Glossary of Design Terms

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. R
  18. S
  19. T
  20. U
  21. V
  22. W
  23. X


A designation for paper, indicating that either one or both sides of the paper are coated. The C standing for “Coated”, the number designating how many sides and the S standing for “Sides”. Thus C1S literally means “Coated 1 Side” and C2S means “Coated 2 Sides.”


In Photoshop, a channel is a grayscale image that stores different types of information: Color information channels are created automatically when you open a new image. The image’s color mode determines the number of color channels created. For example, an RGB image has a channel for each color (red, green, and blue) plus a composite channel used for editing the image. An image can have up to 56 channels. All new channels have the same dimensions and number of pixels as the original image. (See illustration under alpha channel.)


See saturation. As chroma comes from the Greek word for color, it is sometimes incorrectly used as a synonym for hue.


The International Commission on Illumination (usually abbreviated CIE for its French name, Commission internationale de l’éclairage) is the international authority on light, illumination, color and color spaces. It was established in 1913 and is currently based in Vienna, Austria.


Also called lab space. This is the most complete color space specified by the International Commission on Illumination (CIE). It describes all the colors visible to the human eye and was created to serve as a device-independent model to be used as a reference. As it has a larger gamut than RGB and CMYK color spaces, as well as the color spaces of any input or output device (camera, printer, etc.) it is commonly used as the “common color space” between color profiles.

clip art

Collections of illustrations, design devices and other pre-created graphic items which can be used in a design. Clip art is usually vector-based artwork that is royalty-free. Many software programs, such as InDesign and Illustrator, come with a base library of clip art.


Clipping occurs when a pixel’s color values are higher than the highest value or lower than the lowest value that can be represented in the image; overbright values are clipped to output white, and overdark values are clipped to output black. The result is a loss of image detail. In some cases, clipping occurs because the color space being worked in has a gamut that is too small.


Enamel work in which the different colors are separated by strips of flattened wire placed edgeways on a metal backing, usually used for pendants and other jewelry. The word comes from French and literally means “partitioned”. A very similar look can be created on printed items by making flat areas of color and separating these with thin lines of foil. The effect can be made more effective by adding darkness around the foil, some texture and slight discoloration through the flat color areas and making the entire thing gloss against a matte backing. By extension, this latter graphic technique is referred to as cloisonné.


This refers to Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and BlacK (or Key), which are the subtractive primaries. They are pigments, which create a spectrum of colors in different combinations. Unlike monitors, printers use subtractive primaries to produce colors through subtractive mixing. The term “subtractive” is used because the primary colors are pure until you begin mixing them together, resulting in colors that are less pure versions of the primaries. You subtract values of C, M, Y and K to get white. You add values of R, G and B to get white.

coated paper

Paper with a surface treated with clay or some other pigment and adhesive material to improve the finish in terms of printing quality. A coated finish can vary from dull to very glossy and provides an excellent printing surface that is especially suited to fine color images.


A visual attribute of things that results from the light they emit or transmit or reflect. The term color is also commonly used in graphic design to distinguish from things which are black, white and gray.

color associations

According to marketing research, there is a whole index of emotional responses to colors. For example, blue is usually associated with knowledge or serenity; yellow is mostly associated with value and red prompts impulse buying. It is worth the artist’s time to become familiar with these associations.

color depth

This is the apparency of depth (relative distance from the viewer) characteristic of different colors and depending on the background against which they appear. Warm colors appear to advance while cool hues recede from the observer against a black background. The opposite is true against a white background.

color harmony

The term harmony derives from the Greek harmonia, meaning “joint, agreement, concord”, from the verb harmozo, “to fit together, to join”. In relation to color, this term refers to the combination of colors which go well together and are thus pleasing to the eye. The color wheel is used to establish color combinations which are harmonious.

