Talk the Talk: 10 Graphic Design Terms Explained

    June 23 2020

    10 Graphic Design Terms Explained


    RGB color is a model used for on-screen purposes, like digital and web-based graphics. In this model, red, green, and blue light are combined in various ways to reproduce a wide range of colors on the light spectrum. The RGB model is a light additive color model; colors begin as black and get lighter and lighter as more color (light) is added. This means that colors are added together to create lighter colors: in the summation of all light on the RGB spectrum, you generate white (#ffffff), and in the absence of light on the RGB spectrum, you generate black (#000000).


    CMYK, also known as “process color” or “four-color,”  is a color model used for printing purposes. The acronym stands for the four ink colors used for its printing process: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (better known as black). The CMYK model is a subtractive color model; colors begin as white and then get darker as more colors are combined.  CMYK has to do with ink – in the absence of ink on the CMYK spectrum, you generate white. And in the summation of all ink on the CMYK spectrum, you generate black. That’s right, the opposite of RGB!

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    Yep, “Pantone Color of the Year”—you’ve probably heard of it! But what does it all mean? The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is a standardized color reproduction system. There can be so much variation in color in printing CMYK, due to differences in printers, that Pantone set out to create a system that allowed for consistent color. Every hue is given a number or sequence, making it easy for people to reference and reproduce the exact color over and over again.


    Ty­pog­ra­phy is the art and technique of arranging letters and text in a way that makes written language clear, legible, and appealing. All visually displayed text, whether digitally or in print. Within typography, typefaces are a family of related fonts – while fonts refer to the weights, widths, and styles that make up a typeface.

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    Hierarchy is an essential part of any design or layout and one of the governing principles of typography. Hierarchy aims to establish what’s most important in a page and layout – and how you interact with a design. It tells you which copy should be read or noticed first. You can create hierarchy in several ways, using size, color, contrast, and alignment. A common example of hierarchy is headings, for both print and digital. Even if you didn’t know the term‚ you’ve seen it in use—on any website, newspaper, or magazine. 


    In design, scale refers to the size of objects in relation to one another. Two elements of the same size can be seen as being equal, while elements with variation in size tend to be seen as different. For example, the size of a page title is typically larger than the body copy and makes it both the first thing we see and seen as separate from the rest of the text.

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    Opacity is defined as the condition of *lacking* translucence and enables us to make an element of a design transparent—kind of an oxymoron, right? The lower the opacity, the more transparent an object is. For example, an object with 100% opacity is solid and not see-through, while an object with 50% opacity is transparent. An object with a lower opacity can be used as an overlay or a watermark.


    Saturation refers to the intensity or purity of a color. The more saturated a color is, the more vivid or brighter it appears. Whereas desaturated colors appear more pale or faded. You can use saturation to add personality to objects or photos. A more saturated color palette will stand out and be “louder,” while a desaturated color palette will be more subdued, fading into the background or achieving a sense of calmness. 

    10 Design Terms You Should Know


    A gradient, also known as a color transition,  is a gradual change of color. This can happen in various ways: from one tone to another (same color), one color to another, or one color fading into transparency. There are two common types of gradients: radial (think circular, like the sun’s rays) and linear (more like a sunset or morning sky). Gradients can be used to add depth or dimension in illustration – adding shadows in photo-editing, creating multi-colored backgrounds, and so much more.

    Golden Ratio

    The golden ratio, also known as the “golden rectangle” and “golden mean,” is a common mathematical ratio observed in nature. When used in design, it creates harmony and proportion in a way that is organic and pleasing to the eye. It is believed that our brains are wired to perceive objects following the golden ratio as more attractive.

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    Learn more about Rosee Qualls, on PLANOLY

    Rosee Qualls

    Rosee Qualls is a contributing designer at PLANOLY. She is an expert in branding, graphic design, and illustrations.

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