Printing Terminology

Although a growing number of communications are published electronically these days, you’ll occasionally need to have pieces printed. If you only have a few hundred employees, you may choose to print them yourself in your office. For a larger number, though, you’ll probably need to outsource to a professional printer. That process will go much more smoothly if you understand a few print-related terms.

Bleed refers to printing that extends all the way to the edge of the page. Because it is very difficult to print all the way to the edge, professionally printed documents are usually prepared with extra margin on all sides. The extra is trimmed off after printing.

Example: A 6” x 4” postcard is usually set up and printed at 6.25” x 4.25” to allow for the standard 1/8” of bleed on all sides. In the diagram below, the darker blue area would be trimmed off after printing.

Example of bleed

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK. These are the four ink colors used in most color printing.

In most cases, your printer will expect you to provide your file in CMYK format. This will probably require some conversion on your part, as digital files are usually created in RGB (Red Green Blue) format, which is the color format used by computer monitors and most digital cameras. If you don’t know how to convert, the printer can probably assist you or do the conversion themselves.

Important Note: Because RGB covers a broader range of colors than CMYK, printed colors will often look different (usually a little darker and more muted) on paper than they did onscreen. Sometimes adjusting the colors after the conversion to CMYK can help minimize the difference.

PMS, which stands for Pantone Matching System, is another type of color printing. Pantone offers a huge variety of proprietary inks, usually referred to by their numbers. (You can see a number chart here.)

PMS is often used to ensure that important colors (such as the colors of a company’s logo) are printed in exactly the right shade. For example, printing a blue logo on multiple CMYK printers may result in slightly different shades of blue. If the logo is printed as PMS, it should look the same every time on every printer.

PMS is also frequently used to save money when printing a piece that only uses one or two colors. If your design uses only blue on a white background, for example, printing with one PMS ink will probably be cheaper than printing CMYK (which requires four inks, mixed together to produce the blue).

4/4 (Four over four)
When talking to your print company, you may hear terms like “four over four.” This refers to the number of inks used on the front and the back of the piece. “Four” nearly always means CMYK, so four over four, or 4/4, means CMYK on both the front and the back.

Others you may see/hear:

4/0 (Four over zero): CMYK on the front, no printing on the back

1/1 (One over one): One color of ink on each side. The inks are usually either PMS or black. They don’t necessarily have to be the same color. For example, you might have a PMS color on the front and black on the back.

You may also see other combinations like 4/1, 2/1, 2/0, 3/1, 3/0, etc.

Paper Weight
The printer may ask you what weight of paper (or stock) you wish to use. Paper weight is indicated in pounds. A huge variety of paper weights are available, but these are the ones you’re most likely to need:

#80 Text: This is the paper most often used for flyers, brochures, posters, etc.

#100 Text: Used for the same types of projects as #80 Text, but it’s little thicker and heavier.

#80 Cover: Cover stock is thicker and stiffer than text stock. #80 Cover is typically used for things like postcards and booklet covers.

#100 Cover: Used for the same types of projects as #80 Cover, but it’s little thicker and heavier.

Coated vs Uncoated Paper
Coated paper has been chemically treated to improve its smoothness, luster and print quality. It is slightly more expensive than uncoated paper, but it usually yields more professional-looking results. Uncoated paper absorbs more ink, meaning that small details are less crisp and clear.

Glossy vs Matte Paper
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Glossy paper has a shiny finish and matte paper has a dull finish. If your project uses photos, you’ll probably want to use glossy paper. Matte is often a better choice for business cards and letterhead.

Proofs and Press Checks
Before the printing company starts printing your piece, they will usually send you a proof for approval. A proof is a test run to show how your final piece will look. Proofs aren’t always reliable for testing color, but they’re great for ensuring correct fonts, sizing, placement, resolution, etc. They also offer a last chance to proofread your piece and correct any typos.

In cases where exact color is very important, and where the printing facility is local to you, you may also choose to have a press check. A press check is where a customer goes to the printing facility and views/approves actual printed samples as they come off the press.

Types of Binding
If you’re printing booklets, you’ll need to specify how they should be bound. Thin booklets are commonly saddle-stitched, meaning they are stapled on the folded spine. Thick booklets may need to use perfect binding, where the pages are glued to a spine. Booklets can also be bound with metal spirals or plastic combs.

Are you new to printing? Be sure to read my post about quantity vs. price.

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