Need to brush up on your design lingo?

Here's our short list of some of the most common design terms you might hear.

Every industry has its own unique set of words and phrases with specific meanings. Graphic design is no different, and it can be confusing to adjust to and understand new terms while working with your designer or when getting started in the design field yourself. Check out this list of some very common graphic design vocabulary to help catch your footing with design related language!


Alignment – The placement of design elements and text on a page or website. There are three basic types of alignment — left align, right align, center align.


Bezier Curves -“A parametric curve that represents a vector path in computer graphics. They are frequently drawn using a pen tool and by placing anchor points which can be controlled to form shapes or lines.” **

Body Typeface – This is the typeface that is used in the main text body on your page or site. It’s often, though not always, different from the typeface used on headlines and titles.

Bleed – Used by professional printers, a bleed is what allows images and text to go right to the edge of the page. The document is printed on an oversized piece of paper and then trimmed down to the document size, as marked by the trim line. The bleed is the area of the document that will trimmed off after printing.


Clear Space – The the area immediately surrounding the logo which is specifically designated to be free of any text or graphics.

CMYK – The most widely used color system in print design, composed of the hues Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black).

Color Theory – “The study of how colors make people feel and their effects on a person. In graphic design, color theory is used to explore the best types of colors to work in different situations: ie: for a website that needs to feel soft and relaxing or a magazine ad that should pop out of the page and evoke energy in the reader.” *

Compression – The process of minimizing file sizes, specifically images. The idea is to get the file down to the smallest possible size, without losing too much of the sharpness and quality. This is primarily done for web usage, as it helps increases the site loading speed.

Copy – The main text body on a page, composed of any written content. Images and graphics are not considered part of the copy.


DPI– Dots per inch. This refers to the sharpness or resolution of an image. A higher DPI number equals a higher resolution photo. DPI is used for printed materials and photos.


Font – “A complete combination of characters created in a specific type, style, and size. The set of characters in a font entails the letter set, the number set, and all of the special characters and marks you get when pressing the shift key or other command keys on your keyboard.” **


Gradient – A smooth, even transition of color shades across a shape or image.

Grayscale – Grayscale images and pages are designed solely in black, white, and hundreds of shades of gray.

Gutter – The gutter can have two possible positions on the page. (1) In a document with two columns of text or images, it is the space in between the columns. (2) On folded documents (like brochures) or bound pieces (like books or magazines) the gutter is the area of the page that will be in the fold or binding.


HSB – Stands for Hue, Saturation, Brightness. This color space in design programs allows for the separation of the hue, the saturation, and brightness and is used in photo editing??


Invert – Inversion of the colors of a graphic or image. Inverting turns black into white, green into red, and blue into orange.


JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group. This file type (.jpg) is used for compressing photos or images. It is considered a Lossy file type.


Kerning – “Kerning is a typography process by which the space between the characters of text are squeezed or stretched. To kern something -10 would shrink the space between each letter. Conversely, kerning something +10 would create more space between each letter.” ***


Lossless – A file type in which no data is lost when the file is compressed. PNG files are considered lossless.

Lossy – A file type in which the data for detail and sharpness in images is lost as the file size is compressed. JPEG files are considered Lossy.


Mockup – A digitally created representation of what a design would look like on the web or once printed. It’s meant to give an idea of what the final design will be.


Negative Space – Also referred to as White Space, this is the space on a page that contains no images or text. Note that Negative Space is very different from Clear Space.


Opacity – “The degree of a color or tonal value. The opacity of an image or object that can range from transparent (0% opacity) to opaque (100% opacity). The ability to edit the opacity of specific objects allows the designer to create images that seem to flow into and through one another.” **


Pantone Matching System – The color system designed by Pantone to provide consistency and precision in color design. This system is perfect for ensuring an accurate color match on logos or branding materials, but isn’t ideal for printed materials that contain more than two or three colors.

Pixel – The smallest and most basic digital component that makes up a photo or video. In design it is also a common form of measurement.

PDF – Portable Document Format.  A browser developed by Adobe Acrobat to allow files to be downloaded from the web and viewed via the Acrobat application.

PNG – “Portable Network Graphics format. PNG (usually pronounced “ping”), is used for lossless compression. The PNG format displays images without jagged edges while keeping file sizes rather small, making them popular on the web.” **

PPI – Pixels per inch. This refers to the sharpness or resolution of an image that is in a digital format. A higher PPI number equals a higher resolution image.


Raster Image – Images built out of pixels that are highly detailed, but not easily resizable (enlarging rasters too much greatly decreases their resolution). Photographs are Raster images.

Resolution – Refers to the quality of an image, the number of DPI or PPI. Web images need to be of a low resolution (72 dpi) to increase loading time, while print images should be a much higher resolution (300 dpi) for detail and accuracy.

RGB – A color scheme used solely in digital design on mobile devices, computer monitors and televisions. It uses amounts of Red, Green, and Blue to create digital hues


Slug – The slug is the area of the page which is not intended to be printed and is used for leaving notes. This space is used if you choose to include copyright information, document identification, design notes, etc.

Sans Serif – A typeface with no serifs (feet). This easy-to-read typeface is commonly used for titles, captions, and descriptions in print design. It’s also the predominant typeface style for digital formats.

Scale – A design, application, or site that can be easily and effectively changed (scaled) to fit multiple sizes.

Serif – Serif typefaces are distinguished by the little ‘feet’, or serifs, that extend from the letters. Serif texts are especially easy to read in print, and are commonly used for body text in books, magazines, and brochures. 

Spread – A print design that spreads across two pages. Often seen in magazines and brochures.

Stock – Most commonly used in graphic design to refer to photos or designs that are ready-made and easily accessible. It can also refer to the type of paper (paper stock) a design is printed on.


Typeface – Typeface refers to the design of the look and feel of a set of letters (and possibly numbers). Typefaces are often incomplete sets that are created specifically for titles or logos and only contain the individual letters used. Character weights, glyphs, and a full set of numbers and letters will be developed if the typeface is turned into a font.

Typography – The art of (1) crafting new typefaces and (2) arranging typefaces on pages in aesthetic, effective ways. 

Texture – A design element that causes designs to have depth and fullness, rather than appearing flat. It’s most commonly achieved by layering patterns behind colors.

Text Wrap – Refers to text that wraps around or sits next to an image.


Vector Image – Image file types that created by defining specific points and filling the space between those points. Vector images are easily scaled and can easily be changed to almost any size.


Watermark – A watermark is a somewhat opaque design that is impressed on a printed image or layered over a digital image. It is often a branded design used to protect artwork from illegal usage.

Weight – Also known as value, this refers to the range of widths across fonts. The weight is commonly referred to as light, regular, bold or extra bold.

* Udemy: Graphic Design Terms: Basic Vocabulary You Should Know for Graphic Design

** UC Creative: Graphic Design ABCs: A Glossary of Basic Design Terms

*** Breakaway Graphics: Basic Graphic Design Terms

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