Printing Terminology

Creating designs and layouts for an offset printing project may seem like a daunting task, but it really isn’t too difficult. Most printers usually have a set of specifications they require to ensure the file is print ready. Before you can feel comfortable creating your layouts, you must have a good understanding of the terminology that is used in the print industry. Below are some definitions that will help you speak the same language as your printer.

File Formats: A file format is how the information within the file is encoded, organized, and read. You can look at the extension of the file name, such as .pdf, or .tiff, and determine the format of that file. Some printers accept different file formats than others, so it is important to check with your printer before you begin creating your file. Examples of common acceptable file formats for print-ready designs are:

Bleeds: A bleed is the portion of your design that extends past where the page will actually be cut or trimmed. Offset printers can not print to the exact edge of the paper. Printing companies achieve this effect by printing past what will become the edge, cutting it to size, and thus creating a new edge. Bleed is important when you want a background color to appear on the entire printed material.

Safety Zone: A safety zone is a margin around the entire layout. All crucial design items should remain within the safety zone, most importantly text. It is common for photographs and other graphic elements to extend past the safety zone and into the bleed area because they are being used as part of the background. But any important content such as company name or phone numbers should always be placed within the safety zone.

Trim Marks: Trim marks identify the area on your design where the cuts will be made. The trim marks should fall at the exact measurements for the size of the finished product.

Color Profiles: There are two types of color profiles. RGB (red, green, blue), and CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). Computer monitors display color in RGB. The majority of printers use the CMYK color profile. When creating your files, it’s important to create them using the proper color profile. This will ensure the colors you want to be included in your piece get reproduced correctly.

Paper Stock: Paper stock refers to the type of paper you want your designs to be printed on. Not all paper is the same, business cards and postcards are typically printed on a thicker paper stock than a print brochure or a flyer. Paper stock variables include things such as thickness and durability. Some paper stock is better for writing on, while other paper stock may be made from recycled materials.

Finish: Some printers will give you the option of selecting a specific coating to be applied to your printed material. The coating is applied at the end of the printing process. Coatings can be glossy as well as matte, and some help protect the finished product.

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