Graphic design lingo can often sound like a completely foreign language. It is, however, important to have an understanding of some technical terms in order to effectively communicate about your site’s design and other elements in the creative process.  In this guide, we’ll take a look at ten terms worth knowing and their significance from a design standpoint.

Vector Graphics

JPEGS, BMP images and GIFs are made up of a unique grid of pixels. Unlike these types, vector graphics are made up of paths which have distinct start points and end points (x and y coordinates). A path, in this case, can be a curvy shape a line, or any other structure with angles or curves. The wonderful thing about vector-based images is that they can be resized without comprising quality because they’re not composed of a certain number of dots so they don’t appear pixilated.


The acronym CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black—the standard color model used in printing.  While computer monitors usually use the RGB color model (red, green, blue) it’s important to know CMYK because it’s the mode used on commercial printers. Programs like Photoshop let you decide which color mode to use so if you begin with RGB and then convert to CMYK you will likely notice a loss of color.

Alpha Channel

An alpha channel can be embedded in some image formats like TIFF and PNG to make an image appeal more transparent or change the color/opacity of one or more parts.


The resolution is another way of saying the ‘output quality’ of your image. Look for images with higher resolution because they will look sharper and less pixilated.

Pixels Per Inch (PPI)

PPI or “pixels per inch” is a measurement of the resolution for your image. By making an image large or smaller (resizing) you increase or decrease the PPI and come sometimes lose quality. This explains why some images when blown up look grainy or pixilated.

Dots Per Inch (DPI)

DPI or “dots per inch” is a measurement of the number of dots on a page. You want to look for images with a high DPI because the quality will be superior. The standard DPI for printed images is usually 300.

Portable Network Graphics format (PNG)

PNG is used when you want lossless compression format. Interestingly enough it was developed in order to replace the GIF format when it was thought that there would be a royalty fee imposed. Be aware that PNG images are not ideal for photographs however.

Typeface and Typography

The typeface, as you’ve likely seen on any word processor, is the full range of fonts and characters. The typography, is the style or way in which it’s organized and arranged to appear aesthetically pleasing.


Any idea what this stands for? What you see is what you get. Literally. Designers use this abbreviation to indicate that what is on the screen is the actual representation of the final printed product.


Grids are a common tool among graphic designers to align their templates and create a balanced composition. These are available on nearly even designing program including Photoshop and InDesign to best structure the content.

These ten terms are frequently used and implemented on a design level. While there are hundreds more worth learning, these should give you a leg up when navigating the complex world of graphic design.