printing jargons, terminology

A Comprehensive Guide to Commercial Printing Terminology: The ABCs of the Industry

Have you ever found yourself lost in a sea of jargon, abbreviations and technical terms when it comes to commercial printing? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the ABCs of the industry’s terminology. From A4 to Z Fold and everything in between, become a printing expert with us as we demystify the world of commercial printing. So let’s get started!

Introduction to Commercial Printing Terminology

Commercial printing is a process of printing text and images on large format substrates like paper, card stock, or fabric. The final product is usually intended for mass distribution and public display. Commercial printers use a variety of techniques and technologies to produce high-quality printed materials.

Some common commercial printing terms you may come across are:

  • Substrate: This is the material that will be printed on, such as paper, card stock, or fabric.
  • Format: This refers to the size and shape of the finished print product. Common formats include posters, flyers, banners, and signage.
  • Resolution: This term describes the clarity or sharpness of the image being printed. The higher the resolution, the better the quality of the print.
  • Color Model: There are four different color models used in commercial printing: CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black), RGB (red, green blue), Pantone ( spot colors), and Hexachrome (six-color process). Each color model has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to choose the right one for your project.
  • Bleed: Bleed is when an image or piece of text extends beyond the edge of the page. It is important to account for bleed when designing your print project so that no important information gets cut off in the final product.

Glossary of Terms: A–Z

A–Z Glossary of Terms

  • Absorbency: The ability of a material to take in liquid. This is an important quality for printing papers, as inks are applied to paper using wetting agents, and too much absorbency can cause the ink to bleed.
  • Bindery: The final stage of the printing process, when the printed sheets are cut, folded, collated, and assembled into a finished product.
  •  CMYK: The four colors used in color printing: cyan (blue), magenta (pink), yellow, and black. These colors are mixed together in various proportions to create all the other colors.
  • Coating: A thin layer of material applied to the surface of paper to improve its appearance or performance. Coatings can be opaque (like varnish) or translucent (like gloss).
  • Digital printing: A type of printing that uses digital files (usually PDFs) instead of traditional printing plates. Digital printing is faster and more flexible than traditional offset printing, but it has lower print quality.
  • Dot gain: The increase in the size of dots on a printed page caused by the absorption of ink into the paper. Dot gain can cause images to appear darker and less sharp than they should be.
  • Finishing: The process of preparing a print job for delivery, which includes cutting, folding, binding, laminating, etc.
  • Grain direction: The direction that the fibers  in a sheet of paper run. Properly aligning the grain direction with the direction of printing can reduce dot gain and improve print quality.
  • Hard copy: A printed version of a digital document, such as an invoice or brochure.
  • Inkjet printing: A type of printing that uses tiny jets of ink to create images, usually on paper. Inkjet printers are fast and inexpensive, but their image quality is not as good as laser printers.
  • Laser printing: A type of printing that uses a laser beam to fuse toner powder to the page. Laser printers produce high-quality output, but they are expensive and slower than inkjet printers.
  • Offset printing: The traditional process used for mass-producing printed documents, where the ink is transferred from metal plates to rubber cylinders before being applied to the page. Offset printing gives high-quality results at fast speeds, but it’s more expensive than digital printing.
  • Proofreading: The process of checking a document for mistakes before it is printed. This is an important step to ensure that the finished product is free of errors.
  • Screen printing: A type of printing where ink is pushed through a mesh screen onto the page. Screen printing is used for creating T-shirts, posters, and other large graphics.
  • Typeface: The design of the characters used in a particular font. Typefaces can have subtle variations, such as serifs or sans-serifs, that give them unique visual characteristics.
  • UV coating: A type of coating that is cured with ultraviolet light, making it more durable and water-resistant than traditional coatings. UV coatings can also give prints a glossy finish.
  • Varnish: A thin, clear liquid applied to paper after printing to protect the ink and give the page a glossy shine. Certain types of varnishes can also increase the paper’s durability.
  • Watermark: An image or design that is pressed into the paper during production, usually as a security feature or for decorative purposes. Watermarks are often used on high-end papers and currency notes.
  • Xerography: A type of printing that uses a toner powder and an electrically-charged drum to transfer images onto paper. Xerography is similar to laser printing, but the quality is not as good.
  • Yield: The number of pages or impressions that can be produced from a specific amount of paper or ink. Higher yields mean more cost savings for the printer.
  • Z-Folding: A type of folding where the paper is folded in half along its longest side, then folded in half again in the opposite direction. This creates a zig-zag shape when unfolded, hence the name “z-folding”.

