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C is for .... Design Terms Glossary

Non-designers Essential Glossary of Design Terms

Every industry, business and profession has its own language and that language can leave you feeling confused and result in lots of misunderstandings.  We thought you might find our Design Terms Glossary useful whether you are using the training in our Members’ section or dealing with a graphic designer directly.

C - 4Cs of Graphic Design

4 C's of Graphic Design


Good Graphic Design should always be CUSTOMER FOCUSED.

4c's of Graphic Design - Customer, Concept, Components, Composition1.  Who is your CUSTOMER?

Define who you are targeting as precisely as possible.

Are you addressing ALL your customers or a sub-section?

2.  What is your CONCEPT (idea) for this promotion?

A poster? Social media advert? Brochure? Festival?

What is your Unique Selling Point?

How will you tell your target market about it?

What do you want them to do and when?

3. Which COMPONENTS will you use?

  Logo, Strapline, Headline, Event, Offer, Date, Time, Address, Photos, Graphs, Maps, Social media address?

4.  Now it is time to begin work on the COMPOSITION!

  Remember to choose a style and layout that will appeal to your identified CUSTOMERS (see 1).

Cap Height

Cap Height Typography Terms


Typography has a specific language all of its own which can easily Cap Height Diagramconfuse the non-designer.

The CAP HEIGHT is the distance between the BASELINE and the top of the upper case letters which have flat tops such as T or H and does not include any ASCENDERS – see terms below.

It is shown as the BLUE line here:

Related Terms: Baseline, Midline, Descender, Ascender, Kerning, Leading, Sans Serif, Serif, Script, Decorative, Weight, X-Height



Typography lines diagram

Clip Art

Clip Art



Clip ArtClip Art is the term given to graphics you can download direct from the internet onto your computer.

Some of the more basic ones you can download for free, but most you have to pay for – especially if you are going to use them for business promotion.

It can be tempting to use clip art because it is easy and ‘almost’ what you want, but most clip art is easy to spot and can send all the wrong messages to your customers.

Spending a little extra money commissioning a bespoke design, or spending a little extra time to design one yourself, will pay dividends with your customers. Establish your brand style and mark out your promotional work as being a cut above.

Please do not be tempted to use pay-per-download clip art (or stock photos) without paying for the rights to use them, especially if your advertising is likely to end up on the internet, and never be tempted to copy and paste a picture to use in your business without first asking permission from the owner, even if you plan to crop or modify it.

It’s easy to trace who owns images on the internet using a program called TinEye ( which is a reverse image search engine. It finds out where an image came from, who owns it, how it is being used and if modified versions of the image exist.

Using a search engine like TinEye can save you from making an expensive mistake.

Much better to design or commission your own.


CMYK  is a type of printing.

It is also sometimes referred to as FOUR COLOUR PROCESS printing .

CMYKThe four colours are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black and they are combined to create full colour images on paper or card.

Put simply, a full colour image is separated into the 4 different colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) using filters in the graphic design software. This results in 4 separate images which are then printed one by one on top of each other, to build up the image. The order is usually CMYK (the K stands for the blacK – B in graphics refers to Blue).

If you look at CMYK printing under a microscope you will see that the image is made up of thousands of tiny dots which have been printed at different sizes and angles to create the printed image.

It is mainly used for large print runs where it is very competitively priced.

Small print runs are normally better off using digital printing methods.

PS. This page is reproduced under the title Four Colour Process elsewhere in this glossary.

Colour Wheel

Colour Wheel


A colour wheel is a circle of 12 colours arranged to show the relationships between primary, secondary and tertiary colours.


They are the only 3 colours that can’t be made by combining any other colours.

The SECONDARY COLOURS are VIOLET, GREEN and ORANGE and are made by mixing together pairs of primary colours.

TERTIARY COLOURS are made by mixing adjacent primary and secondary colours together to form a third colour:   They are RED-VIOLET, BLUE-VIOLET, BLUE-GREEN, YELLOW-GREEN, YELLOW-ORANGE and RED-ORANGE.

Related terms: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Hue, Colour

Colour Wheel

Complementary Colours

Complementary colours



Complementary colours are any pair of colours that appear Complementry ColoursOPPOSITE each other on the colour wheel.

1. For example,  Red and Green or Blue and Orange.

While complementary colours work well together they need to be used carefully as sometimes a strange optical ‘shimmering’ effect can be produced. A good way to do this is to reduce the saturation (intensity) of one or both colours as shown in the example picture of Mewsli the cat and the mat he is sitting on.

Complementary coloursChanging the value (the light to dark variation of the colour) can also really help a complementary colour scheme to work well.

Related Terms: Primary colours, Secondary colours, Colour scheme, Analogous colour, Square colours, Tertiary colours, Tetradic colours, Triadic colours, Saturation, Split Complementary colours,  Value.





CMYKCyan is one of the colours in the CMYK printing process.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black and is also known as  ‘4 Colour Process‘ printing.

Cyan is a greenish-blue colour and is the complimentary colour of red.

It’s Hex code is #00FFFF

For those of you who would like to read about Cyan in more detail, I have provided a link to Wikipedia’s Cyan page which has lots of technical info on it!


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