What Does This Mean? A Glossary of Commercial Printing Terms

“You know … that effect. The one that looks like … um ...”

Trying to explain your visual merchandising vision can be frustrating when you can’t find the right words to describe precisely what you want.

And whether you’re a seasoned veteran or just getting started in the industry, you’re sure to come across a number of terms and phrases that are either unfamiliar or require a little refresher when working on a printing job.

Enter this handy glossary, which will help you and your partners get on the same page when it comes to talking about your printed pieces.

While it’s not a complete compendium of terms, this glossary can help you better shape the conversations you have and the direction you give to design, printing, and visual marketing vendors. Your team will be impressed as well!

Let’s dive in!

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Printing Glossary of Terms: A to E

Abrasion resistance

Also called “rub” or “scuff” resistance, it refers to the toughness of the surface of your material. Surfaces with abrasion resistance can resist deterioration or destruction caused by friction.


Glue that comes in various levels of tack, from ultra-removable to permanent.

AIB certification

Stands for American Institute of Bakeries. This is a facility’s food-safe certification.

Application temperature

The temperature of an application surface or material at the time anything is applied. All adhesives have a minimum application temperature rating. Temperature can be a factor in design based on hot or cold environments.

Big box

A retail store that has a significantly large footprint and sells a variety of products to its customers.


Ability of material to naturally break down by organisms in the environment.


When the printed image extends beyond the trim edge of anything printed. This is done to avoid the appearance of outside margins. The extended image allows for inherent variation in the manufacturing process.

Branded environment

A branded environment is any space designed to convey a company or brand mission, values, and aesthetic. In doing so, it brings a brand to life.

See how Imagine creates branded environments that are stunning, uniquely yours.

Chasing arrows

Describes the source of the resin that made the plastic.

CPG (consumer packaged goods)

An industry term for merchandise that customers use up and replace on a frequent basis. These products usually have a limited shelf life and recognizable packaging.

[Imagine knows CPG in-store marketing. We partner with brands of all sizes on marketing programs that grab shoppers' attention and drive sales]


A liquid that is applied over the top level of print to give it an embellishment or protection.

Commercial printing

Printed products needed to run your business.


Any furnished material (manuscript, pictures, artwork, etc.) to be used in the production of printing.

Crop marks (tick marks)

The marks made on the outer edges of artwork to designate where cuts are to be made for trimming, sheeting, or die cutting.


Mechanically pressing a design or image into the printed surface.


Cutting tool or device used for creating a desired shape into your material or media.

Digital printing

Printing digital-based images onto your substrate or material, using sprayed liquid ink instead of printing plates.

[Learn more about digital printing and several other commercial printing methods.]

Direct mail

Unsolicited advertising sent to prospective customers through the mail.

mail from a financial institution

Deliver the right message at the right time to the right person with secure direct mail from Imagine.

Dull gloss

This is a contrast in two coatings applied to the same substrate to create a unique visual effect.

Dye sublimination

Process of printing where a dry ink is transferred from a carrier to a substrate using heat.

[Learn more about dye sublimation and several other commercial printing methods.]

Extended gamut (XGamut)

An advanced printing process similar to four-color processing, which can generate a wider range of colors.

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Printing Glossary of Terms: F to O

Fade resistance

The ability of the ink to resist the deteriorating effects of sunlight.

FSC certification

Stands for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). It’s a chain of custody process for certifying the raw material used came from a sustainable source.

[Learn more about our sustainable printing solutions.]


The surface property of a material determined by its texture and gloss. It describes surface characteristics like smoothness, gloss, absorbability, and print quality.

Flexographic printing (Flexo)

A method of analog rotary printing in which images are transferred from a flexible plate to a substrate. It could involve rotary die cutting, rapid-drying inks, in-line laminating, and other converting operations.

[Learn more about flexo and several other commercial printing methods.]


A shiny embellishment that can be applied to a substrate.

Four-color process (CMYK)

Printing with cyan, yellow, magenta, and black (CYMK) inks, using screens to create the wide spectrum of colors. This is the most common printing method in printing full-color images (not RGB).


Fulfillment is the process of packaging and shipping items or kits.


Use of a blade to cut through a large amount of material in straight lines.


Technique in which copy is added to blank or previously printed surfaces or materials with a secondary printing device.


Ink is a pigment or dye dissolved or suspended in a carrier that is used in a variety of printing processes.

In-store marketing

In-store marketing combines print and digital signage to drive foot traffic and increase product sales in the store.

ISO certification (9002)

Quality system certification commonly used by manufacturing companies.


Kitting involves organizing signage for a campaign into a single package.

An Imagine kitting expert happily preparing a kit.

Imagine produces millions of kits per year for top brands. We know how to get kitting done, fast and at scale.


In color printing, the process of dropping an image out of the color (e.g., dropping white type out of a color background).

LaB value

A way of placing value on every color that is possible. It’s a numerical value used to achieve the color you are trying to achieve.


A print technique used to create the illusion of movement or depth using a special lens.

Lithographic printing (Litho)

A method of printing that involves adhering ink to a specific, exposed portion of metal plates, which is passed onto a blanket cylinder and then onto the paper.

[Learn more about litho and several other commercial printing methods.]


Smooth surface free from shine.

Offset printing

An analog process of transferring ink to a substrate using a plate to transfer to a rubber-blanketed cylinder and then to the substrate.


Advertising experienced outside of the home. This includes things like billboards, bus shelters, posters, etc.

Our entertainment marketing agency, Midnight Oil, creates stunning and award-winning out-of-home work that demands attention.

