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Glossary of Commercial Printing Terms

You know everything there is to know about your business. Yet, when it comes to dealing with the printers you're probably not clued up on the intricate details. This can be to your disadvantage.

Whether you work in the publishing industry, or you're setting up your own business and keen to spew out many brochures and catalogues in record time, you'll probably have to deal with the printers on a fairly regular basis. Like every other industry, the printing industry has its very own language and terms. Perhaps familiarising yourself with a few printing terms will stand you in good stead.

Arm yourself with the glossary below so that when the Printing experts bombard you with their "secret code", you'll be able to decode their "gibberish".

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Abrasion Resistance

The resistance to scratching or scuffing of a surface of paper

Accordion Fold

A type of paper folding in which each fold of a brochure runs in the opposite direction to the previous fold of the brochure creating an accordion affect


A clear or translucent plastic sheet material of a variety of colors used as an overlay usually

Additive Colors

In photographic reproduction the primary colors of red, green, and blue which are mixed to form all other colors. Also known as RGB


This refers to a process whereby air is blown onto paper sheets to separate the sheets


Type size of 5 ½ points


A compressed air tool that dispenses a fine mist of ink; used in illustration and photo retouching software to create effects


Was used in laying film and stripping. Red-orange acetate used for masking mechanicals when photographing for plates. The Amberlith area appears black to the camera, and prints clear on the resulting film. Not used much anymore

Anodized Plate

In lithography, a plate manufactured with a barrier of aluminum oxide, which prevents chemical reactions that break down the plate; it provides optimum press performance and can carry very small dot %'s

Antique Finish

Paper with a rough surface

Antiskinning Agent

An antioxidant agent used to prevent inks from skinning over in the can or on press

Aqueous Coating

Water soluble coating that protects ink and enables quick handling of piece. Comes in gloss, satin, and dull-Usually done in-line

Aqueous Plate

Water soluble plate coatings, which are less toxic and less polluting which enables quick handling of paper and high level of gloss

Art Work

Any materials or images which are prepared for graphic reproduction and can be produced manually or by software

Art-Lined Envelope

An envelope that is lined with fine paper; can be colored patterned or foiled


All illustrated material, photo and charts etc., that is prepare for reproduction which can be produced manually or by software

Author or Customer Alterations (AA, CA's)

Changes made after the proof stage where a customer is responsible for additional charges

Back Lining

The fixing of material, either paper or cloth, to the inside of a book before it is bound. Can be colored, textured or finishes

Back to Back

Printing applied to both side of a sheet of paper


The spine of the binding which connects the front of the book with the back of the book; also called back or spine


Image that appears faintest and the type is usually printed over the background and used as effect

Back slant

Type that tilts to the left of backward direction; opposite of italic type, which is to the right


The top primary headline usually spanning the entire width of a page. Used to draw eye or grab attention


The support onto which printing plates are fixed and is usually metal

Base Film

The foundation material onto which the film positives are stripped for making printing plates and becomes obsolete and was used primarily in the stripping process

Base Line

Term used to describe the imaginary horizontal line upon which stand capitals, lower case letters, punctuation points, etc.

Base Size

Standard size of paper stock; even though it is required size may be smaller or larger. It is different for types of paper, book and cover weight

Basis Weight

Basis weight refers to the weight, in pounds, of a ream (500 sheets) of paper cut to standard size for that particular paper grade and varies based on coated, uncoated, book and cover


The steel flat table of a cylinder printing press upon which the type or die sits during the printing process


Type characteristic using bold or thicker lines

Bible Paper

A thin but strong paper (opaque)

Binder's Board

A heavy paperboard with a cloth covering that is used for hardback or case back binding of books.


Various methods of securing folded sections together and or fastening them to a cover, to form single copies of a book. Used on a spine.


Ink that is one of the process colors. Also known as K in CMYK.


On offset presses a fabric-reinforced sheet of rubber to transfer the impression from the plate onto the impression cylinder.

