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Common commercial printing terms

To many people, commercial printers seem to have a language all their own. We tend to speak in numbers and jargon, which might be confusing to some outside the industry.

In order to help close the loop, Prisma Graphic has compiled a list of some common commercial printing terms below and provided their definitions.


• Web-to-Print: a customer/printer relationship where key documents and templates are hosted on an Internet-based system so clients can order directly from the hosted site. Also known as Marketing Supply Chain Management, Prisma Graphic developed their own proprietary system 10 years ago – DokShop. (Learn more about our web to print solution – DokShop)

• Registration: in color printing registration is the method of perfectly overlapping colors to form one single image. This is achieved by a pressman aligning crosshair (registration) marks in the open space around a printed piece. The same marks can also be used in the bindery process to finish the trimming and folding.

• Process Printing: also known as four-color process (4CP), is where all images and elements used in the printed piece are converted into values of Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black (CMYK) through the use of dots, solids and screens. When the CMYK values are transferred to printing plates and then printed atop each other in sequential order the full-color printed piece is then created on paper. This process was once done with the use of film and now it’s almost always done from a desktop computer directly onto the press plates.

• Spot Color Printing: when specific color variants, outside of normal CMYK, are requested for a printing project. These colors, usually one or two, are selected from a Pantone Matching System (PMS) swatch book for both coated and uncoated paper stocks.

• Varnish: a clear coat of ink base in either a gloss, matte or dull finish. Varnish can be used to enhance the printed piece’s aesthetic value, draw attention to certain elements or just to help protect the piece. Aqueous coating is another method for protection, although it is a water-based coating, which is normally applied as a flood coating.

• Line Screen: measures of how many lines of dots are printed within a linear inch. The value is expressed as Lines Per Inch (LPI) and common practice today is 200 LPI for coated or 175 LPI for uncoated stocks.

• Bleed: a common graphic design element where ink is printed at least 1/8″ past the final trim size of a printed piece to ensure images or elements intended to run off the piece do just that. Typical bindery process can vary as much as 1/32nd in any direction.

• Finish Size: also known as trim or cut size, is the exact size a project is to exist after it has been produced.

• Saddlestitch: a common booklet binding process where the project is stapled in the seam where it folds.

• Perfect Binding: is a durable method of binding where a printed cover is wrapped around the inside pages of a book and bound together by a hot glue adhesive. This process is normally used with a high number of pages.

We realize this list is just a starting point of printing terminology. In the future, we plan to add to the list and have it posted to the Prisma Graphic Commercial Printing website. In the meantime, if there are any specific terms you would like to see defined, please contact Prisma Graphic or ask the question below in the comments section.

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[About us: Prisma Graphic is a full-service, marketing solutions provider with an emphasis in commercial printing that specializes in online marketing supply chain management. Utilizing cutting-edge technology and a commitment to customer service, we partner with clients to develop cost-effective programs that execute integrated brand campaigns and highly-targeted business communications. Our ongoing evolution is to deliver sales opportunities at the lowest possible cost.]

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BY PRISMAOctober 18, 2010

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