Printing Terms


Basis weight is expressed in pounds and is figured using one ream. A ream equals five hundred sheets. Basic weight is written as pounds and is abbreviated using the hashtag symbol #.  Sometimes the weight is also written as an abbreviation as BS. Sometimes paper is referred to as substance weight, which is the same as basic weight.
50# means fifty-pound paper.
BS50 also means fifty-pound paper.
80# (25″x28″) represents a carton of paper measuring 17 ½” x 22 ½” 80# text. The measurements in parentheses refer to the basic size used to calculate the basis weight.


Bindery is also referred to as finishing. It is a specific department within a printing plant responsible for the finishing of a print job.  Types of finishing can include collating, folding, inserting, stitching, stapling, gluing,  and trimming along with other post-process steps.


Calendering is the process used to make the surface of paper smooth. The process occurs at the end of the papermaking process and incorporates pressing the paper between metal cylinder rollers, called calenders. This creates a smooth feel and glossy look to the paper.


Calibration is the process of maintaining the accuracy of a device. Calibration measures the current state of the device and compares it to its manufacturing standards to determine if the device is working within an acceptable range. Accurate measurements are required for most research, development, and innovation as well as production; it is used across all industries of almost every product and service we use every day. Manufacturing equipment can come with a calibration device embedded in the equipment, or it may be an external device used in conjunction with manufacturers’ hardware or software. 

Designers may calibrate a monitor or their home printer.
Suppliers calibrate the measurement devices used with their production equipment.
Suppliers calibrate their production or manufacturing equipment.


Cyan Magenta Yellow Black is the base four-color process used for most printers.
Technically, adding equal amounts of pure cyan, magenta, and yellow should produce black. However, because of impurities in the inks, rich black is not achievable using just Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. Using the three colors is costly, and additionally puts too much ink on the page.

CMYK is a smaller color gamut than RGB, l*a*b*, or others. Before converting any image or graphic to CMYK, first, save the file and tag it with the original color gamut. Append the name of the record with CMYK.



Gamut is referred to as a range, also referred to as a color space. Color is presented in a 3D shape, and the gamut is the range of colors achievable in that color space. A color gamut relies on three factors, colorant, material, and technology. With all three, a creative can specify color with accuracy and confidence. If a gamut is chosen, simply on one of three, then color shifts will occur due to limitations or characteristics of material and technology.


Separations are halftone negatives or plates. Each used to represent a color pass, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black, or spot colors. The CMYK halftones are referred to as color separations.


Caliper is a measurement used to define paper thickness. Measured in thousandths of an inch it is expressed as point size. A point is abbreviated to pt. A point describing paper caliper is not the same as a point used to describe point size.

One point equals .001 inch. A 7 point stock is then .007 inches thick and would be called out as 7 pt.


A control bar is a test strip, usually comprising a series of grayscale and color patches printed outside the bleeds or in an area not seen by consumers. The bar is used by print operators to measure and manage color during production. Modern presses will have color readers, spectrophotometers, built into the printer, or built into the controls of the press. Many press operators continue to use a small hand held unit. Historically press operators only measured density, but the new standards drive quality control to use spectral reading, as a more accurate means to measuring color.

Crop Marks

Crop Marks are thin lines, usually offset away from the artwork.  They are printed as a guide for the finishing department, where a guillotine cutting device is lined up and cuts hundreds of sheets in one movement.  The artwork is rotated to the next mark, and the pages are cut again and again until all four sides are cut to the final size.


The vast majority of inks soak into the paper. The level at which paper absorbs ink depends on the type of media. An uncoated paper will absorb more ink compared to glossy papers. A high dot gain means more ink and a darker image that will appear less sharp. We communicate dot gain as a percentage. One example is newsprint, which has a dot gain of 10%. This means the ink absorbs into the paper approximately 10% more compared to a coated sheet.


