Design for Non-Designers, Part 2

Negative space. Bleed. Overprinting. Rule. Crop.

The world of print design, like many other fields, has its own vocabulary, some of which have slightly different meanings in other contexts. So if you’re working with a designer, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the most common terms used in design work and the design process.

(Part 1, which gives a basic overview of the elements of a design project and an introduction to vocabulary related to type, is here.)

Graphic Terminology

Not X-rated, I promise! Here are a few key words related to images and graphic elements:

  • bleed: The term for when text or graphics go beyond the trim edge of a printed piece. (No actual blood is spilled.)
  • crop: To cut off part of an image. A designer might crop an image to eliminate a distracting element (e.g., a person’s arm, part of a sign, etc.) or to adjust the focus of the image (e.g., centering a person’s face rather than their surroundings).
  • halftone: The technical term used for black and white photos, originally used in offset printing.
  • negative space: The areas of a design that do not contain images or text; also called “white space.” An important part of any design to consider as balance or background to the other elements.
  • overprinting: When an element is printed over any part of an image (e.g., a title partially overprinting a photo). If you’re purchasing a stock photo or other art to be used on a book cover, for example, you’ll want to check to make sure there aren’t restrictions on overprinting.
  • rule: A line—horizontal, vertical, etc. Any width, any length.

More Words About Words

In the previous post I explained some basic terms about typefaces and fonts. Here are a few more:

  • display type: Text used typically in large sizes for elements like titles, subtitles, chapter headings, etc.
  • kerning: Spacing between letters in a word.
  • ligatures: Special characters formed by two letters combined into one. Common ligatures involve the letters f, l, and i in words like difference, reflect, fix, etc.
  • old-style figures: Numbers that have different heights and sometimes extend below the baseline. They can have a classic or old-fashioned feel, especially in the body text of a book.  Old-style figures are part of the character sets of some serif typefaces.
  • dingbat_graphicdingbat: (One of my personal favorites!) A text character used as an ornament. Dingbats include asterisks, wavy lines, bullets, flowers, etc. Some typefaces include dingbats in their character sets, and some typefaces are entirely made up of dingbats (e.g., Zapf Dingbats, Woodtype Ornaments).

These short lists of vocabulary words can help you get a basic grasp of the language of design. If you want to learn more, just search online using the term “typography vocabulary.”

Next I’ll explain a typical design process and how to work effectively with a designer to get a result you’re happy with.

Read Part 3.

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