Blanket to Blanket Press

A printing method in which there are two blanket cylinders thought which a sheet of paper is passed and printed on both sides. Used on smaller presses or duplicators.


Extra ink area that crosses the trim line.

Blind Emboss

Raising of the image on paper using a die and counter die with no ink involved.

Blind Embossing

Raising of images that are not inked or gold leafed.

Blind Folio

Page number not printed on page.

Blind Image

A problem that arises in the lithography process when an image loses it ink receptivity and fails to print.


Illustrations or line are etched into zinc or cooper plates mounted to wood and used in letterpress printing.


Enlargement of photos, copies or line art.


Photographic proof made from flats for checking accuracy, layout and imposition before plates are made. Becoming obsolete.


Type that has a heavier stroke that makes it more bold.


A grade of durable writing, printing and typing paper that has a standard size of 17 x 22 inches. Used in business correspondence.


A general classification to describe papers used to print books bookweight; its standard size is 25 x38 inches. A printed work that contains mare than 64 pages. Can be bound in a number of ways.

Bristol Board

A board paper of various thickness; having a smooth finish and used for printing and drawing.


A heavily embossed paper.


A pamphlet to convey or promote message.


A printing method whereby special ink is applies to sheets and then a powder is applied producing a metallic effect. Particles will come off on hand or in printers.

Buckle Folder

A piece of binding machinery with rollers that fold the paper.


A term given to paper to describe its thickness relative to its weight.


A boldface square or dot used before a sentence to emphasize its importance.


A term used in plate making to describe applying light to "burn" the image onto plate.


A term used for the process of "rubbing down" lines and dots on a printing plate.


Graphics software


The measurement of thickness of paper expressed in thousandths of an inch or mils.

Camera Ready

A term given to any copy, artwork etc., that is prepared for photographic reproduction. Can be manually created or created on computer.

Caps & Lowercase

Instructions in the typesetting process, that indicate the use of a capital letter and the rest of the letters in lower case.

Caps & Small Caps

Two sizes of capital letters made in one size of type.


The thick cover of a hardbound book.

Case Binding

Books bound using hard board (case) covers.

Casing In

the process of placing in and adhering a book to its case covers.

Cast Coated

A paper that is coated with clay and then pressure dried using a polished roller which gives an enamel like hard extra high gloss finish.


Print on paper where the absorption is so great that it breaks up ink image creating loose pigment dust.

Chancery Italic

The roots of italic design


Frame of steel, or cast or wrought iron, in which images are locked up for printing and is used in letterpress or cylinder presses

Combination Stamp

Process where embossing and foil stamping are done at the same time


Process of cutting paper with guillotine cutter

Cyan (C)

One of the ink colors (blue) that is used as a process color (CMYK)

Die Cut

Cutting shapes or non-square or rectangular shapes out of paper using die

Digital Printing

Printing done from digital file

Distribution Rollers

The rubber coated rollers responsible for the distribution of ink from the fountain to the ink train in presses


Xerox machine that is high end production copier and only does black/black using toner

Dog Ear

A dog Ear occurs when you fold into a fold (such as a letter fold). At the side of one of the folds an indentation forms. It may look like a small inverted triangle. This usually happens when folds are too tight.


The smallest individual element of a halftone which can be expressed in %

Dot Gain

A Dot Gain occurs due to ink absorption in paper causing halftone dots to enlarge or spread


Test of ink color before going to press. Solid stripes on paper to show what ink will look like


Describes additives to ink which hasten the drying process


The actual drilling of holes into paper for ring or comb binding which uses a bit that turns with sharp edges

Drop Shadow

A shadow image placed strategically behind an image to create the affect of a shadow from light

Ductor Roller

The roller between the inking and the dampening rollers

Dull Finish

Any matte finished paper that has very little reflection


A representation of copy and art elements to be reproduced to duplicate the finished product and has no ink present, which is also called a comp


A two-color halftone reproduction generated from a one-color photo with use of accent color

Duplex Paper

Paper which has a different color on each side

Dutch Cut

Odd number of cuts or pieces placed in different directions

Dutch Cutting

A process of cutting many sheets from the same parent sheet in which the smaller sheets have a different grain direction

Eggshell Finish

Finish of paper surface that resembles an eggshell achieved by omitting the calendar process. Toothy feel or rough

Electronic Composition

Composition of text, graphics and pictures

Electronic Proof

Proof generated from the computer file directly -Inkjet, dye sublimation, digital halftone.

