50 Graphic Design Terms You Have to Know

There are a lot of graphic design terms and lingo that you know. But do the client and the general public know as well? Sometimes it’s the other way around; the client seems to be very knowledgeable with the terms and keeps using the lingo.

It is inevitable to understand some of the lingos after working with graphic design for a while. However, expanding the lingos and able to use them properly will give a boost to your career. 

 

Introducing the Graphic Design Terms

These are the terms that many people will encounter sooner or later. It doesn’t matter which side you will be, as the client or the creator. But there is no excuse or a reason not to know these terms.

To make these terms easier to understand, they are divided based on their usage and context. That way, you don’t have to look for another meaning or be confused because it’s a new term. These are the design terms that popular and 

Colors

1. Pantone
Pantone is the system that is used to standardize a color. The system is called the Pantone Matching System. It ensures that you will get the same color in whichever program you use by having each color numbered.

2. CMYK and RGB
In graphic design terms, the CMYK and RGB refer to the color you see. The CMYK is one of the terms used for printer setup; it stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key. Black is called a Key because that’s the color used to align the other color plates.

The RGB is more popular for the screen image. It stands for Red, Green, and Blue. The colors comprise an image on the screen. Other terms that you need to understand are subtractive and additive colors.

While CMYK starts in white and will be darker as you add more color, this is called subtractive. The RGB, as the opposite, is additive. It starts with black, and as you add more color, it will become white in the end.

3. Hex
To put it simply, Hex is the numeric code used to refer to a color. This numbering does not correlate with the Pantone system. Instead, Hex is more commonly used in HTML and CSS in web design elements. 

Usually, a hex starts with a pound sign (#), then six letters of 0-9, and a-f. For example, #000000 is black, and #ffffff is white. Any combination of letters and numbers makes up for the remaining colors. Such as #f6c6e1 for pale pink and #54cd71 for deep green.

4. Triadic
Among many terms, triadic probably only used among creators. This is because it refers to three colors that have the same space in the color wheel. It could be complementary or analogous.

5. Opacity
Opacity, in short, is how to measure a layer’s transparency. A graphic can consist of multiple layers. In order to make it works, the opacity on each layer must be adjusted. Zero opacity means that the layer is transparent, to the point of almost invisible.

6. Warm and Cool tone
In general, there are two color tones, the warm and cool tones. The tones refer to colors that can give a specific effect, such as green and blue, to give a soothing or cooler effect. In contrast, the red and orange hues are the warm tones because it lifts the spirit.

To utilize these tones in the graphic design, one has to know what the graphic needs. If it needs more warmth or the other way around, all you have to do is to add more blue or red to get the specific effect.

7. Hue
Since a graphic can have various colors all at once, many people choose the word “hue” to describe a color. It also works as a way to say the palette or several colors that have a similar base, such as purple hues to call to lilac, magenta, and lavender.

8. Tint
In design terms, a tint refers to the changes after white is added. In easy terms, you can create a new tint by adding white to any color while working on your graphic. When working on a design, it is important to know if it is necessary to make a tint or not.

9. Saturation
Saturation is one of many terms for color intensity. A high saturation graphic will have bold and vivid colors compared to the low saturation one that is far more subtle. Adjusting saturation in a design requires high concentration because a slight mistake can make the graphic gives off the wrong impression.

10. Color Scheme
Complimentary, analogous, and monochrome are examples of color schemes. These terms refer to a combination of at least two colors in a graphic. There is no limit on the color schemes that one can work in a design.

11. Contrast
A contrast in a graphic can refer to more than just the opposite hues. But also the textures and lights and other elements. Adjusting a contrast means making sure that it’s less noticeable.

12. Gradient
In simple words, a gradient is the hues that are between solid colors until it’s transparent. To see these hues, you can use a radial or a line to stretch the colors and see the gradation. Many people use gradation as their shortcut for a monochromatic theme graphic design.

13. Monochrome
In graphic design terms, this means that you are limiting the color into a single color with its dark and light variations. The most popular example is using black, grey, and white as a monochromatic theme. However, many others have used other color variants such as blue and even orange in a monochromatic scheme.

