Printing Terminology Explained for Graphic Artists

Printing terminology is often very specific to the industry and can sometimes be confusing for the ‘uninitiated’.  Most of our customers and the general public abroad often don’t understand the different printing processes and techniques commonly used or the specific terminology associated with each.

I have compiled a list of commonly misunderstood printing terms, with a brief explanation and context for each term. I hope that this can help make your future printing experiences as pleasant as possible.

Offset Printing – A production process that prints using a sheetfed printing press –  this is a mechanical printing process using blankets, rollers, plates and ink. Offset printing is the ‘analogue camera’ or ‘Vinyl Record’ of the printing world. 

Quality is better than digital printing and the initial set-up costs are higher, but run on costs are much lower. This style of press is commonly used to produce flyers, presentation folders, annual reports, magazines, business cards etc.

There are different types of offset printing such as CMYK and PMS spot colour.

Digital Printing

This term refers to printing on a digital press, which is similar to an extremely high-end photocopier.  Digital printing presses are great for short runs – they have no setup costs but have a high cost per sheet when compared to offset printing. Colour matching is also more difficult on a digital press as the colour adjustment mechanism are less fine than that of an offset press. Digital printing presses are commonly used to manufacture training manuals, workbooks, short runs of brochures, business cards, drop cards, flyers, stickers & labels etc.

Wide Format Digital Printing

The printing of marketing material, vehicle signage and point of sale products using a roll-fed digital printer – capable of very high-resolution prints, at sizes only limited by the width of the roll.  No set-up costs, but a comparatively high cost per print. This printing technology is used in the production of banners, signage, pull up banners, vehicle signage, vinyl stickers etc.

Continuous Printing

This term refers to the ‘roll-fed’ or ‘web-fed printing press – a mechanical printing process using blankets, rollers, plates and ink. Similar to the sheetfed offset press, except that setup costs are higher and run on costs are lower. Used for newspapers and very long run magazines etc.

Print Ready PDF

Specific file preparation is required to create a ‘print-ready’ file that can be submitted for production. The industry standard in QLD, Australia is a high-resolution PDF file with trim marks and 3mm Bleed on all edges. The file resolution should be 300dpi at true size. Fonts must be converted to curves/outlines. All effects should be flattened. The Adobe creative suite has become the industry standard software over the last decade.

Trim Marks

These are the small lines that you may have noticed at each corner of print-ready artwork files. These lines are used as indicators so the guillotine operator can easily create a perfectly ‘square’ product at exactly the required size.


This refers to the 3mm on each edge of the extra background that is printed and then trimmed off to ensure the colour runs to the edge. This is only relevant if there is a solid background colour, or photo in the background of your business cards, brochures etc. Files that are supplied without bleed and trim marks can only be printed with a white border.

Digital Proof

This is a digital ‘viewing proof’ that is sent to the client via email. Generally, these proofs are lower resolution than a print-ready file for ease of emailing. By giving proof approval,  the client is taking responsibility that they have carefully checked all spelling, ph numbers etc, and the artwork is ready to proceed with printing of their Posters, Banners, Letterheads etc.

CMYK Full Colour

This refers to the CMYK colour spectrum, which is used in 4 colour processes. Effectively any colour can be created using varying percentages of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black. This allows for the printing of colour photos, use of as many different colours as desired, and lower costs due to aggregated printing.

Spot Colour

This refers to PMS colours, which are traditionally used in 1, 2, 3, colour offset presses. Only the specific colour to be printed is put into the press, so there is no colour mixing. This process is great for exact colour matching and allows for Metallic colours such as silver and gold.

Cello film

This is a thin laminate film that can be applied to 1 side or both sides of a print job such as business cards, postcards etc. The cello seals the inks to prevent rub off, and also protects the item from wear and tear. This finish is often used on Business Cards, Presentation Folders, Post Cards, Xmas Cards, Drop Cards etc.

Spot UV

This is a high gloss laminate that is often used to accentuate a certain feature of a business card/brochure or create a subtle image against a dark background. This laminate is most effective when used over the top of a matt cello glaze to create a stronger contrast effect.


This is a liquid coating that is applied over the ink, often in the same pass through the press as the printing. The purpose of this coating is to seal the ink, protecting the printed image from rub off – where the image from the page below rubs off on the page of the page above it.

