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Glossary of Terms

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Additive colors: Commonly used in light projection and electronic displays, the three primary additive colors are red, green, and blue (RGB). When green and blue overlap, the result is cyan. When blue and red overlap, the result is magenta.  When red and green overlap, the result is yellow. When all three additive colors overlap (R+G+B), the result is white. (See subtractive colors – cyan, magenta, yellow.)

Blanket: A blanket is a synthetic rubber mat used in lithography to transfer—or “offset”—an image from a printing plate to the final substrate.

Bleed: Bleed refers to artwork that extends all the way to the trimmed edge of a printed piece. When creating artwork, designers must extend the design slightly beyond the trim edge to allow for typical fluctuation in the precision of the final trim or diecut.

CR-80: CR-80 is the industry standard designation referring to the size and shape of a standard credit card – 3.375” x 2.125” (85.60 by 53.98 millimeters) with a corner radius of 1/8” (3.18 mm). A less common card form factor is CR-50 – measuring 3.5” x 1.725” (88.9 x 43.8 mm).

CMYK: CMYK is an abbreviation for cyan – magenta – yellow – black, also known as 4-color process. CMYK are the four primary subtractive colors that are typically used in the printing of “full-color” designs.

Crop marks (guides): Crop marks, or guides, are used in artwork files and on printed sheets to identify the trim area.

Cutting die: A cutting die is an object with sharp cutting edges, built to trim or punch a specific shape. There are many different types of cutting dies used in the manufacturing of plastic cards and other printed items.

Delta E (∆E): Delta E is a metric used in computer-aided color measurement (spectrophotometry). Delta E measurements fall on a scale of 0 – 100 to describe the extent of color difference between one object and another. A Delta E of zero would indicate a perfect match. A Delta E of 1 would indicate a very close match that is generally not perceptible to the human eye. A Delta E of 2 is perceptible upon close examination. A Delta E of 100 would indicate that the two colors are complete opposites.

Density (also known as ink density or color density): Ink density in offset printing refers to the amount of ink applied to the sheet. A heavy application of ink will result in a higher density measurement than will a lighter application of ink. Ink density is measured using a densitometer, which records the amount of light reflected from the printed surface and translates that data into a value described in density points. Although it is common for press operators to check density values with a hand-held densitometer, modern commercial presses are equipped to measure and control density values in a much more automated and efficient manner.

Digital proof: The term digital proof usually refers to a proof that is share and reviewed on screen. Even if it is printed, the resulting printout may not be high resolution or true color; rather, it is intended to be a close interpretation of the artwork – showing color breaks, imposition, copy, fonts, dimensions, etc. The term digital proof may also be used to describe a true color proof that is output on a digital output device – this use of the term is less common, since almost all proof output devices are now digital.

Dot gain: In offset printing, dot gain refers to the minor distortion and enlargement of 4-color process or screen tint dots with each generation – from the original digital file to the transfer onto printing plates, and finally to the transfer from the press blanket onto the printed sheet. Best practice is for a printer to apply cut-backs to the dots before outputting plates – reducing the sizes of the dots in the original file, thus allowing normal dot gain to bring the dots to their intended size on the printed sheet. The process of cutting back the dot size in the file is often referred to as applying a cut-back curve.

Drawdown: A drawdown is an ink sample applied to a small area on the same type of substrate the printer intends to use in the live job. The intention of the drawdown is to provide a customer with a reasonable preview of the ink color that can be expected on the live job. Since the processes used in creating drawdowns are not identical to the processes used on large presses during live production, some variation may occur.

Duotone: A duotone is an image that is composed of varying shades of two colors.

Fonts to outlines: When we convert fonts to outlines, we are changing the text to vector shapes. This can be useful, as it will allow you to print the text without the font used to create it. The disadvantage of converting fonts to outlines is that, once converted, the text can no longer be edited.