14. Color Theory
This is one of the graphic design terms that one must master. It consists of three big ideas, and they are the color wheel, color harmony, and the context of usage. Understanding the color theory will give you an easier time working on a graphic design project.

15. Complementary and Analogous
In the design graphic terms, there are complementary and analogous colors. Those have similar meanings but different usage and practicality. In short, both means two colors that could work great.

However, complementary is one of the design terms that is more popular and refers to two different colors that are on the opposite color wheels. These colors may or may not be alike, but they are guaranteed to work great with each other.

As for the analogous colors are at least two colors that are right next to each other on the color wheel. It means that they are from the same palette and share a basic hue.

 

Margin and Positioning

16. Alignment
The alignment does not only work strictly for the text but also the graphic in the project. Whichever position they have in the layout can be referred to as being right or left-aligned. These alignments terms are also popular outside the graphic design world.

17. Orphan and Widow
These terms are related to typography. They refer to the last word in a paragraph. If the word is pushed to a new line and becomes the only word there, hanging alone. The most common solution is by adjusting the margins surrounding the text. But if that doesn’t help, then a new text is needed.

18. Grid
When preparing for a design, a grid is important for text and image placement. It also helps to build the design look flawless and goes with the theme. By utilizing the grids, a design can attract the right attention.  

 

Typography

19. Ascender
In design terms, an ascender refers to the typeface that has a part of its lowercase is above x-height or the standardized height. This is commonly happening for lowercase h and b and d.

20. Descender
On the contrary to the previous terms, descender means typeface that has its lower part lower than the x-height. The most common examples are q and p.

21. Pica
Pica is a measurement unit that is used on a layout. It refers to the space available. One pica equals 12 points. And there are six picas in an inch. With that information, you could tell that an inch equals 72 points.

22. Font and Typeface
Both terms refer to the same thing. However, some people still split hair and use each term separately. In general, font is more popular and widely used. But typeface is more known for the printers because that is where the term comes from.

23. Serif
In design terms, serif refers to the decorative stroke at the top or bottom of the front face. However, this term is later adopted to call the font family that has the strokes. For example, it is in the Times New Roman, Georgia, and Courier New.

24. Monospace
Monospace, in layman’s terms, is the equal space size for each letter. The courier and courier new are some great examples of a monospace font. This font is a derivation from the early days of printing.

25. Display Type
Type in this sense refers to the typeface or font used. As design terms, the display type is the font or typeface used to gain attention. It could be in an advertisement, movie poster, or headline.

26. Dummy Text
Among many graphic design terms, dummy text is one of the popular ones. It’s used to fill the space with text to show how the overall design look. The most common is “lorem ipsum dolor sit amet” which is a corrupted Latin from Cicero’s speech.

27. Kerning and Tracking
Kerning refers to the spacing between each letter in the text. Tracking has a similar understanding, but it is used for the whole world. For example, when you only want to adjust the space between two letters in a word, you adjust the kerning. But when you want to adjust the whole word spaces, you adjust the tracking.

28. Leading
Back then, the term “Leading” refers to the opening paragraph, or the lead, in a news story. A good leading can keep the readers hooked and stay reading the news. That is why it’s important to have a good text as well as a good typeface to keep their attention.

29. Justification
This term refers to paragraph alignment. If it’s full-on on both sides, then it is called a justified alignment. The usage is depending on the client’s preferences. However, in a design that has a full copy, justified alignment is most commonly found.

30. Hierarchy
Title, heading, and body text are simple examples of hierarchy in layman’s terms. It is meant to help the reader to show which copy starts and ends. It is also meant to guide the reader on what are the important points in the copy.

 

Brand and Logo Related

31. Brandmark
The logo is the brandmark in layman’s terms. Both terms refer to the same thing, and that is how the brand is represented by a graphic in public. A brand mark could be followed by a logotype or tagline.

32. Icon
An icon can be the same image as the logo, but it’s not always the same. Many people often confused the two, but in graphic design, they are two different terms with different meanings. For example, the logo for Facebook is a logotype of their company. However, the icon for the app is the large F in a blue square.

