved so there’s a bleed on the printed piece.



The combination of letters and/or an image(s) to create the official symbol for a company or product.


Loose leaf

Paper that’s not bound. It features punched holes so it can be inserted into a binder.



A small magnifier used to look at the details on a page.

printing terms useful glossary

M weight

The weight of 1,000 sheets of any size paper.



One of the four process colors. The M in CMYK stands for black.


Magnetic black

Black ink with iron oxides in it. It’s used for magnetic ink character recognition.



The setup process in preparing a press for a print job, including the paper.



Instructions for a printer written on “dummy” copy.


Match print

A four-color process proofing system.


Matte finish

A flat finish on coated paper.



Camera-ready collection of type, graphics, and any other elements with instructions for the printer. A hard mechanical features paper with paste-ups while a soft mechanical is a computer file with the necessary information.


Metallic ink

Ink that’s made with powdered metal or pigments that look like metal. The colors are typically silver and gold.



Tones between highlights and shadows created by dots between 30- and 70-percent coverage.


Mock up

A reproduction of the original, possibly including instructions.



When halftone screens are overprinted, it results in an undesirable pattern.



Ink absorption that’s spotty or uneven.

complete print term glossary


Beige color of paper that’s also sometimes referred to as off-white, ivory, cream, light brown, or antique.



A lightweight, inexpensive style of paper used primarily for printing newspapers.



Beige color of paper that’s also sometimes referred to as off-white, ivory, cream, light brown, or antique.


Neutral gray

A color of gray without any hue or cast.


Non-heatset web

A web press that doesn’t feature a drying oven, thus it can’t print on coated paper.


Non-impact printing

Printing via laser, ink jet, heat, or ions in order to apply images onto paper.


Non-reproducing blue

A specific color of light blue that won’t show up on graphic arts film. It’s used to write instructions on mechanicals or layout grids. Aka non-repro blue.


Novelty printing

Printing on promotional products rather than paper—typically pens and pencils, golf balls, coasters, and much more.

abcs of print marketing

Offset printing

The most common method of printing. Ink is transferred from a printing plate to a rubber blanket to the paper.


Offset paper

Uncoated book paper.


Onion skin

Very lightweight paper typically used for typing. It’s rarely used anymore.



Level of transparency of paper and the ability to prevent two-sided printing from showing through on the other side.


Overlay proof

A color proof where each sheet (made of polyester) represents the image to be printed in one color. As each sheet is laid on top of one another, together they form a layered proof.


Over run

When a print job produces more than what was requested.

print glossary definition

Page count

The total number of pages in a printed work, such as a book or other publication.



The ordered numbering of pages in a book.



A type of paper typically used for documents to be framed, where some handwriting is involved.


Perfect binding

Multiple sheets that are bound to the cover with glue.



Unit of measurement in printing—roughly one-sixth of an inch (0.166 inches).



When a tack of ink pulls some of the fiber or coating off the page as it runs through the press. This leaves spots on the printed page.


Plastic comb

A plastic binding device that holds pages together.



A one-use metal sheet that attaches around a cylinder on a printing press. It features an emulsion of the printed area.



Abbreviation for Pantone Color Matching System.



Unit of measurement equal to 1/72 of an inch. There are 12 points to one pica and 72 points to one inch.



Turning a piece of paper so the length is longer than the width. Its opposite is landscape.



Abbreviation that stands for pages per inch or pixels per inch.



Any paper that’s manufactured above the top-quality grade.



The process of receiving files, proofing them, and then transferring them to printing plates.


Press check

When a client visits a printer to check on the quality of the printing process before the full production begins.


Press proof

A printed sample that looks like the finished product.


Press time

The amount of time one job spends on the printing press or the time of day it’s scheduled to be printed.


Printing plate

The surface that transfers an image to be printed.



A test sheet that’s produced to check for mistakes and show what the final printed piece is supposed to look like.


Proofreader marks

The symbols and abbreviations that are used to mark up and correct changes and/or mistakes in proofs.


Proportion scale

A round device that calculates the percentage an original image has to be enlarged or reduced to become a specific size.

print industry lingo


When a sheet is folded twice, it makes pages one-quarter of the original size.



The price estimate offered by a printer to complete a specific job.

printing definitions glossary

Ragged left

Right-justified type that’s uneven on the left.


Ragged right

Left-justified type that’s uneven on the right.



A package of paper that includes 500 sheets.


Recycled paper

New paper made from old paper.



When two or more images are in perfect alignment with one another.


Register marks

The use of crossmarks and/or symbols to achieve proper registration.