Dots per square inch, or DPI, is a measurement used to describe a device’s resolution. DPI will vary by the device and final product print requirements. The higher the quality image, the more dpi is needed. An example would be newspapers, which tend to require a minimum of 150 dpi to as high as 300 dpi. Newspapers used to print as low as 75 dpi, but as color newsprint and technology improvements, so did the printing machines’ resolution.


Embossing is the term using to describe the tactile experience where the image is pressed into the paper. This action creates a non inked image above the surface, which a person can both see and feel. Emboss is also referred to as cameo, like jewelry, where a picture of a person is embossed in the stone or shell.


Encapsulated PostScript, is a subtype of a PostScript file that supports both raster and vector data. This means you can crop and scale an EPS image without destroying or degrading the integrity of the original file.


The term flood coating describes the action of covering a whole sheet with ink or varnish. Painting the sheet is an older reference for flood coatings. Today, UV coatings can be a spot, where specific areas are coated, which means the varnish will have its own plate, or a flood varnish, where the whole sheet is varnished. Varnishes can be gloss, matte, pearlized, flocked and everything between.


Grain occurs during the papermaking process when fibers align in one direction. When fibers run parallel to the length of the sheet it is called grain long. When fibers run crosswise, it is grain short. Paper mills will use the terms grain short or grain long, or they will underline the dimension of the page that the grain runs. Mills can also mark an M for machine direction. Machine Direction is used to describe the parallel dimension to the grain.

11” x 17″ means the grain is short.
23″ x 35″ (M) means grain long.


Halftones consist of thousands of tiny dots to create the illusion of an image. You can see this using a loop on printed material. This pattern tricks our eyes into seeing a continuous image.


Metamerism is a phenomenon that occurs when two colors appear to match under the same lighting condition, but no longer match when the light condition changes. Metameric matches are common, especially in near-neutral colors like grays, whites, and dark colors like these. As colors become lighter or more saturated, the range of possible metameric matches becomes smaller.


Portable Document Format files are the most commonly used digital documents shared. They can be viewed in both a browser or with Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free tool. PDF files allow users to view and print the document independently of the original application used to create the document. Many suppliers accept a high-resolution PDF file.


All input devices, like scanners, cameras, mobile phones, and most output devices, like litho, or home printers, use tiny points, or dots, to build an image. Resolution refers to the number of points per inch used for the device. Resolution can be described as spots per inch (SPI) or the more common dots per inch (dpi) and pixels per inch (ppi) or lines per inch (lpi).


Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) references the color space typically used for digital screens, TVs, and tablets.

RGB is referred to as additive colors, where colors begin as black, darkness, and shift to create white. Screens have hundreds of thousands of pixels. Each pixel has three sub-pixels: a red light, green light, and blue light. These sub-pixels light up in different intensities based on the color the pixel ultimately displays to produce a result on a black monitor. By superimposing red, green, and blue light, a large array of colors can be created.

RGB will give the perception of brighter colors, when compared to physical colors, like print and packaging. RGB color space is significantly larger than CMYK. When converting an image from RGB to CMYK, the software is ‘amputating’ the color space. If you need to work in multiple color spaces, it is best to save the file in each color space.

The RGB value for black is: R: 0 G: 0 B: 0
The RGB value for white is: R: 255 G: 255 B: 255

When saving a file, it is best to amend the file name with the color space.


Registration Marks

Registration marks are made up of a small circle with two lines going through the center.  Registration marks are printed outside the trim area of the artwork design. Registration marks allow the printer and creative director to accurately determine if the print job is aligned from plate to plate. i.e. the Cyan plate is aligned to the yellow plate, which is aligned to the Magenta plate, which is aligned to the Black plate, etc, including spot colors. Images are considered to offset, or off-register when the registration marks are not aligned properly. They create a fuzzy or shift in the image.


Trim size, also referred to as finished size or cut size, is the final product’s measurements. See Paper Sizes

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