6 Design Terms You Should Know


While graphic design is a skill I would love to say I have, sadly I can barely resize an image. However, we have some amazing designers here at SAGE that gave me the inside scoop on the most common questions people have regarding the terminology used when discussing artwork.

1. What are pixels?

A pixel is the smallest element in a digital image. It is a single square that is a part of a grouping of squares that make up your image. The number of pixels you have in each direction (height and width) determines the size of the image. For example, if you have an image that is 125 px x 125 px, that means that your image is a square and is 125 pixels high and 125 pixels wide.

2. What does ‘vector’ mean?

A vector image is made of points instead of pixels. What that means in layman’s terms is that a vector image can be blown up to a much larger size without being blurry. The reason for this is that the points join paths (think, connect the dots) whereas with pixels, there are only a finite amount. So it would be like the difference between trying to stretch a piece of denim versus a piece of elastic.

3. What are CMYK and RGB, and what’s the difference?

These are color modes for images either on a screen or in print. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (which just means black) and RGB is red, green, and blue. CMYK is used for printing and is often called ‘4 color process’ or ‘4 color printing’ while RGB is used for devices with a monitor, like a TV or computer.

4. What’s the difference between .jpg, .gif, and .png?

A .jpg is used to compress digital images into blocks of pixels and has become the standard for images stored or sent on a computer because of the ability to downgrade the file size. While a .jpg is great for photographs, this is not the ideal way to save your art files because you often sacrifice quality for smaller file size.  Though it would be very slight, you might have noticeable blurriness or variations in color.

A .gif is more commonly used now for animations but has an extremely limited color palette, and the file sizes are usually quite small. You would mainly use a .gif for an animation, a logo, or a graphic with solid areas of color.

A .png file (pronounced ‘ping’) does not lose quality during the editing process. The main benefit of a .png is that is can include transparency, meaning it doesn’t have to show a white background, whereas a .jpg always has a background. The .png file type was designed to transfer images via the internet and, therefore, is the ideal file type for web graphics.

5. What in the world is Pantone?

Pantone Color Matching (aka PMS) is a standardized color matching system that allows a designer to accurately match a color across all forms of media. The reason this is important is because the red I see on my monitor might be vastly different from the red you see on your monitor depending on the settings. A PMS number tells the printer how much of each color to use when printing an image. So, if your color is PMS 187 (SAGE red), the printer would use a certain percentage of the CMYK colors every time so you know you’re getting the same color even if you are printing from different printers.

6. What about a “proof” vs. “print-ready”?

Oftentimes you might be asked for a proof or a print-ready file. The main difference between the two is the file size. A proof is a much lower resolution version of the actual file which is ideal for sending via email so the recipient can see a visual representation. The print-ready file, depending on the size of the item you are printing, could be extremely large and possibly take a long time to download, or even require a special delivery method such as We Transfer, Dropbox, or Hightail.

Hopefully, that clears things up a bit for some of you. Obviously, there is a lot more to it than that, but luckily, if you still have questions or just want someone to create your artwork for you, SAGE ArtworkZone rates start as low as $24!

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One Comment

  1. This is a well done article. I actually learned something from the section on jpg / gif / png. I'm so accustomed to the jpg format that I often use or request it as a default. now I will encourage my customers and typesetter to do png to help the file quality when we're dealing with images.

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