What is DPI? Print vocabulary for the non-printer, part 1

Digital printing by Mabuzi.comWhen you talk to your printer, do you need a dictionary in front of you?  Do terms like “PMS” or “matte coated cover” confuse you?  Let’s start off the year with some basic print vocabulary.  OK, class, pencils out…..

  • CMYK – CMYK is the 4-letter abbreviation for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key, which refers to the color black, and is also referred to as 4-color process.  The black is called “key” because in four-color printing, cyan, magenta, and yellow printing plates are carefully keyed, or aligned, with the key of the black.  
  • DPI – DPI stands for dots per inch. A higher DPI is better. Printers will usually ask you for files 300dpi minimum. This insures that the images or graphics, which are linked to your document, are of high-enough resolution that they will reproduce correctly.  On the flip side, giving your printer a really large file can create issues in the RIP’ing process, so best to keep it simple at 300dpi.
  • Large format – Also known as wide or grand format is the print process of imaging onto larger substrates. Most large format printers have devices that can image up to 5 feet wide, some up to 10 feet wide, and – on rare occasions – up to 16 feet wide. This type of printing uses UV inks or toner-based inks, and is best suited to window and wall graphics, banners, trade show graphics, and signage.
  • Pantone or PMS – The Pantone Color Matching System a standardized colorPantone_PantoneBook reproduction system used throughout the design industry, and uses a 3- or 4-digit code to indicate which color is to be used. The drawback is that in order to cut costs, designers will specify a PMS color, but the end client will want it run in 4-color process. Some PMS colors are manufactured on base colors that do not reproduce well in the 4-color spectrum, so if you require color accuracy, say for a company logo or background, make sure you have the printer quote to run spot colors as PMS, and get that done at the estimating stage.
  • RIP – Raster Image Processor is the software that takes a file and prepares it for proofing and plating. It is the last step after the files have been assembled or imposed, preparing the files for final output to proofing or plating.
  • Parent sizes – Paper is sheeted from large rolls at the paper mills into what are called “parent sheets”, which range from 17-1/2 x 22-1/2” to 28 x 40”, with other sizes in between. Parent sheets also differ in size based on what type of paper they are: cover, book, text, offset, etc. While the USA standard sheet size is 8-1/2 x 11”, parent sizes differ.  Europe is much more precise in that all parent sizes are based on a standard A4 size, which is slightly different than the USA 8-1/2 x 11”.
  • Finish and coating – Paper is either coated or uncoated. Coating is when the paper is run through various types of processes at the mills that coat the paper surface and then polish it. Uncoated sheets are as they sound, uncoated.  They are the offsets and text papers, and have finishes like laid or linen finishes, which are applied by textured rollers at the mill.
  • Trim size – The final size of your piece after it’s trimmed, or assembled. However, when talking to your printer, you also should give them the flat size of the piece as well, particularly if it has die cutting and other post-press finishing processes.03_saddle_stitch685x489
  • Saddle stitching – The process of folding sheets in half, gathering them, and then assembling them with staples or stitches in the middle, or what is called the spine. The page count must ALWAYS be divisible by four.

These are just many of the common print terms that I’ve run across in my 30 years. Next week, we’ll cover some more.  If you have other terms you’ve heard or seen but you’d like to have a definition of, please feel free to Tweet me at @protheropress, and I’ll respond.

Connect with John on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.




About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at www.ricreativemag.com
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