Elliptical Dot

Dots are actually elongated to produce improved middle tones


A unit of measurement equaling 12 points


Paper finishing where a pattern is pressed into the paper when it is dry which also applies to using die and counter die to impress image into substrate


A light sensitive substance used as a coating for film; made from a silver halide compound


A term that describes coating on paper


A printing process whereby images are etched onto a plate
When ink is applied, the etched areas act as small well to hold the ink; paper is forced against this die and the ink is injected into the paper creating raised images


Producing an image on a plate by the use of acid


That stage of the photographic process where the image is produced on the light sensitive material

Fan Fold

Paper folding that emulates an accordion or fan

Felt Finish

The smoother side of paper usually a soft weave pattern used for book papers

Felt Side

It is the top side of the sheet in the paper making process that does not lie on the Fourdrinier wire


The surface quality of paper


The registration of the print on the substrate

Flush Cover

Book or booklet etc. having the cover trimmed to the same size as the text

Foil Stamping

Process where foil is transferred via pressure and heat

Fold Marks

Markings that show where folds should occur which are located outside of a trimmed area


Machine used to fold signatures or brochures

Folio or Page Number

Number of pages at top or bottom


Characters that make up a typeface and size

Form Rollers

The rollers that come into direct contact with the plate of a printing press

Four Color Printing

Usually means process printing (CMYK)


A machine with a copper wire screen that receives the pulp slurry in the paper making process which become the final paper sheet

Free Sheet

Paper that is free from wood pulp

Full Color

Term that represents printing in CMYK

Gang or Ganging

Grouping multiple jobs or forms on same press sheet


To assemble sections into single copies of complete sets for binding


Noticeable difference in density of ink in certain areas next to larger solid areas due to ink rollers running out of capacity to carry enough ink

Gas Ghosting

Image from one side of sheet showing through to other side due to ink gasses being trapped


Treating Gold leaf edges of books with a liquid agent and made permanent with burnishing tools

Graduated Screen

An area of image where halftone dots range continuously from one % to another gradually


Direction of fibers in a sheet of paper


Metal fingers that hold each sheet of paper as it passes through each unit of the printing press

Gripper Edge

The side of the paper that the grippers hold to run through the press

Gate Fold

Fold where both outside edges fold into the middle thus creating a gate

Guillotine Cutter

Machine that trims paper excess


Space between pages in the printing sheet

Hairline Register

Very tight register which is the thinnest of the standard printers' rules


Tone graduated image composed of varying sized dots or lines to make a image or picture

Halftone Screen

Ruled right-angled lines, used to translate the full tone of a photo to the halftone dot image required for printing

Head Margin

The margin between the top of the printed copy and the trimmed edge


Imperfections in presswork due to dirt on press, in ink or in paper

High Bulk Paper

Stock that is thicker than normal in relation to its basis weight


The lightest tones of a photo, printed halftone or illustration

Hot Melt

An adhesive used in the binding process

House Sheet

This is a term that refers to a paper that a printer keeps on hand in his shop


Inside back cover


Inside front cover


Graphic Software

Image Area

Area of the printing plate that carries the ink and prints on paper

Image Setter

High resolution output device for producing film from electronically generated page layouts


Arrangement of pages so that they print correctly once folded they are in paginated order


Product resulting from one cycle of printing machine where image is transferred to paper


Printed information to replace stamp

Ink Fountain

The well which holds ink and distributes in to the inking rollers

Ink Holdout

Ability of paper to not allow absorption on ink into paper


Type of proofing process or low quality production machine


Type that is slanted body forward


The paper cover that goes over a hardbound book


To vibrate a stack of finished pages so that they are even


Vibrating platform that evens up the edges of stacks of paper


The measure of space between letters

Kiss Cut

A light die cut that cuts through first layer but leaves base substrate uncut

Laid Finish-

A parallel lined paper that has a handmade look


A dummy that shows the placement of all the elements


Space between the lines of type


Printing that utilizes ink raised surfaces to create the image. The imprint is made by pressure.

