24 Basic Graphic Design Terms For Non-Designers

I know I haven’t been posting as often, but I’ve been busy with the massive influx of new clients since starting this blog. I am grateful for all the support I’ve received so far from friends, family and random strangers on the internet, you guys rock! Enjoy this new post about 24 graphic design terms for non-designers and look forward to more seeing more content in the coming weeks!

COVID-19 has changed the world has we know it. A lot of people lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are having a hard time recovering. But, there is a set of people who have decided to use the pandemic as an opportunity to start a business. This new wave of entrepreneurs has also increased the demand for creative people.

I reached out to my network of freelancers to get an idea of the highest demanded services during the pandemic. The most common responses were graphic design, web design and social media management. The increased demand for these services isn’t surprising when you consider how easy it is to start an online business. I’ve personally experienced a boost in logo design and web design requests in recent months. Of course, these businesses are trying to build an online customer base and would need a recognisable logo among other things.

Related: My Graphic Design Toolkit 2020

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More and more people are moving away from 9-5 workdays and are starting their own businesses. Credits: Nappy.co

I remember speaking to a client a week ago about her logo design, and she asked me if I could send it in a vector format. I agreed. When I sent her the files, she didn’t know what an “.ai” file was and asked me to clarify. I explained that the file was the vector format she requested.

The client then admitted that she did not know what a vector was and was only told by a friend to ask for it. I understood her frustration and explained the key differences and file extensions. She was very grateful and said that she appreciated me taking out the time to explain the jargon to her.

24 Basic Graphic Design Terms For Non-Designers graphic design terms
Clients are regular people too. Let’s not confuse them with graphic design terms. Credits: Pexels

Looking back at the experience, I realised that most clients are normal people and are not familiar with graphic design jargon. I always see those Instagram posts trashing clients about misunderstanding technical terms. But, if you think about it, the misunderstanding would be the designer’s fault. The designer has a responsibility to explain these terms to the client in a way they would understand.

Graphic Design memes that mock clients for not understanding graphic design terms

Poor communication is a big problem in the creative industry. Creatives often expect clients to know what “CMYK” “vector” and “PNG” means. This often causes confusion and ruins the customer experience. So, I want to do my part by explaining 24 basic graphic design terms for non-designers. So, the next time a designer uses jargon, try some of these words and impress them with your knowledge 😎😎 .

Graphic design terms for non-designers


A vector graphic is a file format made up of mathematical equations to define the shapes and paths of an image. Vector files have the unique feature of being able to scale infinitely with no quality loss as they are not limited to pixels like the raster format.

Standard vector formats include the Adobe Illustrator (ai) format and the Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) format.

Popular software that works with vectors includes Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape and Affinity Designer.


A raster image is made up of a set grid of dots called pixels, where each pixel is assigned a colour value. In raster images, the more pixels an image contains the higher its resolution. The only downside to raster images is that are they are limited by pixels and cannot be scaled up without losing quality.

Standard raster formats include JPEG, PNG and Bitmap.

Popular software that works with raster files includes Adobe Photoshop, GIMP and Affinity Photo.


An Adobe Illustrator file or AI is a file format that is primarily used to save vector-based illustrations created in Adobe Illustrator. This file can be reopened and edited by graphic designers who own the software. Illustrator works with vector images and is not suitable for raster images like photographs. Adobe Illustrator also has the ability to scale vectors infinitely as it uses mathematical equations rather than pixels.

Ai files are most compatible with Adobe Illustrator but can be accessed by other programs like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe After Effects.


A Photoshop Document or PSD is primarily used in the Adobe Photoshop program to store the raster images, text and shapes that make up a design. This file can be reopened and edited by graphic designers who own the software. Unlike Illustrator, Photoshop works primarily with raster images and is limited to pixel resolution that cannot be scaled infinitely.

PSD files are most compatible with Adobe Photoshop but can be accessed by other programs like Affinity Designer and Photopea


An InDesign Document or INDD is the primary file format used in Adobe InDesign to store raster, vector and text that make up a design layout. This file can be reopened and edited by graphic designers who own the software. InDesign files are best suited for print projects that require exporting files as PDF documents.

INDD files only work with Adobe InDesign so you will need to buy the program to edit this format.


A Scalable Vector Graphic or an SVG file is vector graphic format used primarily on websites. Like other vector formats, an SVG scale infinitely as it made up of code rather than pixels.

SVGs can be accessed by any modern browser including Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer 11.


