Graphic Design Terms: Key Words to Know as a Graphic Designer

The world of graphic design has a plethora of key terms that every designer should know. Whether you're just beginning to dabble in graphic design or you've already gained some experience working with your very own clients, this list can act as a handy reference for some of the most common graphic design terms you'll encounter in your day-to-day.

Key terms and words to know


Alignment describes the way in which various elements are lined up to create order or fluidity in a design. Typeface elements are typically aligned by the center, left, right, or justified style.


Standing for "Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key" CMYK describes a color model in printing. When something is printed, a combination of the four CMYK color inks or toners is used to create the actual colors displayed in the original design.

Color Theory

Color theory is the system that describes the emotions that different colors tend to elicit, and also how certain colors either complement or contrast against each other.


Contrast describes the difference in visible aspects of comparable elements in a design, such as contrasting shades or textures.


A gradient describes a gradual shift in color, with one tone blending into another.


Kerning is the amount of space between individual characters of type. This is typically used in specific instances to alter a portion of text to precisely adjust the spacing between two characters in order to improve the design visually.


Leading is the amount of measurable space that exists between two lines of type. This may be altered to visually "tighten" or "loosen" lines of text within a design.

Negative Space

Negative space is the blank areas on a page or image where no elements of the design or typeface appear.


Opacity describes how transparent an element is. The higher the opacity, the more opaque the element becomes. Elements with lower opacity will appear more translucent.


A palette is the selection of colors and hues that will be used for a particular design.


Typically measured in DPI (dots per inch), resolution describes how many dots or pixels will fit within one inch of an image file. Images with a higher resolution will appear with sharper and clearer results.


Standing for "Red, Green, Blue," RGB is a color model for digital screens. Each color within a design is made up of some combination of red, green, and blue to create the desired hue.


Saturation describes the intensity and vibrancy of color in a design. The more saturation a design has, the more vivid the colors in it will appear.


Scale describes the way in which an element within a design can be sized up or down, while maintaining the exact proportions of the element.


A typeface style that includes "serifs" that accentuate the end strokes of characters and create a more traditional look.

Sans Serif

A typeface style that is without "serifs" for a more simple and modern look.


Texture describes the visual illusion of various textures appearing within a design.


Tracking is the amount of space between characters in a word or sentence. Adjusting tracking will increase or decrease the spacing between characters in equal measurements to visually "tighten" or "loosen" the typeface.


Typography describes the way in which text elements of a design are laid out to help illustrate a concept or set the tone for a design. Some contributing elements include the font, spacing, placement, color, or shading of the typeface used in a design.


As a graphic designer, it's helpful to familiarize yourself with some of these common graphic design terms, as they will come up frequently in your line of work. Give yourself a head start by getting a good handle on these terms. Learning them early on in your career will help you as you continue to hone your craft and navigate your preferred design software.

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