How clear an image appears on any given medium (print, computer screen, etc.).



Abbreviation for red, green, and blue. These are the colors a computer uses to show color on a screen. RGB files must be converted to CMYK before printing.


Rich black

Using multiple colors of ink to produce a deep, dark black color.


Right-angle fold

Folds that are at 90 degrees to the fold before it.


Right reading

When the orientation of a photo looks like the original (not reversed) or when text reads in the language it was originally intended.


Running head

A title line or lines appearing at the top of every page in a book or chapter.

print glossary guide

Saddle stitch

Binding printed materials with staples along the fold in the spine.


Satin finish

A dull finish on coated paper.



The percentage that photos or art should be made larger or smaller to become the correct size for printing.



Creasing paper with a metal rule to make it easier to fold.


Screen printing

Printing by forcing ink through a mesh fabric and stencil.


Self cover

The cover of a publication that’s the same paper stock as the inside sheets.


Self mailer

Printed material that’s designed so it doesn’t need an envelope to be mailed.



Individual pieces of film for four-color process printing. There is one sheet per color for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK).


Self mailer

Printed material that’s designed so it doesn’t need an envelope to be mailed.



The darkest areas of a photograph.


Sheetfed press

Unlike the more popular web offset press which prints from a roll of paper, this is a press that prints sheets of paper.


Side guides

Guides affixed to the sides of a printing press that help to keep the sheet in the proper position as it feeds through the press.



The amount of evenness on the surface of the paper.


Soy inks

Environmentally friendly ink that’s made with vegetable oil rather than petroleum as its base.


Spiral bind

Binding with metal or plastic wire spiraled through holes in the printed piece.



Paper that has to be thrown away rather than delivered to a customer because of a mistake or an accident during the printing process.


Spot color (varnish)

Ink that’s applied only to specific areas of a printed sheet.



Facing pages that are designed to work together.



A low-cost photographic print of a halftone or line art.



A type of paper from a wide variety of unprinted papers.



Abbreviation for the specifications of web offset publications.


Synthetic paper

Any paper not derived from wood or cloth. It typically has a petroleum base.

printing terms glossary


Half a broadsheet or half the size of a standard newspaper.


Text paper

A lightweight but high-quality type of printing paper.



Slow-drying ink is applied to paper and while it’s still wet, it’s dusted with a colorless resin powder. During the drying process, the powder melts, creating a raised surface on top of the ink.



Abbreviation for tagged image file format—a computer file format that’s used to save images.



Adding white to a solid color so it lightens that color.



Printing one ink over top of another as a coating or varnish and overlapping them so no white space is visible.


Trim marks

Marks on a printed sheet that show where to cut the sheet to its final size.


Trim size

The final size of a printed piece after being cut from the paper it was printed on.



A spelling mistake.

marketing terms glossary

Undercolor removal

Removing cyan, magenta, or yellow from an image to reduce the amount of ink applied.



The number of like pieces that can be printed on one larger sheet—eg. one up, two up.


UV coating

A shiny, high-gloss liquid coating that’s applied to printed materials, then cured with ultraviolet light.

direct mail glossary

Variable data printing

Digital printing where text and graphics may be changed from one printed piece to the next, without stopping or slowing down the printing process.



Liquid that’s applied to paper as a protective coating.


Vellum finish

Slightly rough finish of paper.



Decorative design addition that fades to darker or lighter.


Virgin paper

Paper that’s made only from tree pulp or cotton, not recycled.



Abbreviation for volatile organic compounds. Many printed inks are made with a petroleum base.

print terms glossary

Warm color

Colors that feature reddish tones as opposed to blue tones. Warm colors would include browns, oranges, reds, and yellows.


Wash up

Cleaning ink from the various parts of a printing press.



A luminous mark that’s embossed on paper and visible when it’s held up to the light.


Web press

Popular printing press that prints on rolls of paper as opposed to individual sheets (eg. a sheetfed press).



One or two words that appear on their own line at the end of a paragraph. These words could also get bumped to a page all their own. From a printing perspective, it’s a undesirable look that can be fixed with some clever copywriting.


Woodfree paper

Paper made with wood that’s been processed into a chemical pulp.



Smooth paper with a lightly patterned finish.

printing terms glossary

Xerographic paper

Paper that’s created to work especially well in photocopiers.

print glossary guide


This is the Y in the CMYK process colors.

print glossary guide

Zip file

When files are “zipped,” they’re compressed into a smaller archive. This type of file takes up less space, so it’s faster to send via email.