65 Popular Graphic Design Terms to Help You Thrive in the Field

graphic design terms

Table of Contents

Graphic design is all around us, from photography to branding, packaging design, marketing, advertising and so much more. Interestingly, more people are getting into DIY design to equip themselves with the basic skills and knowledge required to create basic designs.

With Canva and many other DIY graphic design platforms, many people can create simple brand and marketing graphic designs for their firms without needing the service of professional graphic designers.

Like every other industry, graphic design also has its terms exclusive to designers and can pose a bit of a challenge for non-designers relatively new to the field.

From negative space to tracking, warm colors, kerning, cool colors, CMYK, RGB, and OMG. A lot of these technical terms can get you confused. For this reason, we have identified and explained the top 65 graphic design terms that will help thrive and fit into the graphic design field.

65 Popular Graphic Design Terms You Should Know

The following are the common graphic design terms you should get familiar with. While this is not an exhaustive list of all the graphic design terms, it is a great place to start.

Keep Reading!

Graphic Design Terms #1: The Basics

1. Typography

graphic design terms and definitions

Typography is the artistic selection, arrangement, and design of type or letters in a readable, eligible, and visually appealing way.

It essentially involves the design and use of different typefaces in a way that helps to communicate ideas visually. With the growing demand and use of letter art, many designers are passionate about using typography for better designs.

2. Body Copy

graphic design terms to know

Body copy refers to the main text of any design. Different from the logo design, headline, or subheading. The body copy contains the most important information in the design. For example, this is the body copy that you are reading right now.

3. Mock-up

25 common graphic design terms

Mock-up also referred to as a design proof is the artistic rendering of a design or product that showcases the realistic representation of how the design/product will look in action such as the scale or full-size model of the design.

In more simple terms, a mockup could be a model, image, or scene of a proposed design or product that is often used to demonstrate, educate, promote and validate the design

4. Moodboard

graphic design terms list

A mood board is a collection of visual materials, or a type of visual presentation or collage that consists of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition.

Mood boards are often used by designers, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers, and all types of creative professionals to evoke a certain style or concept and communicate or construct the potential overall aesthetics for a brand or project

5. Composite Layout

terms for graphic design

A composite layout – Comp – in graphic design is an imitated presentation of a design proposal that a graphic artist or advertising agency presents to their clients.

It is a rough version of your design that is often created as a pencil sketch or digital sketch that shows the relative size and image position and text even when the exact images and text for the design are not available yet.

6. Aspect ratio

graphic design industry terms

An aspect ratio is a proportional relationship between an image’s width and height. It describes an image’s shape and is usually written as a formula of width to height.

The most common aspect ratio that most people use is 16:9, which is the ratio in most high-definition televisions and computer monitors.

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Graphic Design Terms #2: Photography & Artwork

7. Resolution

graphic design terms of service

Image resolution is a measure of image quality that is typically described in PPI (Pixels per inch), which refers to how many pixels are displayed per inch of an image.

Images with higher resolution mean that there are more pixels per inch resulting in more pixel information and creating a high-quality, crisp image. So essentially, the higher the resolution, the crisper the image will be.

8. Vector image

50 graphic design terms

A vector image refers to computer images created using a sequence of commands or mathematical statements that place lines and shapes in a two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) space.

In simple terms, it is a scalable graphic form that is created and saved as a sequence of vector statements.

9. DPI

terms in graphic design

DPI means Dots Per Inch and refers to the number of ink droplets a printer will produce per inch while printing an image. Essentially, a higher dpi means a more detailed image, the more dots of ink per inch the picture has, the more detail you will see when printed.

10. PPI

basic graphic design terms

PPI stands for pixel per inch. It refers to the quality of a digital image displayed on-screen and can also contribute to the quality of an image.

PPI measures the density of pixels used on electronic devices such as camera screens or monitors. If a digital image has too few pixels, the pictures will not have too much detail and appear pixelated.

11. Pixel

graphic design names

A pixel is also known as a picture element (pix = picture, el = element). It refers to the smallest unit of a rasterized digital image or graphic that is often displayed and represented on a digital display device.

Every pixel can take on properties of over a million different colors and can often portray an unlimited range of shapes and images when grouped.

12. Stock Photo

graphic design names list

A stock photo or image is a generic photo, illustration, or icon created with no particular design in mind. They are usually licensed and attract a fee for use for individuals or organizations to use in their marketing materials, packaging, branding, book covers, and so many others.

13. Trim

typography

Trim is the final size of a printed piece after it’s been trimmed or cut from its page. It is represented by the blue line and is executed along crop marks that show where to cut.

Also known as crop marks, trim marks are lines printed in the corners of your publications sheet or sheets of paper to indicate where to trim the paper. They are mostly used by commercial printers to create bleed where an image or color needs to be extended to the edge of the paper.

