18 essential graphic design terms you need to know

Like all other professions, graphic design also has its own vocabulary. If you are working with a designer for your project, you might hear terms that just don’t make sense. Likewise, if you are just starting to conceive, you may come across technical terms that you are not yet familiar with.

This article lists and explains the most essential terms you will come across in graphic design.

1. Analogue

Visualization of graphic design Analogous term

Designers use this term to define a specific color pattern. If you select three colors side by side on the color wheel, you create an analogous color scheme.

For example, blue, blue-violet and purple form an analogous color pattern. Here blue is primary, purple is secondary, and blue-violet is a tertiary color.

2. Complementary

Complementary is also a technical term to describe a color scheme. When designers choose two colors in the color wheel that are opposite to each other, they will say it is a complementary color scheme.

Related: How to Choose a Color Scheme for Your App: Things to Consider

For example, pairs like blue and orange, red and green, purple and yellow, etc. are complementary colors.

3. Cut out

Cutout applies to physical media. The process creates a unique effect, as it involves cutting out different areas of a design.

These cuts include creative shapes and various patterns. Cutouts are part of the finishing workflow for many print design processes.

4. Flat design

You will see that user interface (UI) designers use this term a lot. This involves creating a design with two-dimensional images, crisp edges, lots of open space, and vivid color schemes.

The flat design approach is quite simply the opposite of designs that try to mimic the real world. Instead of creating complex graphics, flat designs illustrate an idea in a more creative and less chaotic way.

5. Hexadecimal codes

Graphic designers and web developers use hex codes to define colors in CSS and HTML. Modern design programs also use this color coding system.

A hexadecimal code represents a color with a six-digit string. For example, # E50914 is the hexadecimal code for the unique red color of the Netflix logo.

6. Kerning

When it comes to typography and character spacing, designers use the term kerning. It refers to the empty space between consecutive numbers, letters, or other characters.

Designers can adjust kerning to improve the readability of fonts when creating a web design, app, ad, or any other graphic. It helps to balance the white space between characters, which makes it more pleasant for readers.

7. Knolling

Designers use this term to express how shapes, illustrations, or products appear in a design or photograph. Knolling makes designs more symmetrical and tidy.

To achieve this effect, designers place objects on a contrasting background and preview the scene from top to bottom. All the objects are placed at a 90 degree angle, which gives the design a satisfyingly organized look.

8. Lead

Leading refers to leading; it is the amount of empty space between two continuous baselines. Properly balanced line spacing is essential to make blocks of text easily readable.

Typewriter lead bands are the source of this term. Typewriters used lead strips to evenly distribute lines of text.

9. Logomark

An image showing the Logomark graphic design

Graphic designers in the logo design industry use this term for graphics or images that represent a brand. Logomark is a kind of logo which does not contain the name of the brand.

Related: How to Design a Logo

Instead, a shape, object, image or illustration speaks for the brand. Twitter’s bird, Nestle’s nest, and Apple’s apple are good examples of logomarks.

10. Orphans

This term is frequently used when designers refer to the layout of blocks of text. An orphan is an annoying word or short phrase that gets stuck at the end of a block of text.

In most cases, they’re sitting alone on a new column, row, or page. The designers aim to remove orphans to maintain the aesthetics of the content.

11. Pantone

Pantone color samples

Anyone who designs digital graphics, print media, fashion and consumer products uses the Pantone Matching System (PMS) to reproduce colors. It is the worldwide standard for color coding and gives each shade its own reference number.

For example, Pantone 16-1349 is Coral Rose, while Pantone 18-4143 represents Super Sonic.

12. Raster

Designers often use this term to express the type of graphic they are creating. They can also use the term bitmap image, which is basically another name for a raster graphic.

Related: Raster Images vs. Vector Images: What’s The Difference?

A raster graphic is made up of rectangular pixels. Each pixel has its own characteristic hue, hue, transparency and saturation. Resizing a raster image often reduces its visual quality.

13. Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is a technique graphic designers use to find the focal points of any design. To apply the rule of thirds, you need to divide the image into a three by three grid.

Then realign the subject of the image with the intersection points and grid lines. This technique helps you resize or crop a large image appropriately.

14. Saturation

Saturation refers to the purity or intensity of any hue. As you increase the saturation, your design will appear more intense. But, if you reduce the saturation, the design will become less vibrant and appear almost whitish.

15. Scale

Graphic design terms scale illustration

The scale describes the relative size between objects and shapes in any design. Adjusting the scale of an object can influence how your audience perceives your design.

By simply adjusting the scale of objects in a design, you can change a viewer’s perspective, choose what catches their attention first, and even tell a story.

16. Type of scenario

Script types are fonts based on modern or traditional handwriting. These fonts imitate cursive handwritten texts.

Designers use the script type if they need to make the design more personal, elegant, or casual.

17. Bleeding

Graphic designers adjust the bleed of a drawing to ensure that its edges are not cut off when printing. The term is crucial when creating physical designs.

Some designers expand their designs beyond their needs, which helps prevent visual alteration when printing.

18. Triadic

Designers use triadic color patterns when they want objects in a design to appear more vivid. Triadic colors are evenly spaced on the color wheel, so that no one color trumps another.

For example, red, yellow, and blue are triadic colors.

Get to know these graphic design terms

The graphic design glossary above can come in handy if you are just learning to design or working with a graphic designer.

However, this is not a complete list of design terms. There is a lot more to learn, so you need to be curious and creative when discussing or designing graphics for your projects.


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