Gang run: A gang run is a print run in which multiple different print jobs are laid out on the same sheet, printing simultaneously. This can dramatically reduce set-up costs, since the jobs can share the cost of a single set-up. Gang runs are particularly helpful to lower the production cost for smaller jobs. The disadvantage of printing offset using a gang run is that any density adjustment made to improve the color match in one area the sheet may shift a job in another area of the sheet further from its target. For this reason, there is a cost-quality tradeoff that should be considered when deciding whether to gang jobs up on a sheet.

Grayscale: Grayscale images are images composed entirely of shades of gray – like a black-and-white photograph. A graphic artist can choose to use software to convert a full-color image to grayscale. Once that image is converted to grayscale, it can be printed in an alternate ink color, such as green or purple – we would describe the result as a monochrome (single-color) image.

Hard copy proof: There are different terms used throughout the printing industry to describe a physical proof of a 4-color process design, output under tight controls that make the proof a suitable color goal for matching during the production run. At PLI we refer to this color-accurate proof as a hard copy proof.

Highlights: In a 4-color process image, or any image comprised of tint values, the highlights are the areas of the design that contain the lightest tints, allowing more of the stock to show through. (See also, shadows.)

Hot-stamp: Hot-stamping is a process of applying a material or impression onto a surface using heat and high-pressure impact of a shaped die. When foil is involved, this is frequently referred to as foil-stamping. When no foil is involved, this is sometimes referred to as blind-stamping. Hot-stamp dies are typically made of brass, copper, or steel.

Hue: A hue is a primary or secondary color along the rainbow spectrum. For example, blue and orange are completely different hues.

Lamination: Lamination is the process of covering a center substrate with one or more film layers. At PLI we offer both platen lamination (also known as hot lamination) and roll-down lamination (also known as cold lamination). The most common form of lamination is platen/hot lamination. There are two common constructions used in platen lamination: A solid-core card contains 3 layers – assembled using a single center core stock layer with the front and back designs printed on opposite sides of the same sheet, with lamination film applied to both the front and back. A split-core card contains 4 layers – assembled using separate core sheets for the front design and the back design, with lamination film applied to both the front and back.

Lamination finish: The finish of the laminated card refers to the transparency, smoothness, and reflectancy of the lamination on the finished card. The most common finishes are Polish, Satin, and Matte.

Lamination plate: During the process of platen lamination, the layers making up the finished sheet are sandwiched between two metal plates, known as lamination plates. The lamination system compresses the plates under heat and pressure to cause the layers to chemically bond. The surface on the lamination plate determines the texture and finish (polish, satin, or matte) of the card.

Layered files: Layered files are native art files that allow for the editing of certain elements of the design without impacting other elements of the design. Each element of the design resides on its own layer. Flattened files are layered files that have had all the layers merged into one layer.

Links: Links are independent files that are placed into a graphic document. For instance, if someone creates an InDesign document with some text in it but also wants to add a company logo, they can obtain the logo file and place it into the InDesign document, establishing a “link” to the logo file. Because of the link, the logo file must be present in order to export a pdf of the InDesign document.

Magnetic stripe: A magnetic stripe is the dark stripe across the back of some cards that contains data essential to the functioning of the card. The magnetic stripe can be encoded by swiping the stripe through a suitable encoder, and the magnetic stripe can be read by swiping the stripe through a suitable reader. There are different stripe widths, colors, and strengths. Strengths are measured in Oersted units, with the most requested strengths identified as LoCo (low-coercivity), HiCo (high-coercivity), and MedCo (medium-coercivity). A magnetic stripe that is applied to lamination film prior to platen lamination is typically known as a flush-mounted stripe. A magnetic stripe rolled down after all printing and/or lamination has taken place is typically known as a roll-on or roll-down stripe.

Make-ready: The word make-ready can be used either as a verb, to describe the process of setting up a print job and dialing in the color, or as a noun, to describe the waste sheets that are used during the make-ready process.

Metamerism: Metamerism is the phenomenon in which the appearance of a color is notably different depending on the light source or the viewing angle.