Line Copy

Any copy that can be reproduced with out the use of halftone screens


A paper that copies the look and texture of linen cloth


The process of printing the utilizes flat inked surfaces to create the printed images

M Weight

The actual weight of 1000 sheets of any given size of paper

Magenta (M)

Also one of the primary colors (CMYK)

Make Ready

Process of adjusting final plate on the press to put work in register

Match Print

Photographic proof made from color flats to form a composite proof showing color quality this is now done digitally.

Matte Finish

A coated paper finish that has very little reflection of light or dull finish


A term used to describe finished artwork that is camera ready for reproduction, including all type, photos, illustrations


An undesirable halftone pattern produced by the incorrect angles of halftone screens


A term used to describe spotty or uneven ink absorption


Papers that have a color similar to cream, off white or ivory


Film that contains the same images s the original print, except that all colors and shades are reversed, becoming obsolete.


Outside back cover


Outside front cover


The most commonly used printing method. The image is transferred from plate to blanket to impression cylinder to paper. Thereby the image is being offset.

Offset Paper

A term used for uncoated paper stock

Offshore Paper

Any papers made outside the US and Canada

On Demand Printing

Printing done to meet immediate demand needs


A light bond paper used for typing. It is very uncommon these days


Ability to prevent two sided printing from showing side to side


A quality of paper that allows little light to pass through

Opaque Ink

Ink that completely covers through which light cannot shine through

Over Run

Surplus of quantity ordered

Overhang Cover

A cover of a book that extends over the trimmed signatures it contains


Any printing that is done on an area that has already been printed


Graphics Software


One side of a sheet of paper -whether printed or not

Page Makeup

The assemblage of all the necessary elements required to complete a page.

Parallel Fold

All folds are parallel to each other


A hard finished paper that emulates old paper

Parent Sheet

A sheet that is larger than the cut stock

Perf Marks

Markings usually dotted lines showing where the perforations should occur


A term used to describe the binding process where the book makes a squared spine

Perfect Binding

Binding process where backs of sections are cut off, ground together

Perfecting Press

A printing press that prints on both sides of the page in a single pass


Punching small holes or slits in a sheet of paper to facilitate tearing along a desired line


Standard of measurement, 1/6 inch. 1 pica = 12 points 72 points = 1 inch


When the tack of ink is stronger than the surface strength of the paper, some lifting of the paper surface occurs; this is referred to as picking.


Reproduction of type or cuts in metal, plastic, rubber, or other material, to form a plate bearing an image that can be transferred

Plate Cylinder

The cylinder on the printing press on which the plate is mounted

Plate Making

Making a printing plate

Plate Setter

Machine that images plates directly from digital file.


A measurement unit equal to 1/72 of an inch. 12 points to a pica, 72 points to an inch.


Pixel per inch.


Any paper that is considered better than #1 by its manufacturer.

Primary Colors

In printing the four primary colors are cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow and black

Process Inks

CMYK, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black that create images in full color

Process Printing

CMYK printing


A representation of the job given to the customer that should represent final product-this is the last stage before plating.