33. Style Guide
A style guide is necessary to keep both the new graphic and design in line with the brand and the previous campaigns. It’s often used to consult when there is a new project going to see and refer back to.

34. Logotype
In graphic design terms, there are two types of logos, the one that is only a graphic and the other one that is spelling out the name as the logo. E.g., Google, Facebook, and Samsung. This design is meant to incorporate both the company name with the brand and make them synonymous.

35. Branding
Branding refers to how the company is seen in public. This could affect other design elements such as typography and color palette. For example, a food brand that is popular for being spicy will have warm tones and have chili as the main graphic.

 

General Design Terms

36. Thumbnail sketch
In graphic design terms, thumbnail sketch refers to a short or quick drawing of the concept or the idea in hand. It is meant to give the client a general idea of how far they understand the client’s needs and working to accommodate them.

37. Pdf
The portable document file is a document type that is owned by Adobe. This type is commonly used to preserve the high-resolution graphic used in a document. Making it easier to both printing and share the file.

38. Pixel
Many people confuse pixels with resolutions. Both are related but refer to different things. In design terms, a pixel is the smallest dot in the screen that can be controlled to show the hues. A screen comprises millions of pixels. In correlation with the resolution, a 1600x800 resolution often means 1600 pixels and 800 pixels.

39. Point
Point is often used to measure a typeface. In a design, this measurement is often adopted as well. Especially when there is a copy involved, understanding the size comparison between points and inches can help in positioning the graphic or even when setting up the grids.

40. Raster
In design terms, a raster graphic is an image that has a set pixel value. Working on the graphic by enlarging the resolution will make the graphic look blurry. Even when the graphic has a high resolution, it only means that the blurry lines will be less harsh.

41. Resolution and Aspect Ratio

The understanding of these terms is the same for both in general for specific design terms. The resolution is to show the graphic quality. In this case, bigger means better. Usually, the printer asks for a graphic with at least 300 dpi.
While the aspect ratio is the proportional ratio between the width dan height separated by a colon, for example, a widescreen ratio is 16:9, which means the ratio is 16 widths for 9 heights. This is important to know, so there is no rookie mistake as in working the design on the wrong aspect ratio.

42. Golden Ratio
In graphic design terms, a golden ratio is applied when creating an appealing graphic for people to see. When the golden ratio is applied, the graphic will be effortlessly attractive because it has all the focus on the right places.

43. Copy
When a creator talks about a copy, they didn’t talk about a duplicate of something. Instead, they are talking about the text. Copy is what the printers called a text in a design. It can be a headline or a full lead.

44. Crop
This is one of the popular terms. But of course, it’s not limited only as one of the design terms. It’s often used to cutting or removing the unwanted section in a graphic.

45. Counter
In graphic design terms, counter means the negative space inside a circular typeface such as B, D, and O. It also refers to the almost closed negative space such as in S and R.

46. Vector
A vector graphic refers to a graphic that is measured so it won’t lose any value or resolution when being manipulated like stretched or shrunk. That is why a vector is often a silhouette or a cut-out-like graphic that can be used many times over.

47. Negative Space
The white space in a graphic is called the negative space because they don’t print and thus require the printer to create a blank space in their printer setting. The terms have evolved, and now empty space in a design is called the negative or white space.

48. Stock Photo
When building a design, a creator has the option to use a stock photo or build a new set of images. Stock photo refers to the generic images that are already shot and available for purchase.

49. Texture
Talking about texture as one of the design terms means contrasting graphic that has different surface quality. An easy example is the bricks and grass or wood panels. Working with textures in a graphic does not mean layering them one against the other but knowing and understand which textures complement each other.

50. Knolling
This is one of the design terms that comprises several techniques such as understanding contrast and textures. Knolling is to position several objects to be at a 90 degrees angle before taking the picture from above. 

 

Conclusion

There are a lot of other terms that still yet to be covered. But among them, these are the graphic design terms that many often used, whether in general or in a specific event. However, keep in mind that in graphic design, it’s the skill and adaptability that speaks loudest than understanding the lingo.

Lastly, enjoy the process!

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