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Printing Glossary of Terms: P to R


A method of gluing a series of pages together, such as with a coupon book.


Global standard for color matching.

Pearlescent varnish

Pearlescent pigments consist of particles, such as mica, that reflect light in a shimmery fashion.

Perfect binding

Method of binding larger amounts of pages together that are glued on the spine.

PET (Polyester)

Resin that has clarity (you can typically see through it).

Pico liter

In digital printing, this refers to the size of the ink jet droplet which corresponds to the quality level that can be achieved on a given device.


The particles or substance that gives printing inks, dyes, or paints their color.


Smallest single component of an image.


Standardized color-matching system (also known as Pantone).

Point of purchase

Point of purchase is the area in a store where promotional or marketing material is placed to increase sales.


A resin commonly used in packaging.

POP/POS displays (Point of purchase/Point of Sale)

Displays that are printed or digital and placed near advertised items where customers make purchasing decisions. POP displays focus on customers’ in-store experience by bringing attention to particular brands or offers.

Premedia services

Premedia services are the activities that take place while an item is being created and includes identifying clear value, prototype development and design, market testing, prototype modification, and finalization.

Process color

Color printing created by a color separation process, where a piece of copy is broken down into the primary colors (yellow, magenta, cyan, and black) and then recombined at the press to produce the likeness of the original image.

Production run

The final printing requested by the customer from the original artwork after all mock-ups and proofs are completed.


Resin with high strength and flexibility.

Quiet zone

A blank area that precedes the start character and follows the stop character of a bar code symbol. This allows for the bar code to be read properly.

Raised coating

This coating creates a braille type of effect to a substrate or material.


Ability of a material to be reused or repurposed in subsequent manufacturing cycles.


The purpose of the resin binder is to disperse and carry the ink pigment to the substrate, or stabilize the pigment and additives to prevent settling.


Refers to the level of detail in a printed image. The higher your DPI (dots per inch) the higher the resolution, therefore the higher the quality in terms of sharpness and detail in your printed image.


A store that sells merchandise in small quantities directly to customers.

Retail marketing

Retail marketing refers to the tactics a consumer-facing business uses to attract customers and generate sales.

[Whatever the communication solution, Imagine makes sure your brand is in the spotlight. Our decades of experience span retail, grocery and c-store, foodservice, and CPG, plus an entertainment marketing agency, Midnight Oil.]

Retail merchandising

Retail merchandising refers to the store layout, product displays, and sensory experiences within a retail store.

Reverse printing

A design in which the copy is “dropped out” and the background is printed, making the copy appear in the color of the background.


Stands for red, blue, green. Most often referred to something displayed on a digital screen or monitor.

RIP (Raster image processor)

Software application that separates original art files into color layers used by printing presses.

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Printing Glossary of Terms: S to Z

Saddle stitching

Low-cost binding method to attach pages together by placing a stitch in the center of a fold.


To make an impression in a material for the purpose of bending, creasing, or folding.

Screen printing

Screen printing is a technique where stencils are laid over a screen made of cotton, nylon, or metal. The printing ink is pushed through the screen using a rubber squeegee to imprint images.

[Learn more about screen printing and several other commercial printing methods.]

SGP (Sustainable Green Partnership) certification

Certification that sets the bar directly related to printing companies.

Shelf talkers

Shelf talkers are display fixtures that are placed on a shelf where products are sold. (See Wobblers)

Soft signage

Display graphics printed on a textile or fabric-based substrate.

Soft-touch coating

This unique coating creates a soft velvet effect on your material or substrate.

Spot color

Used when the primary colors cannot achieve a specific color, such as a custom brand color. Special pigments are added to inks to create a unique color.


Stanchions are vertical posts or bars, usually used as part of a support structure.


A standee is a large, self-standing display used to promote a product, event, or point-of-sale advertising.


Type of paper used during a printing job and can vary in thickness. Can be coated or uncoated based on desired finished look of project.

Strikethrough coating

This is a combination of a varnish and a coating to create a variety of tactile effects.

Styrene (HIPS)

Low-cost resin used for producing printable substrates used in the sign and display industry.


The surface onto which an image is imprinted.


Using practices that have low impact on the environment.

Sustainable printing

Sustainable printing is a printing process that uses renewable energy and resources.

[When it comes to sustainability, Imagine puts in the work up front to help you make eco-friendly effortless. Learn about our greener options and greener practices]


A specified range that products must fall within. Size and color are two common factors where tolerance comes into play.

Variable data printing (VDP)

Information, such as text copy or numbers, that may vary from one printed item to another. Addresses and phone numbers are common examples of variable data.


An ink with no pigment. It offers a much lower degree of protection in comparison to a coating.


An illustration in which the background fades gradually until it blends into the unprinted area.

Visual communications

The use of visual elements to convey ideas and information, which include but are not limited to signs, graphic designs, drawings, etc.

[Imagine is more than the leading commercial print company. We create stunning visual communications for the best brands out there and the customers who love them.]

Visual merchandising

Visual merchandising uses elements such as color, lighting, displays, technology, and floor plan design to attract customer attention.

Volatile organic compounds

The toxic carbon-based chemicals that can be released into the air during the manufacturing process.


The capability of a display, sign, or other printed product to withstand the effects of outdoor conditions such as sunlight, heat, cold, humidity, rain, snow, and time.


Wobblers are miniature displays designed to attract consumers’ attention. They are adhered to shelves, and wave to grab consumers’ attention. (See Shelf Talkers)

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