Finishing Techniques Used in Commercial Printing

There are several common finishing techniques used in commercial printing, such as laminating, die-cutting, and foil stamping. Laminating is a process whereby a thin layer of plastic is applied to the surface of the print piece in order to protect it from wear and tear. Die-cutting is a process whereby a sharp steel die is used to cut out shapes from the paper stock, such as circles or ovals. Foil stamping is a process whereby a metallic foil is applied to the surface of the paper stock, giving it a shiny, sophisticated look.

Color Options Used in Commercial Prints

Color printing is one of the most popular printing methods used in commercial printing. There are many color options available to choose from when printing, including full color, spot color, and process color. Full color is the most common type of color printing and is typically used for printed materials that need to be highly visible, such as marketing materials or advertisements. Spot color is a less common type of color printing that uses a single ink color to print a design or image. This method is often used for prints that require specific colors, such as company logos. Process color is the most complex type of color printing and uses multiple ink colors to create a more realistic image. This method is often used for photographs or other images that need to be accurate in terms of colors.

Prepress Considerations for Commercial Prints

Prepress refers to the process of preparing a printing file for commercial production. This usually includes some combination of graphic design, typesetting, and proofreading. Once the file is created, it is then sent to a prepress specialist who will ensure that it meets all the necessary requirements for print.

There are a few key things to keep in mind when creating a file for commercial printing:

  • Bleeds: this is when your artwork extends beyond the edge of the paper; for bleed prints, you’ll need to add an extra 0.125″ on all sides of your artwork.
  • Resolution: all images must be at least 300 DPI (dots per inch) in order to print clearly; lower resolutions may result in fuzzy or pixelated prints.
  • Color mode: CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) is the standard color mode for printing; if your file is in RGB (red, green, blue), it will need to be converted before printing.

Types of Papers and Other Materials Used in Commercial Printing Processes

There are many different types of papers and other materials used in commercial printing processes. The most common type of paper is offset stock, which is a thin, light-weight paper that is used for magazines, brochures, and other prints that need to be high quality and have a smooth finish. Other common types of paper used in commercial printing include bond paper, which is a thicker and more durable paper; coated stock, which has a glossy or matte finish; and textured stock, which has a rougher surface.

In addition to the different types of papers used in commercial printing, there are also various other materials that can be used. This includes things like foil stamping and embossing, which add special effects to prints; varnishing and laminating, which protect prints from wear and tear; and die-cutting, which allows for custom shapes and sizes to be cut out of prints.

Quality Control Inspections in Commercial Printing

The process of commercial printing includes a number of quality control inspections that help to ensure the final product is up to par. Here is a rundown of some of the most important quality control inspections in commercial printing:

Pre-press Inspections: These inspection occur during the design and set-up stage of a print job. Quality control at this stage helps to ensure that the design files are correctly formatted and that any colors used will print accurately.

Press Inspections: Once the printing process begins, regular press inspections are essential to catch any potential issues early on. These inspections check for things like registration, color accuracy, and print quality.

Post-press Inspections: After the printing is complete, post-press inspections are done to make sure that the end product meets all the specifications laid out in the project brief. These inspections can check for factors like cut accuracy, fold quality, and overall finish.


We hope this comprehensive guide to commercial printing terminology has been a helpful starting point for you in understanding the industry. With this information, you should now have an idea of how the process works from beginning to end and what each stage involves. For further assistance with your commercial printing project or if you’re looking for more specific advice on particular terms and techniques, contact us today – our team of experienced printers are here to help!

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