color model

A color model is a mathematical model describing the way colors can be represented as numbers, creating different dimensions that correlate to the three dimensions of space (depth, height, width). When this model is associated with a precise description of how the components are to be interpreted (viewed, printed, etc.), the resulting set of colors is called color space. RGB (with R, G and B each becoming a “dimension” of space) and CMYK (again, with C, M and Y each becoming a “dimension” of space) are two common color models.

color profile

Also called ICC profile. This is a set of data that characterizes color input or output devices (digital cameras, scanners, monitors, printers, etc.) or a color space, based on the standards issued by the ICC. Profiles describe the color attributes of a particular device or viewing requirement by defining a mapping between the device source or target color space and a profile connection space (PCS). Here is an example, showing the use of profiles: A digital camera shoots a photo of a red boat on a blue sea. The camera’s information is simply one long set of numbers, each representing different colors. A computer monitor now opens this photo. But the computer monitor reads the numbers differently than the camera and thus the same photo now looks like a dark orange boat on a purple sea. Finally, this photo is sent to a printer. The printer reads the numbers differently than the camera and the monitor, and so the printed photo looks like a brown boat on a blue sea. To handle this, the camera, monitor and printer each have a profile. The camera’s profile maps it’s colors to a common color space (the PCS). The monitor profile defines how colors are to display on it based on the common color space. And the printer profile tells the printer what colors to print based on the common color space. Thus in every case the profile is either translating the device color to or from a common color target.

color separation

The process of dividing a multicolored image into the four individual process colors—Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black—so that the image can be reproduced on a printing press. This was previously done using a camera (process camera) with filters that captured each of the colors separately and later done using scanners that also scanned each color separately. More recently, the entire operation is done electronically by computer.

color space

A color space is a variant of a color model and has a specific gamut (range) of colors. For example, within the RGB color model are a number of color spaces: Adobe RGB, sRGB and so on. The color space is the interpretation of the numbers in a color model, defining how each number is to be either displayed or printed. Thus even if two documents are both RGB, their color can be different if each document is assigned a different color space.

color wheel

A circular diagram which represents the spectrum of visible colors. Color wheels are available which show the various different kinds of color harmony. These are made with two discs fastened with a rivet at their axis point. The first disc has a color wheel printed on it and the second disc has cutouts representing the different color harmonies.


1. Something offered as an inducement. 2. Something offered to attract or allure; enticement; inducement.

commercial art

A subsection of creative services (design, marketing, entertainment), referring to art created for commercial purposes, primarily advertising.

complementary harmony

Also called direct harmony or complement. This is the color directly opposite the key color on the color wheel. In the direct harmony one has the equal or lesser amount of color in the scene as the complementary.


Commonly called compositing. The combining of visual elements from separate sources into single images, often to create the illusion that all those elements are parts of the same scene.

condensed face

Refers to a narrow version of a regular typeface. Particularly desirable if it is important to get more letters into a given space. Also referred to as compressed or compact. Where narrow lettering is needed it is much better to use a condensed font rather than electronically scaling a non-condensed font.


The written material, in contrast to photographs or other elements of layout, in a magazine, advertisement, book, etc. In advertising, web marketing and similar fields, copy refers to the output of copywriters, who are employed to write material which encourages consumers to buy goods or services.


The use of words to promote a person, business, opinion or idea. Although the word copy may be applied to any content intended for printing, the term copywriter is generally limited to such promotional situations, regardless of media.


The enclosed portion of a letterform, such as the middle of an “o” or the bottom of a lowercase “d”.

crop marks

These are small horizontal and vertical lines at the corners of a printed document indicating where it is to be trimmed. Most layout programs automatically place these onto a PDF or printout.

cutting die

This is a kind of die that is used for cutting a substrate to a specific shape. These are used for items which are not straight cut and thus cannot be cut with a paper cutter. They are typically made by laser cutting a pattern into a flat piece of wood and then inserting a malleable blade into the groove. Foam or rubber is placed around the cutting blade so that the paper is immediately removed from the die after cutting.

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