Speech bubble with question markHere at Picante, we work on designing and producing magazine issues just about every single day. It occurred to me recently that, as part of our workflow, we rely on a lot of graphic design terminology that might come across as confusing jargon to new publishers — so I decided to put together a glossary of terms and definitions that hopefully will prevent some of that confusion (this isn’t a complete list, but it should serve as a good starting point):

Adobe Illustrator: The software many designers use to create and modify vector images.

Adobe InDesign: The software many magazine designers use to lay out an issue.

Adobe Photoshop: The software most designers use to manipulate and enhance bitmap images.

Bitmap images: Images, such as digital photographs, composed of individual pixels (points of color).

Bleeds: When a magazine or other printed piece goes on press, the printer actually prints on a larger area than the final intended size of the finished magazine (also known as the trim size). The extra inked paper that will be trimmed off as part of the finishing process is known as the bleeds, which typically range in width from 1/8″ (0.125″) to 1/4″ (0.25″). Bleeds are needed due to the fact that the trimming process isn’t always perfect, and running content beyond the trim line helps to ensure that unsightly white gaps won’t appear in the final product. So, for instance, if a photo or other design element is intended to run to the edge of the magazine, the designer will actually run that element beyond the trim line. That element then “bleeds.” Documents that bleed along all outside edges are said to have “full bleeds.”

Callout: A design element, usually smaller than a sidebar, used to highlight a specific piece of information not contained within the main body of an article. Can include text and/or graphics.

CMYK: Shorthand for “cyan, magenta, yellow and black,” CMYK stands for the four ink colors utilized in a typical four-color/full-color print run. During the printing process, tiny dots of these four colors are combined in myriad combinations to produce a wide range of colors visible to the naked eye.

Cutline: Another term for a caption used to describe or annotate photographs and illustrations in a magazine.

Department: An article category that regularly appears in a magazine, departments often have a more consistent look from issue to issue.

Digital edition: An online version of a magazine issue, coded in web pages, that is intended to be viewer-friendly on — and respond dynamically to accommodate — a wide range of devices (e.g., desktops/laptops, tablets and smartphones). Click here for more information on responsive magazine digital editions.

Dropcap: Sometimes included in the opening paragraph of a magazine article, a dropcap is a relatively large, one-letter design element (usually a capital letter, and usually the first letter of the opening word of the paragraph) that “drops” down alongside several lines of copy in that paragraph. Used for aesthetic appeal and to draw the reader’s eye.

Editorial: All non-advertising content in a magazine issue.

Eyebrow: A text/design element often used at the tops of article pages — particularly department pages — to indicate the magazine section to which an article belongs.

Feature: The “showpiece” articles within a magazine issue, features typically are unique and more involved/elaborate in terms of design. The cover story is usually considered to be one of the feature articles, but an issue may contain several other features as well.

Flipbook: Another option for distributing online versions of a magazine issue, flipbooks are usually Flash-based replicas that aim to simulate the look and feel of “flipping” pages in digital format. Flipbooks can also contain multimedia and other features not available in print editions. Click here for more information on flipbook editions.

Folio: The information at the bottom of most non-advertising magazine pages, often including the page number, magazine title and issue name.

Fractional ads: A generic name for ads smaller than 1/2-page (e.g., 1/3, 1/4, etc.).

Gutter: The center channel of a printed, bound magazine.

Kerning: A design-specific term for the spacing between letters. Kerning can be adjusted narrower or looser, depending on space needs and limitations.

Layouts: Another term for magazine article designs.

Leading: The spacing between lines of text — can be adjusted as needed.

Masthead: A small section of the magazine, usually located near the front, containing a list of magazine staff and contributors, issue volume/number information, copyright information, ISBN information, legal notices, etc.

Nameplate: Another term for the magazine logo that appears on the cover and elsewhere.

Output specs: When an issue is ready to send to the printer (and/or digital edition/flipbook provider), your magazine designer will need a list of specifications to use when outputting the final PDFs. These specs can include image resolution, bleed size and a number of other criteria.

Paper stock: The physical paper on which a magazine is printed.

Perfect binding: A binding process in which the gutter edges of the interior of the magazine are ground down a bit, coated with adhesive, and bound to the sheet containing the covers and spine. Perfect binding usually isn’t a practical option for smaller page counts, but your printer can advise you on specifics as to the best fit for your needs.

Prepress: A general term for the multistep quality-control check performed by your magazine designer prior to outputting the final proof. Prepress helps to ensure that a magazine is as perfect as possible before it goes to print and/or digital output.

Press-ready files: This one is fairly self-explanatory. Refers to files (usually PDFs) that are ready to be sent to the printer to produce the final product.

Pull-quote: A design element that “pulls” a snippet from an article’s content. Often used to highlight important points and enhance the overall design.

Resolution: Refers to the amount of information/detail contained in a bitmap (pixel-based) photograph or illustration. Printers typically recommend a resolution of at least 300dpi (dots per inch), also known as “high-resolution” or “high-res.” Images with lower resolutions may appear pixelated in print, varying in proportion with each image’s respective dpi. Medium-res images (approx. 150dpi) are often suitable for online flipbooks and digital editions, and low-res images (72dpi) are standard on websites. Your magazine designer can output PDFs at varying resolutions, according to specific needs, but it’s always best to start by taking/purchasing hi-res images, as it’s not possible to increase a bitmap image’s resolution without sacrificing a proportional degree of quality.

Saddle-stitching: In saddle-stitch binding, the magazine is laid flat, then stapled from the outside (cover) toward the inside (centerfold), then folded to the final size — this type of binding has an upper page limit, depending on the thickness of the paper stock, so your printer will be able to advise you on whether or not saddle-stitching is appropriate for your project.

Sidebar: A type of mini-story or aside used within a larger article. Usually includes content related to, but not part of, the main article.

Silhouetting: A production process carried out using Adobe Photoshop, usually to remove/isolate a photo subject from its background or surroundings.

Spine: For perfect-bound magazines, the spine is the strip of cover between the front and back covers. Often contains the magazine title, issue volume/number, etc.

Spot/Pantone/PMS colors: In some cases, you may have a very specific color (for example, a corporate color that must be accurate for branding purposes) that will need to be included as a separate step from the CMYK printing process. These colors, widely known as “spot colors,” “Pantone colors” (for the company that produces them) and “PMS colors,” are available in thousands of hues.

Spreads: A spread is a composite of two pages that appear next to one another in a magazine issue. Viewing layouts in spreads (as opposed to single pages) often makes the design easier to visualize as a whole.

Stock images: Photography and illustrations that can be purchased/licensed through various websites. Stock can be very helpful in cases where hiring a photographer for a custom photo shoot is impractical/unaffordable.

TOC: Shorthand for the table of contents.

Trim size: The final, trimmed size of a printed magazine.

Typography: Refers to the use of various fonts/typefaces. Typography can in itself serve as a significant part of a magazine’s design, and should not be overlooked.

Vector images: In contrast with bitmap images, vector images use mathematics to delineate their shapes. Illustrations and icons often use the vector format. And unlike bitmap images, vectors can be scaled up infinitely without a loss of resolution/quality.

White space: Also known in the magazine design industry as “negative space,” white space is the empty space within a design that provides much-needed separation and cleanliness within a layout, preventing a cramped, cluttered feel.

Have any other design terms you’d like to see explained here? Feel free to leave us a comment below!

For a more in-depth discussion of printing-related terminology and concepts, be sure to read our blog post “How to Get Printing Bids for Your Magazine Design Project.”

And be sure to check out the many other helpful articles in our magazine design blog.