14. Thumbnail sketch

body copy

A thumbnail sketch is a quick, abbreviated drawing or small rough draft drawn by a designer usually very rapidly and with no corrections. Usually created using pen or pencil, thumbnail sketches are designed during the conceptualization phase of a design project often an inch or two high.

15. Bleed

A bleed in design is the visual content that runs over the trim edge or printing that goes beyond the edge of where the sheet will be trimmed. Bleed is when a design extends past its printed edge so there’s no chance of white borders when it’s trimmed down after printing.

16. Crop

mock-up

Crop refers to the act of trimming or cutting out the unnecessary parts of an image, usually the outside edges of a digital image to improve framing. Cropping can be used to make an image smaller (in pixels) to highlight a specific subject or alter the image’s aspect ratio (length to width) of the image.

Graphic Design Terms #3: File Formats

17. AI

moodboard

AI stands for Adobe Illustrator document. It is a file format developed by Adobe systems to represent single-page vector designs.

18. EPS

EPS stands for Encapsulated PostScript. It is a vector or resizable file format that is commonly used for vector designs and is often required for professional and high-quality image printing.

PostScript printers and image setters use EPS to produce vast, detailed images or print elements such as logos, business cards, brochures, billboard advertising, large posters, and attention-grabbing marketing collateral.

20. GIF

A GIF stands for Graphic Interchange Format. It is a raster file format that supports animation and transparency. It is a small animation and video footage that is commonly used to represent a feeling or action. Gifs can only display up to 256 colors allowing for very small file sizes.

21. PDF

PDF stands for Portable Document Format developed by Adobe. It is a versatile file format that can be universally downloaded and viewed by any computer that gives people an easy, reliable way to present and exchange documents irrespective of the software, hardware, or operating systems being used by anyone who views the document.

PDFs can contain links and buttons, form fields, audio, video, and business logic and are most suitable for sharing previews of work, and are universally viewable. They can be signed electronically on Windows or macOS using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software

22. Raster graphics

composite layout

Raster graphics in digital photography and computer graphics is a type of digital image that uses tiny rectangular pixels or picture elements, arranged in a grid formation to represent an image.

Otherwise known as bitmap graphics, raster graphics are good for assigning special effects, color correction, and manipulating photos. Finally, a raster graphic represents a two-dimensional picture as a rectangular matric or grid of square pixels and can be viewed on a computer display, paper, or other display media.

23. JPEG

JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It is a standard image format most widely used for containing lossy and compressed image data that load quickly.

They are mostly used for web-based designs, emails, banner ads, online photos, and virtually everything online. Unlike GIFs, Jpegs have a white background added to them automatically.

24. PNG

PNG stands for Portable Network Graphic, a form of the raster image file or web-based format that is most popular with web designers because it does not lose the quality of the image when compressed.

PNG files were created to improve the quality of Gid files and can handle graphics with transparent or semi-transparent backgrounds.

25. PSD

PSD stands for Photoshop Document and is the default format created by designers in Adobe Photoshop to save images you create. Adobe Photoshop does not allow users to save files in other formats, but if created from scratch, it will default to the PSD format unless you choose otherwise.

26. TIFF

TIFF stands for Tagged Image File Format, a common computer file used to store and exchange raster images or graphics between applications.

TIFF produces higher-quality images than a Jpeg or Png and is often the go-to choice among photographers and publishing industries. TIFF files are significantly larger than JPEG and can either be compressed or uncompressed without losing the file.

Graphic Design Terms #4: Layout

27. Balance

aspect ratio

Balance in design refers to the way visual elements are distributed in a design. It is the way the graphical weight of design components balances with each other on any side of a design to create satisfaction, completion, and cohesion.

A balanced design is visually appealing and positioned diagonally, horizontally, vertically, or foreground versus background to achieve visual balance to guide the eye to the most important information.

They can be achieved in three ways:

1. Symmetrical

resolution

Symmetrical design or balance is a concept that is achieved when all elements of a design are equal on both sides of a central line or where both sides of a design mirror one another. In symmetrical art, all areas of the design attract an equal amount of attention.

2. Asymmetrical

An asymmetrical design is an uneven arrangement of visual elements where the elements are not equal on both sides of a central line. You can check for irregular sizing, changes in line weight, different shapes, and contrasting colors to identify an asymmetrical design.

3. Radial

A radial design is one in which the visual elements are arranged around a central point in the composition. It is one where elements radiate from a central point to create balance.

28. Wireframe

vector image

A wireframe also known as the skeleton is a two-dimensional illustration of a page’s interface that specially focuses on the allocation of space and prioritization of web content, the functionality available, and intended behaviors. It is a low-fidelity representation that displays the essential functions of a website and does not include any styling, color, or graphics.

