Deciphering Printer Jargon

  • by Shala Graham
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CMYK, bleeds, duotone, crop marks, saddle-stitch and more! If you have worked with printers before you know these terms get thrown around a lot. So to help you understand here is a little cheat sheet on the meanings of these words for printers. Knowing these will also help you communicate with a designer. The designer needs to know how to build the piece you are asking for and will most likely ask you questions using these terms.


CMYK is used to define the color of the piece and the printing process. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Pieces that are full color are CMYK, also called 4-color processed. If you design a piece that is to be full color printed but pick pantone colors, the Pantone colors will get converted to CMYK.

Pantone Color

So you’re probably wandering what is a Pantone color. Pantone is the leading authority on color and provider of color systems. A Pantone color is a specific color identified in the Pantone color system, also called a spot color.  They also have tints of a specific color. According the Pantone website, the idea behind the PMS (Pantone Matching System) is to allow designers to “color match” specific colors when a design enters production stage – regardless of the equipment used to produce the color. Pantone offers guides that you can buy which state each specific pantone color including whether it’s on uncoated or coated paper, metallic colors, florescent, and the CMYK conversion of the Pantone color. These guides help you see exactly what a color will look like when printed. Pantone colors or spot colors are normally used in 2 or 1 color print jobs. These print jobs can save you money compared to 4-color process because it uses less inks.


A duotone is a 2 color halftone print. There is no CMYK involved just spot colors. Usually using black as the halftone and another color mixed together.

2 Color

A “2 color job” means the project uses only 2 PMS colors. However, in a 2 color job the colors are not mixed like in a Duotone. If the color contains any CMYK the printer, will ask you to adjust the artwork to use only the PMS colors.

Crop Marks

Crop Marks are the cross hairs inserted at the corners of a piece to show the printer where the piece should be cut. 

Bleeds and Bleed Marks

Bleeds are the extra space, usually 1/8”, in a printed piece that go beyond the crop or trim marks. Bleed Marks are also crosshairs that show where the bleed ends. In some printed pieces, you will have crop marks and bleed marks. Printed pieces that have any graphics that go to the edge will require bleeds, and at the very least crop marks, if not bleed marks as well. Do not put any text or important information in the bleed area as it will be cutoff.


Binding refers to how you want to secure paper together. There are various types of binding from saddle-stitch to coil binding to wire-o. Some of the most common are saddle-stitch and coil binding.

Saddle-stitch Binding

Saddle-Stitch binding is used when you have a booklet that is folded in half and want to keep together using staples. Staples going down the middle of the fold, usually about 2.5 to 5 inches apart.

Coil Binding

Coil binding is the plastic binding often used for reports. It typically comes in black, though there are other color options. Wire-o bindig is the same except it uses a double loop of wire in either aluminum or black.

Varnish or UV Coating

Sometimes you want your pieces to stand out or last a little while longer than normal print pieces. A varnish or coating will help. These treatments help to avoid scuffing the ink, keep heavy ink coverage from smearing on the next page and add protection to your piece to make last a little longer. UV coating, aqueous coating, and laminates are better for protecting pieces with heavy coverage. Most printers can apply a varnish for a nice a nice sheen, but it’s not ideal for protection.

Varnish is essentially ink without pigment. There are various kind of varnishes, such as gloss, dull or satin. If you want to emphasize a certain spot in your piece, you can apply a varnish to it.

UV coating is a clear liquid spread over the paper like ink and then cured instantly with ultraviolet light. UV gives more protection than varnish or aqueous.

Aqueous coating is water based coating and has a better hold out than varnish. It is also available in gloss, dull or satin and does not crack or scuff easily. But it’s also twice the price of varnish.

Now you have some insight into the printing world and hopefully this will help you communicate with your printer and designer!