Group Run

An aggregated run of different jobs with the same colour specifications, on common stock. Group runs are a common tactic by Trade Printers to help drive down the cost of full-colour business cards, brochures, letterheads etc.. Some of the larger trade printers attract the volume of work needed to aggregate Letterheads, Brochures, DL Cards, Flyers, Post Cards, Note Pads etc. This has made full-colour printing much more cost-effective and commonplace over the last 5-10 years.


This is an uncoated paper, which has the capability to be ‘over-printed’ through a laser printer. This overprinting technique is used by many of our customers who use their Letterheads for correspondence, invoicing, company documents etc. Bond is characteristically quite a porous stock, which absorbs a lot of ink.

Cast Coated Board

This is a composite board with a gloss plastic coating on one side and the other side is a porous whiteboard. This stock is available up to a maximum weight of 300gsm. It can be useful for creating a gloss cover for the outside of magazines, annual reports in small quantities that would be extremely expensive to cello glaze.

Art Paper

A coated paper that is available in matt or gloss. This stock is most commonly used for Brochures, Flyers etc. Most printers will choose a standard brochure stock such as 150gsm gloss art paper, which they ‘indent’ with their paper supplier to reduce costs. This means that they are committing to purchase a certain volume of that specific stock per month or year.

Art Board

A coated board that is available in matt or gloss, similar to art paper but heavier (higher GSM). This style of a stock is most commonly used for Drop Cards, Post Cards, Business Cards, Christmas Cards, Presentation Folders etc. 


Grams per Square Metre. This is the unit of measurement used in printing to measure the weight or thickness of paper and board. Eg 150gsm gloss art paper. A 1m square sheet of 150gsm paper will weigh 150g.

Run Ups

During the setup and registration process at the beginning of each print job, there are a certain number of ‘run-up’ sheets that are used to test the colours and registration is correct. Wastage of 10% is a fairly normal scenario.

Production Queue

Printing manufacturers often have millions of dollars invested in machinery and premises. To ensure a steady flow of work is completed in a timely manner and staff have work in front of them every day, most operations keep a production queue – This ensures a steady return on investment that can be tracked and extrapolated in forward planning. 8-10 working days is a common production time for most printing manufacturers here in Brisbane, Australia.

NCR Forms

‘Carbonless copy forms’ that are available in duplicate, triplicate, quadruplicate etc. These coloured sets are commonly used for printing Invoice Books, Purchase Order Books, Service Books etc. The books are often quarter-bound with a return flap, to prevent press through from writing on the set before the one currently in use. Each set is usually sequentially numbered and perforated at the long edge on the left-hand side. 60gsm is a common weight for NCR stocks. 

Flat Bed Printing

This process allows for ‘direct to surface’ printing onto nearly any smooth flat surface such as foam PVC board, corflute, doors, glass, windows, checker plate in CMYK full colour. The machine is a large table shaped printer with a printing bed that allows materials up to be placed inside and printed on the top surface. Most machines allow for printing surfaces up to 80mm thick. 

Flatbed digital printers print with inks that are made of acrylic monomers These monomers are then exposed to strong UV light to cure or polymerise them.

3D printing

This is an additive manufacturing process, which isn’t as similar to 2 Dimensional printing as the name implies. 3D printers are actually industrial robots that layer particles of a particular substance (usually plastic or metal) following a 3-dimensional plan under the control of a computer. This industry term ‘additive manufacturing’ most accurately describes the range of different methods and processes that can be described as 3D printing.

Traditional fabrication uses subtractive manufacturing techniques, machining the finished product from a larger ‘blank’ of the desired material.

Now that process can be completed in the opposite fashion

Creating an object, part or product in exactly the shape required, requiring no secondary finishing stage to the manufacturing process. In many cases, this allows a much higher level of detail and precision than has previously been possible at such a low cost. 

Dye Sublimation

This printing process uses heat to transfer dyes or pigments from one material to another by creating an endothermic reaction – converting the solid to a gas without passing through the liquid stage (thus eliminating one change of state).

The finished product of the sublimation process is a high resolution, full colour and nearly permanent print. The dyes are infused into the substrate at the molecular level, rather than applied at a topical level (such as screen printing and ‘direct to garment printing’– This means the prints will not fade, crack, delaminate or peel from the substrate under normal conditions.

I hope that these simple explanations might help you to decipher the quotations you receive for your next printing project.