29. Alignment

stock photo

Alignment in graphic design is the way individual elements of a design are arranged or how texts or design elements are lined up. It is the visual arrangement of a design that makes a design look visually appealing and organized. A poorly aligned design will look unfinished and cluttered which can make it hard for the audience to understand.

30. Proximity

thumbnail sketch

The proximity principle in graphic design is how similar design elements are grouped or spaced on a page to create a more effective visual design. In simple terms, it is the physical location of every element in a design to create a spatial relationship with other features on the page.

31. Repetition

bleed

The repetition principle in graphic design is the use of the same elements over and over again to create and maintain a unified look throughout the design. It is a great way to add texture to the design and is often used to bring the project to life beyond just creating an element of unity within an artwork.

32. Contrast

crop

The contrast principle in graphic design determines the first thing the viewers look at in the design. It specifically causes the eye of the viewers to be drawn to a particular area and is achieved by including elements within the design that look measurably different from one another. Designers use color, shape, texture, size, or typeface to create a visible difference in the properties of the design elements

33. Negative Space

pdf

Negative space otherwise called white space is the part of any design that is not marked or filled by images, text, or other graphic elements. White space is the space around the content and functional elements of the page to let the design breathe by reducing the amount of text and other design elements.

34. Grid

raster graphics

A grid is a series or system for organizing the layout of a design using vertical, horizontal, angular, or curved lines. The layouts could either be for print (book, magazine, or poster) or digital (web pages, apps, or other user interfaces) to serve different purposes.

35. Rule of thirds

jpeg
SLR Lounge

Rule of thirds is a design composition guideline or technique that graphic designers use to determine a focal point or place your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two-thirds more open. In simple terms, the rule of thirds is used to determine where to place important elements in a design.

36. Hierarchy

balance
HubSpot

The hierarchy principle in graphic design is the arrangement of elements in a design by the level of importance. It uses key principles, including size, color, contrast, alignment, repetition, and brightness to emphasize certain characteristics of a design. It also controls the design principles to show importance within the design as a whole.

37. Scale

Scale in design refers to the relative size of an element or an object compared to other elements. It is mainly responsible for creating a visual hierarchy among elements of your creation and directs users to what to look out for in a design. A graphic designer can use a scale to create interest and grab the viewer’s attention.

Graphic Design Terms #5: Typography

38. Font Types

symmetrical
Sturdy

Some of the most popular font types include serif, sans serif, slab serif, script, and decorative

1. Serif

Serif fonts in typography are small line or store that is attached to the end of some letter or symbols within a particular font or family.

2. Sans serif

In typography and lettering art, sans serif font unlike serif typefaces refers to fonts without a serif – the stroke at the end of letters or symbols.

3. Slab serif

The slab serif is also known as Egyptian, Clarendon, or simply “slab”. This font is distinguished by thick, block-like serifs.

4. Script

A script font is a more decorative font style that is designed to stimulate handwriting or cursive typography. These fonts have no serifs and the letters often touch each other, similar to the flowing, cursive script.

5. Decorative style

Decorative font otherwise known as display type is mostly used for titles and headlines or small amounts of text in large sizes such as in greeting cards or posters.    

39. Type Components

wireframe

All fonts are made of the same basic components.

1. Ascender

An ascender line in typography refers to the upward part of a letterform usually a vertical stork that extends above the x-height and above the cap height. It is part of a lowercase letter that goes above the main body of the letter such as the letter “b” or “h.”

2. Descender

A descender is the opposite of an ascender. It’s a downward vertical stroke or line that extends below the baseline. It is part of a lowercase letter that goes below the main body of the letter such as the letter “g” or “p.”

3. Baseline

A baseline in design is the invisible line (grid) in a design that is used to write a text. In typography, a baseline helps to write consistent content in a straight line.

In simpler words, all font characters sit on the baseline, with the lowest point of all uppercase letters and most lowercase letters.

4. Font Spacing

Font spacing in graphic design is the creation of vertical and horizontal space of a font in a text to change the visual appearance of the design.

5. Median/x-height

In typography design, the median or x-height is the spot where most lower-case letters reach their maximum height and are set from the height of the x in a font.

6. Kerning

Kerning refers to the adjustment of space between pairs of letters in the same word. Kerning adds or reduces space between letters to help you create proportional and balanced typography.

7. Tracking

Tracking is a term in typography that is used to identify the way you decrease or increase the horizontal space between a range of letters or characters.

This technique is used by graphic designers to adjust and fine-tune the letter spacing of a logo or font on a website. It works with kerning and leading.

8. Leading

Leading in typography design is the vertical space between lines of type which is mostly measured from the baseline of one line of text to the baseline of the line above it.

40. Font Case

Font case is the way characters, or letters are characterized within a word or phrase.

