MindFire Communications, Inc.
Design lingo: the 12 most commonly used graphic design terms, defined.
March 6, 2012 | Dre Manor

"To finalize this design, we need to change all raster images to vector, change it from RGB to CMYK, use more negative space, increase the margins, add bleed and crop marks to note the trim size, change the pixel dimensions and export the file to a pdf.”


Graphic design terminology can sometimes sound like it is a whole different language. And it’s not always possible to rely on your trusted friend "Google.” For example, if you search "vector, " you get this: "A quantity having direction as well as magnitude, esp. as determining the position of one point in space relative to another." Huh? What does this even have to do with design?

To help you navigate this crazy talk, we’ve assembled a handy-dandy list of the 12 most commonly-used graphic design terms and their definitions in laymen’s terms. Here we go:


The smallest element of an image. Photos can be made of thousands and thousands of individual pixels forming what the eye sees as one smooth image.


An image created from pixels. These are the most common form of images. For example, all photos you take with your snap shot camera are raster images.


Graphics made up of lines and shapes created with software programs. Vectors allow you to infinitely resize your graphic without losing any quality.


Acronym for the color space red, green, blue. RGB images are used for on-screen use, like websites, Powerpoints, any online documents.


Acronym for the color space cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). CMYK files are used for printing purposes. You will often hear the term "4-color job," which translates to CMYK.


The space around the content on your page. Margins are often on the edges of your page and in between columns of copy and images.

Negative space

The space around the content on your page, including, but not limited to margins. In other words, it’s the white space, folks! Sometimes in a design, negative space helps to reduce the clutter on the page and drive your message.

Trim size

The final size of a printed piece.


Excess (or extension) of the graphic or image, outside of the trim size. The bleed allows for printed materials to have ink printed completely to the edge of the final piece. For example, if you want the final piece to be 8.5" x 11," with the image printed completely to the edge of the paper, the image bleeds off the page. The document the designer gives to the printer would be 8.5" x 11" with .125" bleed. So the total size with bleed is 8.75" x 11.25" since the .125" is on all four sides of the document.

Crop mark

The marks on the outside of your printed piece, used as guides for cutting the piece down to the final size, or trim size.


Exporting is an alternative method to saving a file. Typically, when you export a file, that file type is no longer editable by the program you created the file in.


Portable document format. This is the most common file type used when you no longer want the file to be editable. It is a great format to use when transferring files (for example between agency and client) to preserve the design and also allows for compression.

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