Talk the Talk: Understanding Graphic Design Lingo

Posted by Bobby Chamberlin on April 9, 2013

Do you ever feel like your graphic designer is speaking a different language? You’re not alone. Good communication is key for building a solid business relationship with your graphic designer or printer, and it also makes the design process much more efficient. Here are a few terms that you might hear from your designer in regards to color modes and file types.

Understanding Graphic Design Lingo 20130402

RGB and CMYK modes for file types
RGB is a file type based on light that is for electronic uses. RGB is an additive model of color in which red, green and blue lights are combined to create a wide variety of colors. When these three colors of light come together in their greatest amounts, white is produced. Files for web, television and other digital uses should be in RGB mode.

CMYK is a file type for print uses. It is commonly referred to as “process” or “4 color.” CMYK is a subtractive model in which the colors cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y) and black (K) are combined to create a color. Based on a scale of 100, the smaller the number of each of these colors, the lighter the image. For example, the formula C: 0 M: 0 Y: 0 K:0 would produce white, while replacing the 0s with 100s would create the darkest, richest black. Files for print should be in CMYK mode.

In short, RGB allows for a much larger range of colors than CMYK.


Common file types

Jpeg (.jpg or .jpeg) supports both RGB and CMYK modes and is a compressed file type that is great for most uses. It does not support transparencies, however.

Png (.png) are compressed files that are great for web or other digital uses. PNGs support transparencies, but can only be created in RGB mode. They are not ideal for printing.

Psd (.psd) this is an Adobe Photoshop file. Psds cannot be opened in any application except Photoshop. Photoshop supports RGB and CMYK modes.

Tiff (.tiff or .tif) stands for Tag Image File Format. Tiffs support layers and transparencies such as Photoshop but can be opened in other applications. Tiff files support RGB and CMYK modes.

Indd (.indd) represents an Adobe InDesign file (document layout program). InDesign files cannot be opened in any other application. InDesign supports RGB and CMYK modes.

Ai (.ai) is an Adobe Illustrator file (vector-based graphics program used for creating logos and other artwork.) Illustrator supports RGB and CMYK modes.

Eps (.eps) a generic vector-based graphics file format. Eps files support RGB and CMYK.

Pdf (.pdf) Portable Document Format is ideal for viewing documents created in various applications. Pdfs support RGB and CMYK.


By familiarizing yourself with a few simple terms, you’ll be well on your way to “talking shop” with your graphic designer.

Do you speak designer language, and are there other terms you’ve heard tossed around? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.