Popular Graphic Design Vocabulary to Know

Each profession in every field has its own jargon or a vocabulary that is all their own. Graphic designers have their own vocabulary of design terms too. Learning and understanding your graphic design vocabulary will help you communicate with other graphic designers to achieve the results in a project that you, your team, or your clients envision.

Take a look at this popular graphic design terms you should know.


This is the composition of the design elements to form a whole design.

Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio is the proportion of width in relationship to the height of a rectangle. Rectangles are commonly used in graphic design because majority of screens are rectangular in shape. 

The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio happens when you divide the larger number with the smaller one and the results are about 1.6180. The most popular example of this is the golden rectangle which can be divided into a prefect square and a rectangle of the same aspect ratio as the original triangle.

The importance of the golden ratio is that it ensures that your images are eye-catching and pleasant to look at. You can observe the golden ratio in action when you look at a web page content portion versus the side bar. Most of these pages make use of the golden rectangle ratio.


The arrangement of various typefaces in an aesthetic but readable manner which helps communicate an idea better visually. Most typefaces in graphic design copy body are sans serif because of their higher readability compared to serif typefaces.


Serif is that little extra strokes or curves at the ends of a letter. Examples of serif fonts are Tines New Roman, Garamond, Georgia, Courier New, and Baskerville.

Sans Serif

Sans is a French term for “without”, which makes sans serif a type of font without extra lines or curves at the ends of letters. Famous examples of sans serif fonts are Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Futura, and Comic Sans.

Slab Serif

Slab serif may still be a serif type of font, but it has a more geometric feel to it. The serifs under this typeface are usually larger, bolder, and appear squarer than the traditional serif typeface. Museo Slab is an excellent example of this type of font.


Scrip is another font type that is based on modern or historical handwriting. These font types are usually more fluid and resembling a person’s handwriting than computer type. Popular examples of script are Grand Hotel and Alex Brush.


A monospace font, just as the name implies, is the type of font wherein each letter occupies the same amount of horizontal space. Traditionally, the letter “i” occupies less space than the letter “w”, but that is not the case with monospace where they both are of the same width. Two good examples of monospace font are Lucida Console and Andale Mono.

White space

Also called negative space, white space is the part of the design that is left unmarked or blanked by an image of text. It does not have to be white, despite its name. It can be any color from the color wheel, background image, pattern, or texture.


Texture in graphic design refers to the surface characteristics of your design image. With graphic design, you can mimic actual textures such as that of cloth, brick, or even glass.


Contrast is when two elements on a page are different from one another. Mostly, contrast can be seen between light and dark colors. It can also be seen when the text on a design contrasts against the image on the background.

Contrast exists because there is a need to grab your viewer’s attention. It brings to focus on one or more elements of a design because they may feel as if they clash, although the contrast makes them complement each other.


This is the visual arrangement of the design to signify importance. The design of the hierarchy influences the order of what the human eyes see. It adds structure, direction, organization, and emphasis by manipulating these characteristics:

  • Size
  • Color
  • Contrast 
  • Texture and style
  • Proximity
  • White space
  • Alignment
  • Repetition


Kerning is the adjustment of spacing between individual characters or pairs of letters in the same word. It aims to improve legibility by achieving a more proportional balance of space between each character. This is by adding or subtracting the space between the individual characters.


Knolling is simply arranging objects or elements so that they are at a 90 degree angle to each other. Doing this technique produces a very symmetrical look that is very pleasing to the eye. Most of images that make use of knolling are usually set against solid-colored backgrounds.


Similar to kerning, tracking concerns the space between letters. It is the adjustment of space for a group of characters’ entire blocks of text. This is by changing the density and loosening or tightening a selected text block. 

The main focus of kerning is to adjust the spacing between two individual characters while tracking is the adjustment of space between groups of letters. 


Pronounced as ‘ledding’, leading refers to the space between the lines of types of texts. It ensures that the spacing above and the texts’ bottom is appropriate enough to make them legible. 

Find out the differences and examples of kerning, tracking, and leading in this article.


This means creating consistency by repeating elements, such as font (preferably sans serif for a body copy), icons, styles, schemes, cool colors, warm colors and more, to create unity and ensure that the design feels organized, consistent, and well-composed.


The resolution in graphic design determines an image’s number of pixels. It is measured in DPI or PPI, which denotes the quality of an image using dots per inch or pixels per inch.

The higher the resolution, the clearer the image will be. On the other hand, if the resolution is low, the image will appear pixelated or blurry.


The bleed is a printing term. It is where the design area is and indicates the edge of the sheet that will be trimmed off. This ensures that there are no unprinted edges or no design gets accidentally cut off.

Color Theory

The color theory is the theory that creates a logical structure for color. It is divided into three main categories: color harmony, color use context, and the color wheel. Color has a great impact on how a viewer perceives a piece of design. That is why it is important to understand the psychology behind color. Color theory helps accomplish this.


Hue is just another way to describe color. Basically, any color in the color wheel is a hue.


Palette refers to the colors that can be used for any graphics or illustrations for a specific brand. The colors chosen for a palette should word harmoniously together and should have consistency among different elements.


RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. This 3-color mode should be used when designing digital applications or images on a digital screen. RGB is also known as the three colors of light. Meaning that when mixing colors, they grow brighter the more they are combined.


CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. This is a 4-color process mode for mixing color in graphic design, which is best used for print products. It means that using CMYK is best suited for physically printed products or images, not just viewed on the screen.

Pantone (PMS)

The ‘Pantone Matching System’ is a standardized color scheme for blending colors used for printing, in addition to graphic design. Each Pantone color has its own individual number and name, making it much easier for graphic designers to reference and identify exact shades of color.


Design software applications, CSS, and HTML use six-figure numbers to represent colors. These six-digit numbers are called hex.


Designs that are in one color or varying shades of one color are called monochrome. This is commonly seen among photographs that feature a single tone of color such as those seen in black-and-white or sepia settings.


Analogous colors are colors that are found next to each other in the color wheel. A few  examples are red, red-orange, and orange, and blue, blue-violet, and violet. Analogous colors are usually soothing to the eye as they create soft transitions between colors that have similarities.


Complementary colors are found opposite of each other in the color wheel. They may be on opposite ends, but they complement each other well to create a pleasing effect. Red and green is a popular example of complementary colors, especially prominent during the holidays. Other examples are purple and yellow and blue and orange.


Triadic colors are composed of three colors that are even spaced throughout the color wheel. Red, yellow and blue are all primary colors and also are triadic colors. So are purple, green, and orange which are secondary colors.

Warm Colors

Warm colors are colors that usually give off a warm and happy vibe. They center around the colors red, yellow, and orange. They can also be a combination of the said warm colors.

Cool Colors

Cool colors are the exact opposite of warm colors. They usually give off a cold and gloomy feeling. They also exude feelings of calm and relaxation. Blue, purple and green are the main colors that fall under this category, as well as any of their combinations.


Tint happens when you add white to any hue in the color wheel. When you do this, the color becomes lighter, desaturated, and less intense.


Gradient is the gradual change of one color into another, or gradual fading into transparency. Gradient can be either linear or radial. Some examples of gradient are when red gradually turns into orange or lightens into pink.


When an image or object becomes more and more transparent, that is called opacity. The lower the values of opacity is, the more transparent that image or object is. 100 percent opacity is seen as a solid object. As your lower that level of opacity, it becomes hazier or more transparent.


X-height refers to the distance between the baseline and the mean line of letters. This is only referred to for lowercase letters in a typeface.


Ascender is the x-height, or the part of a lowercase letter that extends above the mean line. Examples of letters that have ascenders are b and d 


Descender is the main opposite of ascender. It extends below the baseline of a lowercase font. The letters g and q are examples of lowercase letters that have descenders.

Lorum Ipsum

If you’ve ever browsed through a selection of premade templates such as those in Canva, you might be familiar with these words. Lorum Ipsum is simply a dummy text used by the design industry to act as placeholder text when the actual copy is not yet ready. As opposed to “add text here,” it gives the viewer a better perspective of how a piece of text may appear on a specific template.

Rule of Thirds

This rule is a technique used to determine the focal point of an image. This is by using a grid of three rows and columns (3×3) and aligning the image design subject with the guidelines or intersection points and making it aesthetically pleasing.


In design, a scale means the size of a design element in comparison to another element. Using scale creates importance and even curiosity to grab the attention of a viewer to a design. For example, using a larger scale creates drama, while a smaller scale creates fine details.


Raster graphics are composed of pixels, and each pixel is assigned with a color value. These graphics are usually captured by a camera or a scanner and are good for photo manipulation, color correction, or assigning special effects. These are resolution-dependent, which means when you enlarge or stretch the image, it can get a little blurry and lose some clarity.


Vector graphics are small graphics composed of math, points, lines, and curves to display images. This means a vector image uses mathematical calculations from one point to another that forms the image. When you zoom into the image, it can scale in size, and the vector graphic will always look the same, without losing any quality.


Grids are a group of interesting vertical and horizontal lines that can help a graphic designer structure the elements on a consistent page. It keeps your content organized and clean.


A gradient is also known as the transition of color by gradually blending one color from another. It enables a designer almost to create a new color. It also adds depth and dimension to a flat graphic design adding realism to an illustration.


Saturation is how intense a color is or how pure it is. If you’ve tried increasing the saturation of an image in your phone through its build-it photo-editor, you will notice that the colors appear more vivid and bright. Decreasing saturation does the exact opposite; it makes the colors duller. In fact, if you zero-out the saturation, you will be left with a grey block instead of an image.


Opacity is the opaqueness or transparency of an image in a design. The lower the opacity—the more transparent or, the light can pass better through the image. For example, 100% opacity means an object looks more solid.


Skeuomorphism is when digital elements are made to resemble the real thing. Apple’s newsstand is a good example. The stand itself and the books and magazines look realistic.


A flat design is somewhat contrasting to skeuomorphism. It mainly features simple designs with great focus on function and usability. You can recognize a flat design easily with two-dimensional illustrations, bright colors, crisp edges and lots of open space.

Taking online courses like the “Graphic Design Masterclass: Learn Great Design” can help you step up your graphic design game. Learn design theory, the process of creating logos, and branding packages through practical, real-world projects.  

There are many graphic design online courses you can choose from Skill Success. Use the graphic design vocabulary you have learned from this article to guide while taking your online course.

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