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Graphic Design Glossary: 78 Essential Terms

April 13, 2023

by Anna Peck

Senior SEO Specialist at Clutch.co

From basic terminology to industry-specific acronyms, this glossary is a must-have for anyone working with or studying graphic design. Stay current on the latest trends and find answers to your questions quickly and easily.

Today’s society is focused on visuals – all areas of B2B support rely on the impact of consumers. If your product doesn’t look good, more customers will find an alternative. 

Building relationships with designers is key, and it goes beyond types of colors and shapes. 

From technical processes to design elements, this glossary provides comprehensive definitions for all aspects of graphic design.

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78 Graphic Design Terms to Know

Learn essential graphic design terms for those working in that design realm.

A

  • Adobe:  A computer software brand that has a variety of design applications like Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, and more tools. 
  • Analogous Colors: Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.
  • Alignment: The way design elements are arranged.
  • Ascender: A upward part of a letter that extends above the x-height.
  • Aspect Ratio: The proportional relationship between the width and height of an object.

B

  • Baseline: The imaginary horizontal line that a majority of letters reside to give the text an idea of balance.
  • Bitmap: Also called a raster. A type of graphic that is created from rows of colored pixels within a grid. 
  • Body Copy: The primary text in a piece of content.
  • Brand Identity: All of the elements that represent a company’s image to the public. This can include social media, business cards, and other collateral.
  • Brandmark: A visual depiction of a brand.

Discover the cost of graphic design projects with our guide. 

C

  • CMYK: The color model used for print purposes. Stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key.
  • Color Palette: Colors packaged together that can be used for any brand design elements.
  • Color Theory: The logical structure for color that includes harmony between colors, the context of how colors are used, and the color wheel.
  • Color Wheel: A visual representation of the relationships between colors in a circle format.
color wheel
Source
  • Complementary Colors: Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel.
  • Contrast: When two design elements on a page are different - could be colors, shapes, or text.

D

  • Descender: The downward part of a letter that extends below the baseline.
  • DPI (Dots Per Inch): Refers to the number of ink droplets a printer will produce per inch.

E

  • Emblem: A visual type that uses a shape or symbol to include a company or organization’s name. These include crests and badges.

F

  • File Format: A layout or extension of a file. Popular file formats are JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and GIF. 
  • Flat Design: A minimalistic design approach.
  • Focal Points: An area of interest or emphasis that captures a viewer’s attention.

Learn how to make a custom graphic design budget using our template. 

G

  • GIF: Stands for Graphics Interchange Format. A raster file format generally used for basic animations.
  • Golden Ratio: The proportion between two numbers that equals approximately 1.618.
  • Gradient: A gradual change of colors becoming more transparent. There are two common types: radial and linear.
  • Grayscale: Only colors are shades of gray.
  • Grid: Evenly divided columns and rows.

H

  • Hex: The six-digit number used to represent colors in design elements and online applications.
  • High Resolution: More pixels per inch creates a high-quality, clear visual.
  • Hue: Another way to describe a color.

I

  • Icon: An image used to represent an action or object.
  • Italic: A typeface with letters slanted slightly to the right.

J

  • JPEG: Stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. A compressed file size that works best with photographs and artwork.

K

  • Kerning: Refers to the space between two specific letters or other characters, which helps with legibility.

L

  • Leading: The text spaced vertically in lines.
  • Lettermark: Logos that feature stylized letters. Examples include FOX and HBO.
  • Logo: A visual representation of an organization or company. Can include symbols, stylized text, or icons.
  • Logotype: The design of a company name is a unique way.
  • Lorem Ipsum: Simple dummy text used as a placeholder.
  • Low Resolution: Less pixels per inch resulting in less detail and quality images.

M

  • Mascot: Logos that rely on a brand spokesperson or character to represent a business. Examples include the Kool-Aid Man and Tony the Tiger.
  • Mockup: A rendering of a design in early stages. Can be used for demostration or promotion.
  • Monochrome: A design in one color or different shades of a single color.
  • Monospace: A font where letters and characters occupy the same amount of horizontal space.

O

  • Opacity: Scale that makes a design element transparent.

P

  • Pantone Matching System (PMS): Standardizes over 1,000 colors, assigning them a number and name.
  • Pica: A typesetting unit of measurement. It equals one-sixth of an inch.
  • Pictorial Mark: A non-abstract symbol or icon that represents a company. Examples include the Twitter bird or Apple logo.
  • Pixels: The small basic unit of a color or image on a computer.
  • Pixels Per Inch (PPI): How many individual pixels are displayed in one inch of a digital image.
  • Placeholder: A temporary element for design visualization.
  • PNG: Stands for Portable Network Graphic. A type of image file that handles graphics with transparent or semi-transparent backgrounds.

R

  • Raster: Also known as a bitmap. An image made of a set grid of pixels.
  • Resolution: The quality of an image - a high-res image is clear and a low-res image will be a bit more blurry.
  • RGB: A color model in which red, green, and blue light are added to reproduce a broad array of colors.
  • Rule of Thirds: A compositional technique that divides an object or frame into an equal, three-by-three grid with two horizontal and vertical lines.

Should you hire a freelance graphic designer or a graphic design agency? Use our guide to make your choice.

S

  • Sans Serif: Letters that do not have an extra stroke or curve at the end.
  • Saturation: The intensity of a color.
  • Scale: Refers to the size of an object in relation to another object.
  • Script: Fluid font styles that are based on handwriting.
  • Serif: The extra stroke or curve at the end of different letters.
  • Slab Serif: Fonts that have a geometric feel.
  • Skeuomorphism: When a digital design element is created to look like a physical work.
  • Stock Photo: Licensed images that designers are able to use.
  • Style Guide: A set of design standards for any brand.
  • Symmetry: Balance and proportion within a visual.

T

  • Texture: The surface features on an image that mirrors a specific visual appearance.
  • TIFF: Stands for Tag Image File Format, which is a computer file used to store raster images and graphic information.
  • Tint: The shade of color that is created when white is added to lighten the hue.
  • Tracking: The space between groups of letters and blocks of text.
  • Triadic Colors: Colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel.
  • Typeface: The set of specific designs for letters and numbers.
typeface
Source
  • Typography: The visual component of a written word.

V

  • Vector Images: An image made up of lines, points, and curves.

W

  • Web Design: The visual creation of a website - graphic design goes into many aspects of web design. 
  • White Space: Negative space in a design that is usually between graphic elements.
  • Wordmark: Relies on a custom typographic treatment of text to communicate a brand. Examples include Google and Coca-Cola.

X

  • X-Height: The distance between the baseline and mean line of lowercase letters.

Be Clear About Your Graphic Design Needs

Graphic design is an important tool for businesses to communicate their message and create a successful brand. It is essential for businesses to be clear about their design requirements to get the most from the services of a graphic designer. 

With this glossary, we hope businesses have gained a better understanding of the range of graphic design options available and are now empowered to make informed decisions on their graphics projects.

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