10 words your graphic designer wishes you knew

By Rebecca Swift
Head of Creative Planning, iStock

A quick graphic design glossary
Working with a graphic designer is the best way to make sure your website or printed materials look professional. But sometimes it seems like your designer speaks a completely different language. Bridge that communication gap with this quick glossary.

1. Swipe file or tear sheet

A swipe file, or tear sheet, is a collection of things that inspire you, and might include magazine clippings or digital images. Designers will often pull examples from these files and other sources of inspiration to create mood boards, a collage of visuals that may include text, images, and color palettes to convey the desired look and feel of a project. Creating a mood board of your own helps gives your designer a sense of the aesthetic you’re going for and is a great way to get the conversation started.

2. Proof
A proof, proof sheet, blue-line, or paste-up is simply a printed copy of what your materials will look like. When dealing with a website, designers might call this a wireframe or mockup instead.

In the case of a printed proof, there are often white edges and hash marks called crop marks in the corners. Looking at this untrimmed document, you’ll notice some of the images come out farther into the margin than others. This is called a bleed and it’s printed beyond the edge of your postcard, banner, or other printed material so there are no white edges when the piece is trimmed.

With a digital wireframe, you might be looking at a line drawing of the final product that outlines where key elements will go, but does not show the elements themselves. So don’t worry if the colors, illustrations, and copy aren’t all in place yet. Your designer is saving you money by not investing in coding until you’ve both agreed where all the pieces should go.

3. Negative space
It’s easy to focus on the words and text on the page, but a good way to get the best design is to look also at the negative space – the space around the words and text.

Sometimes the negative space is in the form of a column gutter—the space between columns – or a runaround – space created inside a block of text for an image. Sometimes you’ll also see a knockout – a runaround that doesn’t yet have an image in it and is using white space as a placeholder.

4. Alignment
As you think about layout, you’ll want to know more about the alignment of your text or how it spans the column. Centered text can be harder to read but is often used for a headline because it draws attention. Other options are to left– or right-align your text. You can also have text that is justified—spread evenly to both margins or your designer can leave a ragged right margin or a ragged left margin. Ragged edges are often easier to read and a comfortable reading experience is an outcome of better design.

The wonderful thing about alignment is that these terms are easy to remember because they simply describe what the text looks like on the page.

5. Serif
Now that you have layout down, you will want to know something about fonts. Your designer may not ask whether you want a serif or sans serif font, but it helps if you understand that the two convey different feelings. Serif fonts, as shown on the “t,” “p,” and “e” in the image on the left, have a line crossing the ending of a stroke and are sometimes described as having “wings” and “tips.” Serif fonts like Times New Roman are time-honored classics that make printed materials easier to read but can be difficult to read in online body copy.

Sans serif fonts like Calibri and Helvetica do not have that extra line and lend a more modern feel to text, especially on the Internet. The “y” on the image above is from a sans serif font. For extra credit, remember that similar fonts are often grouped into a font family or typeface.

6. Copyfitting
Copyfitting means figuring out how much space a specific amount of text will take up on a page. Things that can affect copyfitting are kerning– bringing the letters closer together, leading– the amount of space between lines of text, and use of extended type– fonts that are extra wide. You’ll find that graphic designers often use lorem ipsum or placeholder text to give you both an idea what the final will look like.

When talking about the layout of text, you’ll also want to understand the terms widow and orphan. A widow is a single line of a paragraph that carries over to the next page. An orphan is the first line of a paragraph whose remaining text carries over to the next page. A graphic designer will sometimes change margins to take care of those widows and orphans.

7. Resolution
Resolution is a measure of dots per inch (DPI) for printed works and pixels per inch (PPI) for digital work. If the resolution of an image is too low, your final product will come out looking grainy or pixelated. Even if your smartphone shoots 41 megapixels, trust your designer if he or she says the image won’t work.

If you’re downloading a stock photo, shoot for 300 DPI (at the very least) for print-quality images and 72 PPI (don’t short-change it) for web work. And don’t try to scale up a too-small image; that only works if you’re using a vector image.

8. Raster image vs. vector image

There are two kinds of digital images. A raster image is made up of individual pixels. When you try to enlarge a raster image it looks pixelated because you are taking each block of information (pixel) and just making it bigger. Raster images are often created in programs like Photoshop and have the extension .JPEG or .GIF.

A vector image, on the other hand, is made up of points connected along a curve (or vector). Basically, the visual information is contained in the relationship between the points, not the points themselves, so the image can be expanded to an infinite size. Vector images are created in programs like Illustrator and have the file extension .EPS.

If you know the difference between a raster and a vector, it’s not just your graphic designer who will love you, your printer will too. And your posters will look as good as your postcards.

9. Hero graphic
A hero graphic is often described by laypeople as that big picture in the middle of everything. It is the main image of your website, email or printed matter. Your graphic designer will likely spend more time getting this image right than any other you work with, because it plays such a strong role in conveying the mood and message you are trying to create.

10. Color
You know what color means. But you might not know the difference between warm colors – reds, oranges and yellows – and cool colors – blues, greens and many purples. Your graphic designer will be able to provide you with insights into color theory and the messages that your favorite colors communicate. For a more advanced conversation, talk with your designer about complementary colors – colors opposite from each other on the color wheel.

One last thing you’ll want to know is the difference between CMYK and RGB. Both are abbreviations for the colors used in the final product. CMYK stands for “cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black)” and is used to talk about the four main colors that printers use. RGB is short for “red, green and blue” which are the three colors of visual light used to display computer graphics. Remember pressing your face to a TV screen and seeing the picture break down into red, green and blue? That’s why.

Once you master these 10 key words, you’ll have the vocabulary to harness your graphic designer’s expertise – and then together you can make something amazing.

Source: iStock Photo

About Rebecca Swift
Joining the photography industry nearly 20 years ago, Rebecca was a founding member of the Getty Images Creative Research team, introducing visual research methodology to the Visual Communications Industry. At Getty Images, Rebecca builds image collections, works with photographer communities worldwide, and conducts global research projects on the future of visual communication. She is currently researching a PhD into visual trends in UK advertising imagery over the last 30 years.