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The printing industry, like most industries, has terms that can be misinterpreted by those outside the business. As a designer or print buyer, not knowing the proper intention of these words can spell disaster when talking to a print salesperson or customer service rep. This is especially true when discussing the specifications of a job.

There’s two different types of jargon that are commonly used in the printing industry. The first is technical jargon, which are those words and phrases that can be baffling to a nontechnical person. Many times technical jargon is used unintentionally by a salesperson or CSR, they just assume that what they are saying is understandable by everyone.

When a printing company CSR says something like “Just send us the PDF of the VDP and don’t forget to sort the XLS.” Very few human beings can honestly say that they totally understood that sentence!

The important thing is to stop and ask what is being said, in simple terms that YOU understand. The absolute worst thing to do is to nod your head and say “okay, I’ll pass that information along to my coworkers”. The meaning of technical instructions always tends to dilute even further as it passes from one person to another, just like a bad rumor.

The second type of jargon that you’ll run into are words that mean something entirely different in everyday life. These words are not meant to be confusing or mean spirited by the person who uses them, they’re just words that the printing industry uses to describe something. Some are inherited from the old days of printing, and others are used because they describe something very well. And a few are even kind of funny.

As with technical jargon, it’s important to ask for an explanation if something doesn’t quite make sense to you. There’s even a fair number of words which won’t be listed here because even though they are used often in the production areas, they are crude and offensive.

The following is a short list of the most commonly misunderstood words used in the printing industry.


Bleed – Ask a doctor what this means and they’ll tell you someone is cut, shot or ill. Ask a printer and they will tell you that since no printing process can print to the very edge of a sheet of paper, extra image must be included that will later be trimmed off. This gives the finished page an appearance that looks like the image is printed to the edge of the paper.

Two considerations to keep in mind when designing a page like this is to include an extra 1/8 of inch of image which will be later cut off and also the paper size must be larger than the final trimmed page size. Or, you can just say forget it, with the result being a rough white border around the page or have the job cut slightly smaller than what you originally intended.

Perfect – Yes, every printer in the world produces their work in a perfect fashion. In the printing world, perfecting a job essentially means printing both sides. Some people use the word duplex and the really smart people use the phrase “prints both sides”. There are even special presses that are called perfecting presses, which means that they simultaneously print both sides of the sheet and are incredibly efficient. When specifying a job to be printed, the key information to pass along is the total number of pages that have printing on them and also the total number of sheets of paper. For example, a book can have 128 printed pages, but a total of 256 pages. What this really translates to is that there is printing only on the front of each sheet of paper.

One other definition of the term perfect is when a specific type of binding is used for a book. A perfect bound book is constructed in a way that folded pages are stacked one on top of the other and glue is applied along the bound edge. You can easily tell if a book is perfect bound by examining the side of it.


Spine, face, head and foot – These four terms describe the orientation of a page or book. It’s really quite simple, the spine is the bound edge, the face is the edge opposite the spine, the head is the top and the foot is the bottom. When a printer asks you where you want page numbers added and you say at the bottom of the page instead of the foot, you’ve just announced that you’re a rookie in the printing world.

Booger Glue – Think like a 9 year old child and you have the common meaning of this word, giggles and all. In the printing industry, booger glue, sometimes known as fugitive glue, has many uses. A little dab is used to keep a booklet closed during mailing and can also be used to attach dimensional products like credit cards to a brochure. Don’t be grossed out when a salesperson offers to send you samples. 

Ream – This means 500 sheets of paper. Period. No further explanation needed. Although, this could also be a threat from the CSR if you don’t include bleeds in your job.

Flush – Flush left and flush right are two different ways of aligning text on a page.


The opposite of flush is runaround. This is a type of text treatment that allows lines of text to follow the contours of a graphic.

Flush also is a term that is used in the printing industry to describe the alignment of two elements. For example, “these two graphics are flush with each other”, meaning that they align perfectly.

The word flush is never used to describe the financial condition of most printing companies these days.

Gutter - The inside margins or blank space between two facing pages is the gutter. For some types of binding, extra space must be added. The phrase “stay out of the gutter” simply means to keep the area blank.

Signature – The three most important signatures in a printing company are when an order is signed, a proof is signed for approval and a signed check is received as payment for a job. The other time the word signature is used is to designate a large sheet of paper that contains multiple pages and is then folded into a smaller size to form a book.

Generally, a signature will contain 4, 8, 16 or 32 pages. Multiple signatures can be assembled to form a book that contains many pages. For example, a book that contains 64 pages may be constructed with 8 pages signatures, 16 page signatures or 32 page signatures. The deciding factor is the maximum size of the sheet of paper that the press can handle.

Imposition – In ordinary life, this describes when your in-laws are staying over at your house for the holidays. In the printing industry, this describes the positioning of pages onto a large sheet of paper. A chief reason for imposing a job is for efficiency. For example, if a project has 10 different business cards and a quantity of 1000 each, there are two options for production. Option number one is to repeat the same card 10 times on an 8.5 x 11 sheet and run 100 sheets of each card. Or, the 10 different cards can be placed on one 8.5 x 11 sheet and printed 1000 times.


Many times to maximize the real estate of a large press sheet, different jobs are imposed and sufficient quantities are run to satisfy the minimum quantity. It used to be an incredibly complex task to calculate these different scenarios. It’s relatively easy now by using special imposition software.

The other time that imposition becomes important is when a multi page book is being produced. Presses are classified as being able to print 2, 4, 8 or 16 pages onto a sheet of paper. These large sheets are folded into signatures and then bound in a variety of different ways. To maximize the efficiency of using the largest sheet available, there may be pages contained on the signature that are not printed and are blank. For example, a book that has 15 printed pages may contain 1 page that is blank since a signature always contains an even number of pages.

Most government publications will include the phrase “This page intentionally left blank” to dispel any type of conspiracy theories on what should have been printed on the blank page.

Hickey – A defect in print. Usually appears as a tiny white spot or sometimes will appear as a circle in a solid area of an image. When the solid areas of your print job looks like it has the measles, there are hickies and if there are enough of them, it may be a good reason to reject the job. Cleanliness in the pressroom is very important.

There have been horror stories of hickies appearing on a high quality job, especially in solid black areas. To save the job, the printer armed everyone in the shop with fine tip black sharpie markers and dabbed the hickie to make it disappear. Imagine doing that for 20,000 covers of an annual report.

This can also occur with digital presses and is a sign that the press needs a good cleaning on the inside. It is caused by loose fragments of paper dust inside the press.

Creep – This term generally refers to the practical joker that resides in the prepress department. When a book is being printed and will be saddle stitched, the folded signatures are inserted into each other. This causes a buildup of paper thickness at the spine and will cause the pages to uniformly move, or creep, from the center of the book towards the front and back covers.

This effect is exaggerated when a thick paper is used. To overcome this effect, the pages are slightly repositioned towards the center, with the pages closest to the fold moving the most. The project you submit doesn’t have to include this repositioning of every page, software that is used in prepress or built into most digital printers can accomplish this automatically. A tip to help this process is to not position page numbers close to the edge.

Orphan / Widow – An orphan or widow is that one word or line of text that flows onto the next page or into an adjacent column, or in the worst case, just disappears. It really looks unprofessional. And you may be asking yourself, how does this happen? The most common reason is that even though it looked good on your monitor or printed proof, a font substitution may have occurred. There are dozens of variations of Times fonts from different vendors. And if you are supplying original InDesign source files, you must include the fonts you used to create the job. If you used Times from vendor “A” and your printer uses Times from vendor “B”, there may a minute difference between the two that over the course of 4 pages of text, it may be just enough that it causes one additional line of text to appear, resulting in a widow.

Either supply the font you used to the printer or create a PDF file and submit that to the printer. And for goodness sakes, when the printer sends you proofs, go over them carefully to make sure that the text is all there.  

RIP – Usually, when a job is delayed, the salesperson will say that the job is still ripping. Or even worse they’ll say that your job choked their rip. The raster image processor (RIP) is the computer that takes all of the text, graphics, and color information in your job and converts it into a format that can be printed directly to a digital press or can be used to make plates for an offset press. The RIP is typically the most powerful computer in the printing company and it’s really amazing the amount of work it must do.

These are some of the most common and misunderstood terms in the printing world. And to quote an old seer, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you’re not one hundred percent sure of what you’re being told or what they’re asking you to do, ask for clarification. The people that are throwing these words at you were in your shoes too at one point in their career. They want to help you understand since it can make a job flow a lot more smoothly through production and delivered to you on time and on budget.

Intellective Solutions can help you or your employees navigate through the printing industry world through our Intellective Essentials of Print Training Programs. Give us a call or email.

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