The world of printing and all the techniques and terminology associated with it can be complicated. Often it can take a while to understand and learn these through years of graphic design experience.
This article consists of a list of some of the most common printing terms with a brief explanation of each. To make it easier to understand I have divided the list into three areas: General printing, Bindings, and Finishings.
Editor’s note: this article was originally published on Psdtuts in May of 2009.
This is the widely used printing method to achieve full colour printing. It is also known as Process, 4 Colour Process or Full Colour Process. It uses only four ink colours: Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K) layed down on the paper as dots which combine to create the illusion of other colours. If you look at any piece of print under a magnifying glass you will notice a matrix of tiny dots of the four colours.
Spot colours are true colours which are pre-mixed to the colour required rather than achieved through a process method on the paper. They are much punchier than process colours and can either be printed on their own (for single or two colour jobs) or printed in addition to CMYK (resulting in a 5 or 6 colour print). It all comes down to cost at the end of the day though, as the number of colours used can potentially be endless.
These are spot colours from the international ink colour matching system from the company called Pantone®. They are designed to allow people in the design and printing industries to specify and match specific colours in the printing process. They are sometimes known as PMS colours (Pantone® Matching System). They can also be created using the CMYK printing process but rarely come out exactly the same colour as in the Pantone® Matching System. Pantone also provide colour specifically for different types of paper and coatings so that a consistent colour can be achieved across a range of products.
These are spot colours that have a metallic constituent in the ink, giving a shiny quality to a range of colours from Pantone®.
By using six colors instead of the standard four in CMYK, it is possible to expand the spectrum on a full colour print job. This system has been developed by Pantone® and results in a bigger visual impact. However, there are higher costs involved due to the extra inks and plates.
This is paper printing stock that has an outer layer of coating on either one or both sides. It is available in a variety of finishes including Gloss, Silk and Dull or Matt, which give slightly different results. They can produce sharp and bright printing due to the fact that the ink is not absorbed into the paper very much and the paper also reflects light well.
This is paper printing stock that does not have an outer layer of coating. It is sometimes preferred by designers for its natural feel. However, the effect is very different to Coated paper because the ink is absorbed and the dots expand. This results in print that is less sharp or bright than Coated paper, depending on the quality of the paper.
A representation of what the finished printed item will look like, so that the designer or customer can check for errors or printing problems before committing to the costs of printing the full job. This will generally consist of either a test sheet from the actual printing press, or a digital printout from a smaller machine. The costs vary greatly between the methods. Some online and discount printers will alternatively provide a digital PDF proof that shows folds, trims and so on. These are quick and easy to approve, however they provide no indication as to how colours or other physical attributes may turn out.
A blank version of a proposed printed document, produced to demonstrate the feel of the paper stock that has been specified and the size of the document. On larger more expensive jobs this can help the designer or customer decide if they are happy with their choice of paper.
Lithographic printing (Litho)
This is a printing of method which uses a metal plate inside a printing press machine. The plate carries the image to be printed, to which the ink is applied. This is then applied to the paper as it passes through the press.
This very common printing method refers to Litho printing where the paper does not actually come into contact with the plate. Instead it is transferred from the plate to a rubber ‘blanket’ cylinder and then onto the paper.
Digital presses accept the digital data of your design and print straight from it, without the need to produce plates or any other such tools. Generally this method is used for shorter print runs as the set up costs are lower and the quality does not always match Litho standards. The main benefits of using digital printing are the short run costs, the possibility of item by item customization,
When two or more colours are printed together, Registration refers to the process of exactly aligning them on the paper so that the image is sharp.
This is a ‘relief’ method printing where a raised surface is applied with ink and then pressed onto a sheet of paper to create the text or image. This results in the text or image being slightly depressed into the surface. Once a common way of reproducing books, these days it is generally used in craft applications such as high quality invitations or letterheads.
To achieve a raised glossy feel in printing (often in business cards) powder is applied to printed ink while it is wet, and is then heated and cured.
This is printing using a continuous roll of paper rather than individual sheets. It is used for very high print runs, such as newspapers.
Applying a varnish coating to a printed surface can add a glossy, silk or matt finish.
This type of varnish is applied to give a very high glossy finish to printed surfaces. It is often used and referred to as a Spot UV, where it is applied to specific places on the print, such as photographs.
Refers to documents where the cover is printed on the same material as the text pages.
There are many different formats and styles for folding smaller documents, but the most common tend to be: 4 or 6 Page Fold, Gate Fold, Concertina Fold and Roll Fold.
Different parts of the world use different standards for paper sheet sizes, but the most widely used system is the ISO standard. This consists of the A series (e.g A4) and the C series for envelopes (e.g C4 envelope for an A4 sheet). There is a B series of intermediate sizes for the A series but it is not so commonly used. RA and SRA (e.g SRA4) sheets are used by printers and are slightly larger than the A series, providing extra grip and trim in the printing process. If you are interested in other size coventions there is a useful guide on the Designers Toolbox website.
Saddle Stitch binding (stapling)
The standard form of binding which uses folded pages inserted into a folded cover, all of which are then stapled through the fold. This method is only suitable up to a limited number of pages (depending on the paper weight) as using too many will result in the finished job buckling and not lying flat. Typical uses are brochures, magazines and small booklets.
This method is for books of at least about 80 pages and gives a hard, durable cover. Pages are sewn together with thread and then the whole thing is glued into the hard cover. It is generally the most expensive method of binding. Typical uses are hardcover books and documents.
Image 2. thanks to Baddeley Brothers.
This method is often chosen for the distinct flat spine it gives, which is useful for documents that will be kept for reference on a shelf. As with Case binding, pages are also stitched together and then glued into a separate (but not hard) outer cover. Often used for documents or brochures that have too many pages for Saddle Stitch Binding. Typical uses are company Annual Reports and paperback books.
Spiral Wire and Wire-O binding
This consists of a line of small holes along the edge of the cover next to the spine. Then, either a Spiral or Wire-O (double loop) wire is then inserted into the holes. The main benefit of this method is that it allows the document to lie flat or be folded over. Typical uses are notebooks and calendars.
This is a very thin plastic coating which is sealed onto the printed sheet in either a Matt or Gloss finish. Matt tends to create a very smooth and professional looking surface, while Gloss creates a very vibrant and shiny effect. Lamination is often used to improve the durability of the printed job, but can add to the costs and be seen as ecologically unfriendly as it cannot be recycled.
A technique where a metallic foil is applied to a specific area of a printed sheet (such as a logo) to create an eye catching shiny effect. The method uses heat and pressure too apply the foil and the result is a much shinier finish than normal Metallic inks. However, it is more expensive as it requires special tools to be made.
Embossing and Debossing
This effect is where a a specific area or detail of a printed job (such as a logo) is either raised up (Embossed) or pressed down (Debossed). This makes the area more tactile and prominent than the surrounding area, or it can be used to suggest a slightly 3-dimensional look, such as a bevel.
This technique refers to either punching an irregular hole in a printed page or trimming the whole sheet in an irregular way. It requires a metal punch tool to be made which adds to the cost, depending on its complexity. Often used in packaging, where unusual shapes need to be created.
This means to completely cover a printed sheet in clear plastic. It gives a much higher level of durability than Lamination and is used on ID badges and surfaces that need to be wiped clean.
Hopefully this article has given you an overview of some common printing terms, but there are many places on the web where you can get more information and advice. Here are a few to get you started: