Graphic Design Terminology Explained


RGB, CMYK, Vector, Raster, Lossy, Lossless, JPEG, PNG, AI, PDF, EPS, TIFF. Graphic design terminology is confusing to non-designers. Sometimes it seems like designers use jargon or rather technical terms. Let's examine in depth explanations to help with understanding graphic design terminology.


CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (K=Black). Print designers use this colour mode. For example logos, business cards, letterhead, packaging and likewise anything else designed for print.



Colour mode RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue. Digital/online designers uses this colour mode. In other words, websites, apps, banner ad and similarly designs created for web usage.


RGB has also been around for a long time. In addition this colour mode is compatible with most programs such as Microsoft office and Adobe Illustrator.


One of the major drawbacks of RGB is that it does not work well for print design. Also noteworthy is most devices have different LED’s. As a result graphic elements are visually coloured differently depending on the monitor.


Graphic Design Terminology


Vector graphics consist of points, lines, and curves. Scaling very large or very small is possible without any loss in image quality.  Vector graphics are certainly used in programs like Adobe Illustrator. They are also used to create logos, brochures, branding, anything that will likewise be printed. In addition vectors can also be exported as a raster image, but in contrast raster images cannot be exported as vector. As a result vector objects always display crisp and perfect.


Raster images consist of blocky objects called pixels. In contrast to vectors, raster images depend on the resolution. Resizing a raster image results in shrinking/expanding pixels. Image quality can therefore be decreased and result in blurry images. Raster images are great for use on the web.


Lossless image formats retain all data from the original file. The file can be compressed by removing unneeded meta-data. Lossless means reducing image size without quality loss.



Lossy image formats use an irreversible data compression to approximately determine what your original image looked like. This can result in a lossy image with less colors to remove unnecessary data. This technique reduces file size. Consequently it may decrease image quality.


JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It is a lossy format. JPEG images retain reasonable image quality although pixelation may increase with greater compression. The JPEG format is a better choice for small size when perfect quality is not necessary. This format is often used online for photos.


PNG is a lossless raster format that stands for Portable Network Graphics. This format also has transparency built in. PNG’s are widely popular. This format does not lose image quality however the file size will be larger. PNG is a better choice for image quality.




AI is Adobe Illustrator’s vector image format. Adobe Illustrator is the industry standard for creating professional graphics. Of course there are other programs that work well such as Corel Draw and a newcomer called Affinity. However as of yet there has been no program that has been able to surpass Adobe Suite of programs.

First of all AI files support vector graphics, and also raster images that are embedded/linked. Additionally, AI files also support transparency. These files can export to PDF and EPS format used for printers, and also JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF and PSD for web usage.


PDF stands for Portable Document Format. Adobe created PDF files in the 1990’s. This was done for the purpose of making it easier to view a document no matter the format used to create it. Additionally it preserves format, so the layout looks the same. Also noteworthy is PDF’s are also widely used for eBooks, forms, and manuals. Most computers have a program that will save a document as PDF.

PDF shows graphic designs, images, files properly on all devices and browsers. Also PDF’s can have fonts, images, embedded font, hyperlinks, video and mp3, editable forms and more. As you can see PDF is very versatile. PDF can also be viewed in a browser or downloaded to another computer.

As EPS is becoming outdated, PDF is a more popular and requested format by printers. Additionally Adobe programs like Photoshop and Illustrator can export to PDF making it simple to prep for printing.


TIFF stands for Tagged Image File Format. It is a high quality lossless raster format preferred for photography. TIFF format can be compressed without loss of quality.



EPS is an image format that stands for Encapsulated PostScript. This format allows for resizing without loss of quality. EPS file type can include both vector and raster image data. Some printers will request this format, however PDF is more commonly asked for.


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Graphic Design Terminology | Technical Jargon
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