Say what?! Decoding print industry jargon

Raise your hand if you have at least one friend who is now a self-declared photographer, designer or illustrator. Yeah- we thought so. New advances in the print industry and print on demand mean that everyone can be the next Andy Warhol, and homemade is the new high designer.

So how do you fake your way through a conversation with print industry hipsters and high rollers? We’ve made a handy what’s what of the most used phases and terms in print to help you create the perfect print order, and sound like a regular pro at the same time.


This is essentially just a fancy name for the surface which is going to be printed on. This can be anything from paper and card, to fabric, mirror or even wood. The range of materials which can be used in the modern print industry are so diverse that a more general term is used.


This is an acronym for grams per square meter, and is used to measure how much your print paper weighs. To give you a better idea of how this works, lighter 120gsm paper is most often used for stationary and letterheads, and heavier 350gsm is usually selected for business cards.

Lighter paper is favoured for business stationery because letterheads have to be thin enough to use with desktop printers. Heavier paper is used on business cards to help make them durable and more robust.

Digital printing

This sounds pretty self-explanatory, but without knowing what it really means to the print industry, the significance will be totally lost on you.

Digital printing really only came about in the early 90s and was initially aimed at the fast turnaround and low quantity market. Digital printing means that you can print electronic images or type directly, with consistent, high quality results. It is far quicker and more eco-friendly than standard lithographic printing, which uses aluminum plates to create the reproduced image. Quick, green and high quality- what could be better?


Bleed is the very edge of the artwork which extends beyond the line of where your printed piece will be trimmed. This helps you to make sure that there are no messy edges, white trim or untidiness on your finished print.
It is always recommended that you allow for bleed when designing something which you want to take to print, to make sure you don’t accidentally cut off part of your image or text. The recommendation for bleed is usually 3mm- small, but essential for perfect results!


For truer colours which are more accurate to the images you see on your computer screen, it’s got to be CMYK. This stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black (often referred to as ‘key’) and is digital print’s best friend.
Less preferable for image printing is RGB, which refers to the colours red, green and blue. Using this format in printing can mean that colours in your design come out differently to the ones you’ve used. It’s not ideal, so stick to CMYK!

We hope we’ve managed to shed some light on a few of the more technical aspects of print, and given you some brilliant material to wow your friends with. If there is anything you wanted to know which hasn’t been covered, why not drop us a line on the ‘Contact us’ page or leave us a comment here?


David Brookes
23 Apr 2013 17:22
Thanks for this helpful post :-)
James McCarthy
06 May 2013 20:33
What is the difference between Bleed and Slug?
Ashleigh-Jayne O'Connell
07 May 2013 09:48
Hi James!!

The slug is the area outside of the bleed, which refers to the rest of the canvas or artboard which is not being used.
08 Dec 2015 19:08
Thanks, very useful.

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