1. Uppercase

Uppercase otherwise known as caps and capital is the large, capital letters of a typeface. They are the bigger, taller versions of letters. Some people use capital letters to call people’s attention to the message.

2. Lowercase

Lowercase abbreviated as LC, typeface of small characters used to describe the shorter, smaller versions of letters.

3. Small Caps

Small caps or small capitals are characters typed with glyphs that resemble uppercase letters but are reduced in height.

In simple terms, small caps are uppercase characters that are the same height as lowercase letters. They are mostly used to prevent capitalized letters from appearing too large on the page.

41. Font Style

Aside from font spacing and case, fonts can also be modified by scale, weight, and style. This font styles include the following:

1. Point size

Point size is the width and height of a font or text measured in points. One point is approximately 1/72nd of an inch.

2. Italics

Italics are letters or characters that slope to the right and are a visual technique that is used to draw attention or emphasize specific words or sentences within a paragraph.

3. Font Weight

Font weight refers to the overall thickness of a typeface’s stroke in a font. It specifies the boldness of a font and the most common ones are regular, bold, and light to heavy.      

42. Rags

alignment
Bootcamp

Rags in typography or typesetting describe an uneven margin for a vertical column of the type which can either be for a print or digital text depending on the visual organization of the text.

43. Widows

A widow is the end of a paragraph. It is essentially a single line of text that consists of one or more words that appear at the top of a column.

44. Orphans

An orphan is a single word or syllable that sits at the bottom of a paragraph of text.

45. Lorem ipsum

proximity

Lorem Ipsum in typography or textual context is a filler text that is placed in a document or visual presentation. It comes from “The Extremes of Good and Evil,” written by Cicero in 45 BCE.

Graphic Design Terms #6: Color

repetition
DINFOS Pavillon

46. Color Theory

Color theory is the study of how colors affect viewers mentally and emotionally. This is used to choose which colors create the energy the brand needs.

47. Analogous colors

Analogous colors are a combination of colors built out of shapes close to each other on the colors such as color red and orange.

48. Cool and Warm Colors

Cool colors are those that evoke feelings of coolness such as blues and green while warm colors are the colors that evoke feelings of warmth such as red and orange.

49. Complementary colors

This means colors pairs that sit opposite of each other on the color wheel and create visual tension when used together

50. Color Palette

A color palette refers to a collection of colors and tools for use in graphic design, painting, or illustration programs or software.

51. Gradient

This refers to the gradual shift from one color to another based on the color wheel

52. Pantone

The Pantone Matching System is a standard numerical classification of specific color identification for color printing. It enables designers to reference exact color shades.

53. CMYK & RGB

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key and is the color mode meant for ink printing such as business card designs while RGB stands for red, green, and blue. It is the color mode intended for screen displays.

54. Saturation

This refers to the intensity of color in an image. Usually, images with higher saturation look more vibrant while the ones with low saturation look washed out.

55. Monochrome & Opacity

Monochrome refers to a color palette built out of various shades and tints of just one color while opacity is a measure of a color’s transparency.

Graphic Design Terms #7: Logo Types

contrast
99designs

56. Abstract Mark

These are image-based logos that use abstract forms to represent a company’s branding.

57. Emblem

These logos use frames and shapes to represent the company or organization name using badges, seals, and crests.

58. Lettermark

These logos feature one or more stylized letters to represent the brand. Example of this includes CNN, HBO, and IBM logos.

59. Woodmark

This logo design includes only the company name with no symbols, mascots, or badges.

60. Mascot

A mascot is a living character that represents an organization or a business.

61. Pictorial mark or symbol

Pictorial marks and symbols are non-abstract, visual icons that represent a company’s name or service. An example of this is the Apple logo and the Twitter bird.

Graphic Design Terms #8: Branding

62. Brand identity

negative space

This is the collection of all elements or a visual version of your brand that a company creates to portray the right image to its customer. It mostly includes a logo, slogan, packaging, website, and other marketing materials.

63. Brand

This refers to the conceptual way your company is perceived by your prospects usually through your values, tone, aspirations, and ethos.

64. Brandmark

grid
SendPulse

This refers to a specific type of logo that uses a symbol instead of the company name such as the Nike Swoosh.

65. Style Guide

rule of thirds

This refers to a set of design standards for a brand to ensure complete consistency in its style and formatting of design assets.

Graphic Design Terms: The Conclusion

Graphic design terms are the graphic elements you use to create creative, engaging, and brand-promotional designs. They are crucial to creating designs that can significantly increase your brand, product, or service’s success. There are many graphic design terms that you can include in your design; in this blog, we have provided a comprehensive list of 65 graphic design terms you should get familiar with to create more effective designs.


February 9, 2023
10 min read
13 reads

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