Mil: Typically measured using a caliper, the thickness of a plastic sheet or card is typically described in mil units. 1 mil = 1/1000th of an inch. Standard thickness for a credit card is 30 mil, or .030”. Industry standard ISO/IEC 7810 (the recognized standard for ID card production) allows for a +/- 10% variation in card thickness; however, card issuers are much less forgiving. Current technology enables plastic sheet suppliers and card manufacturers to hold much tighter tolerances. As a general rule, a +/- 5% variation or tighter would more accurately reflect market expectations.

Native files: Native files are the original design files, as opposed to an exported pdf, for instance.

Offset printing: Offset printing is a printing technique that transfers ink from a printing plate to a blanket, then from the blanket to the printed substrate.

Overage: Also known as “overrun” or “overs,” overage is the amount of extra material that is printed beyond the order quantity. The traditional standard for the commercial print industry allowed a printer to ship +/- 10% of the ordered quantity, depending on the yield. Today most customers require much tighter production tolerances.

Pantone (PMS): The Pantone Matching System is an internationally recognized color identification system in which thousands of specific colors are identifiable by number. These Pantone colors are often referenced by their “PMS numbers.” For instance, “PMS 285 blue.”

Pixel: Pixel is short for picture element, a dot made by a computer, scanner or other digital device. Also called pel.

Press check (press OK): A press check is a live in-person or virtual event, during which the first accurate printed sheets off the press are examined before authorizing full production to begin.

Press proof: A press proof is an actual production sample proof, produced on press using the same plates, ink and paper intended for the full production run. Also called strike off and trial proof.

Printing plate: In offset lithography, the printing plate is an etched aluminum surface carrying an image to be printed. In lithography, the ink adheres to the image, but not to the rest of the plate surface. The plate transfers the ink onto the blanket, which subsequently transfers the image to the paper or plastic being printed. Quick printing uses paper or plastic plates, letterpress, engraving and commercial lithography use metal plates, flexography uses rubber or soft plastic plates. Gravure printing uses a cylinder.

Resolution: Resolution refers to the sharpness of an image on film, paper, computer screen or other medium.

RFID: RFID is short “radio frequency identification” – a technology that allows a chip to communicate to a compatible reader through radio waves. RFID cards are sometimes described as contactless, proximity, and tap-and-go. Different RFID technologies work on different wavelengths and have different reading distances.

RGB: Abbreviation for red, green, blue, the additive color primaries.

Saturation (also known as chroma or intensity): Saturation refers to the intensity of a hue. A high saturation percentage will result in an intense, highly identifiable color. A low saturation percentage will result in a muted or drab color that may be difficult to identify by hue.

Screen value (lightness/darkness): In any design comprised of dots (such as 4-color process, grayscale, duotones, or any screen tints), the screen value represents the lightness or darkness of the tint. A low screen value will light, as the dots will not provide much coverage. A high screen value will be dark, with heavy coverage.

Shadows: In a 4-color process image, or any image comprised of tint values, the shadows are the areas of the design that contain the darkest tints, allowing less of the stock to show through. (See also, highlights.)

Spectrophotometry: Spectrophotometry is a form of computer-aided color match. The equipment used in spectrophotometry is called a spectrophotometer.

Spot varnish: When we refer to a spot varnish, we are referring to a varnish that is limited to specific areas of the design.

Subtractive colors: Commonly used in printing, the four primary subtractive colors, also known as 4-color process, are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). When cyan and magenta overlap, the result is the primary additive color blue. When magenta and yellow overlap, the result is the primary additive color red.  When yellow and cyan overlap, the result is the primary additive color green. When all three subtractive colors overlap (C+M+Y), the result is black. (See additive colors – red, green, blue.)

TIFF: Short for Tagged Image File Format, TIFF is a file format widely used for its flexibility and compatibility with almost any system. TIFF files can store raster and vector data along with information regarding compression, image dimensions and many other variables.

Vector: Vector is a term to describe art created with lines, curves or shapes that are mathematically calculated by the graphics software. That means it can be scaled to any size without loss of quality, unlike a photograph which has a fixed resolution based on the number of pixels per inch.