Graphic Design Terms Demystified

Do you speak graphic design?

Like most professions, the graphic design industry has its own specialized vocabulary to describe the processes and products common to the field. The lingo may not always be easy for folks without a graphic design background to decipher, but fear not! Today we are demystifying some common graphic design terms:

  • Raster vs. Vector: This may sound like something out of Jurassic Park, but raster and vector files are really just types of files that are used to save images.You may have heard of jpegs or tiffs; these are raster files, and they are most commonly used for photographs. In a raster file, the image is made up of pixels—super small squares of color. The more pixels per inch, the sharper the image will be, and the larger the file will be. Raster files are frequently used for images rich in detail or texture.In a vector file, the image is made up of curves, lines, and blends according to mathematical descriptions. The major advantage of vector files is that, however much you enlarge the graphic, it will always look just as sharp because of the underlying math. The downside is that vector artwork seldom captures the detailed texture or subtlety of a raster image’s pixels. Vector files are commonly used for logos and other bold, simple graphics that need to look good in a variety of sizes. Their ability to be used across all scales makes them the preferred image file type for branding elements.


  • Low Res vs. High Res: Resolution is all about pixels—those little squares of color that make up an image. The more pixels there are, the higher the resolution, and the more detailed and sharp the image appears to the viewer. If an image has a really low number of pixels, it may look “pixelated”—in other words, you may see the edges and outlines of all those little squares.


Resolution is measured in something called DPI, or “dots per inch.” If you are creating an image for online purposes, a DPI as low as 72 can look just fine. But printed images need to be high res—at least 300 DPI—to avoid looking pixelated.

  • RGB vs. CMYK: These terms have to do with color. RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue. This three-color model is a description of the light blend making up pixels, and is used to define the colors on devices like displays, phones and tablets.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. This four-color model is used for print, often overlaying colors in a screened dot pattern to achieve a wider mix of perceived colors. On screen, defining artwork as CMYK will give you a more accurate representation of how your designs will print, helping to avoid shifts in color.

These different models exist because the range of colors on a computer screen is different from the range of colors in printed material. When working with images, the most important question to ask is, where will this image be used? If it will be used online, go with RGB. If the image is meant for a brochure or some other printed material, go with CMYK.

The world of graphic design is a rich and varied one, full of options and possibilities. Knowing the lingo can help you make the most of those options, and guide you as you work with your professional graphic designer to bring your vision to life.




Do you have a design term you’d like demystified? Let us know, and stay tuned for the next installment!

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