Graphics Software

Rag Paper

Paper with a complete or partial content of cotton fibers

Ragged Lift

The term given to right-justified type that is uneven on the left

Ragged Right

The term given to left-justified type that is uneven on the right


500 sheets of paper


Any substrate that reduces the tack of ink


The arrangement of two or more images in exact alignment with each other

Register Marks

Any cross marks or other symbols used on layout to assure proper registration

Right Angle Fold

A term that denotes fold that are 90 degrees to each other

Rub Resistance

Measure of inks ability to resist rubbing or scuffing


A pigment redder than true magenta and is used primarily in mixing other ink colors

Saddle Stitching

Stitching where the wire staples pass through the spine from the outside and are clinched in the center which is only used with folded sections in four page increments

Safety Paper

A paper that can not be altered or tampered with easily

Satin Finish

An uncoated paper very similar to matte paper


Light indentation to help folding or tearing. Reduces or prevents cracking of folds

Screen Angles

The placement of halftone screen in printing to avoid unwanted moiré patterns
Frequently used angles are black 45deg, magenta 75deg, yellow 90deg, and cyan 105deg


Ink film on paper due to lack of water balance

Self Cover

A cover made out of the same paper stock as the internal (guts) sheets


The printing of two different images on two different sides of a sheet of paper by turning the paper by turning the page over after the first side is printed and using the same gripper and side guides on press.
Also known as a work and back

Short Run Printing

Denotes runs with small quantities

Show Through

When the printing on one side of a sheet is seen from the other side and can be helped by using a more opaque sheet

Side Guide

The guides on the sides of the press that position the sheet sideways as the paper is led towards the front guides. This controls the sheet position sideways for registration.

Side Stitching

Stitching where the staples pass through the paper gathered upon each other and are closed on the underside


Printed sheet that consists of a number of pages of a book, paginated so they will fold and bind together as a section of a book-The printed sheet after folding.


A term to describe the process of cutting of printed sheets by the cutting wheels of a folding machine


Back edge of a book

Spiral Bind

A binding whereby a wire or plastic is spiraled through holes punched along the binding side which allows the book to lay flat

Spot Color

Area printed in a second color, other than black


The amount of increase in size of image to create ink trap

Static Neutralizer

Device on a printing press that minimizes the amount of static build up on paper as it passes through the press to enable it run faster

Step and Repeat

A process of generating multiple exposures by taking an image and stepping it in a set measurement


A proofreader's symbol that indicates that the copy, which was marked for correction is actually ok


A term for paper or other material to be printed

Super Calendaring

A machine that produces a high finished paper surface that is extremely smooth and exceptional for printing. (Usually on coated paper)

Synthetic Papers

Substrate not made from wood or cotton pulp. Usually petroleum based plastic materials.


Adhesive quality of inks


A dense, strong uncoated paper stock


High quality uncoated paper


Raised printing used to simulate engraving, which is printed offset with resin powder and heat that melts the resin on the ink


A solid screen that contains all the same % size dots


Type of solid ink particles that can be black or color and used on some types of short run digital machines


The rough surfaced finish of papers such as vellum or antique (Not smooth)


Spreading or overlapping of colors or images into each other to not show white.

Trim Marks

Marks placed on the sheet to indicate where to cut the page


Papers that are not smoothed by going through the calendaring press


A clear shiny material used to add gloss to printed pieces. (Also available in satin or dull)


A finish of paper that is rough, and has a degree of tooth


Fade to white of illustration (A photo or illustration etc., in which the tones fade gradually away)


An abbreviation for work and back (Reference sheetwise/Does not change gripper)


An abbreviation for work and flop (Changes gripper)


An abbreviation for work and turn (Does not change gripper)


Cleaning a particular in from all of the printing elements (rollers, plate, ink fountain etc.) of a press


A translucent mark that is embossed during the papermaking process


The roll of paper that is used in web printing

Web Press

Cylinder printing machine in which the paper is fed from a continuous reel, as opposed to sheet fed


A single word or two left at the right end or a paragraph

Wire Stitching or Stapling

To fasten together sheets, signatures, or sections with wire staples

Writing Paper

Another name for bond paper

Xerographic Paper

Papers made to reproduce well in copy machines and laser printers

Yellow (Y)

Also one of process colors (CMYK)

Z Fold

Brochure that is folded in the pattern of a "Z"


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