The portable document format or PDF is a file format developed by Adobe to present documents, including text and images. The file format supports both raster and vector images, text formatting and shapes. If you are bringing a design to a printer, it is recommended to use this format.

Popular software that works with PDF files includes Adobe Photoshop, Sumatra PDF and Adobe Acrobat.


“JPEG” stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the name of the committee that created the JPEG standard. This is the most common image format on the internet and is used to store photographs. If you are planning to share the final designs on social media, this is the format you would use.

Popular software that works with JPEG files includes your default gallery, Faststone Photo viewer and Irfanview.


Portable Network Graphics or PNG, is a raster file format that uses lossless compression to transfer images across the internet. You can use PNG files to store your logo with a transparent background or for pictures you want to save at full resolution.

If you cannot remember the name of this format, simply tell the designer you’d like to have your logo with a transparent background, and they’ll know what you mean.

Popular software that works with JPEG files includes your default gallery, Faststone Photo viewer and Irfanview.


WEBP is a brand new raster image format created by Google for the modern web. WEBP uses lossless and lossy compression to deliver smaller, richer images on the web. WEBP is commonly used on websites, but it is not supported by every browser as yet.

WEBP is supported by Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox. Apple’s safari is still in the dark ages and does not fully support WEBP.


A design style that creates a gradual transition between two or more colours across the surface of a shape. Common types of gradients include linear, radial and diamond. You can create gradients in almost every design program.


A typeface is the design of lettering that can include variations, such as extra bold, bold, regular, light, italic, condensed, extended, etc. Each of these variations of the typeface is a font. Examples of typefaces include Arial, Times New Roman and Calibre.

An easy way to differentiate between font and typeface is that the typeface is the collection and font is an individual piece of that collection.


A font is a collection of all the characters of a typeface in one size and one style. Common examples of fonts include bold and italic, but you can find others like 800, 300 and extended. The word font has gotten so popular that people often use it to refer to typefaces. We can see this with popular services like google fonts, Dafont and Font Squirrel that include it in their names. Examples of fonts include Arial bold, Times New Roman Italic and Calibre Body.


The copy is iterally the graphic design term for text. Copy covers headlines, call to actions, paragraphs, contact information, descriptions and anything text related you want to include in your design.


RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue, which are the primary colours that make up the pixels on our device screens. If you are hiring a designer to create a design to be shared on the internet, this is the colour space that they will use.


CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black) which is the four colour printing process used to print out your design in the real world. If you are hiring a designer to create artwork that will be mainly used for print (signs, flyers, banners etc), this is the colour space that they will use.


A mockup is a graphical representation of the final design in the real world. Mockups allow you to see how your design would look on a computer screen, a shop window, on the streets etc. without you spending money on printing. Next time, ask your designer for a mockup so you can see if your design would work well in the real world.

Mood Board

A mood board is a collection of ideas whether it is images, videos, text, colours, shapes that are used to inform others of the overall feel (mood) that a graphic designer is trying to achieve.

A popular mood board tool is Pinterest which allows users to save or pin different ideas onto a board which can be accessed by the designer and client.


A serif font is a font that has the little feet at the bottom of every letter. Serif fonts are often seen as traditional, formal and used primarily in printed material like books and newspapers.

Sans Serif

A sans-serif font is a font that does not have the little feet at the bottom of the letters. Sans-serif means “without serif”. Sans-serif fonts are seen as more modern, friendly and are best suited for use in digital media.


A wireframe is the skeleton of your website design used by designers to plan out where elements will go on the webpage before actually images and text. If you are working with a professional web designer, you should ask to see a wireframe before they start building your website. That way, you can see the layout and ask for changes before its too late.


Lettermarks are logos that use letters, usually the brand initials. Examples of lettermark logos in Jamaica include NCB, KFC, DMH and TSW.


Wordmarks are logos that are a stylistic version of the companies name. Examples of Wordmark logos include Saudicka Diaram Show, Nail it Malli and Buzzz Caribbean Lifestyle Magazine.

White Space

White space is the art of leaving space or ‘gaps’ between elements to create breathing room in the overall design. White space reduces clutter and allows end-users to take in the information quickly. I know you want to make the most of your money spent by cramming as much information in there as possible, but please restrain yourself 😀.

I hope this list of graphic design terms for non-designers proved to be useful. The next time you talk to your designer try using some of these words in the conversation.

What graphic design terms did you learn today? Did I miss anything? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

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