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Understanding Commercial Printing Terms

Placing your first commercial print order can seem overwhelming. As in many technical fields, print seems to have a language all its own. Here are the basics you should know to make ordering your first print project easier.


Dimensions and Envelopes

One of the first questions you’ll have to answer is what size you want your piece to be. You’ll need to consider several things before you can answer this question.

  • What type of piece is it: a postcard, brochure, business card, rack card, or something else?
  • How big does it need to be to present the text and/or images clearly and attractively?
  • Will it go into an envelope? Be sure to tell the printer up front if you will need envelopes, as this can influence the size you choose for your piece. Often, you can save money by using machinable envelopes, which are available in limited sizes.


Digital vs. Offset Printing

The type of project you’re producing and the number of pieces you’ll need will be major factors in determining whether digital or offset printing makes more sense for your order. While digital printing allows quicker turnaround times, lower costs for small jobs, and the flexibility to easily use variable data, such as personalizing each in a set of postcards with the recipient’s name, offset printing allows you to produce larger pieces, attain sharper image quality, and reduce the cost of printing large quantities of a single piece.


Paper Stock

When ordering paper stock, you have two different aspects to consider: thickness and coating. The two main thickness categories are referred to as cover, also called card stock, and text (as in the type of paper you’d see for a cover of a book vs. the pages the text is printed on). Within those broad categories, you have a range of thickness choices. You can also choose coated or uncoated stock; typically, uncoated is used for finished products that will be written on (such as stationery, standard envelopes, and RSVP cards), while a coating can help to sharpen images and colors as well as provide a degree of protection from handling and the elements. If using coated paper, you’ll be able to choose from different types of coating such as matte, silk, or gloss, or dull. Paper stock can be coated on one or both sides; printers refer to these as C1S and C2S, respectively.



Color can be among the more confusing aspects of a print order, but it doesn’t have to be. Full-color printing uses four basic colors: yellow, black, magenta (between red and purple) and cyan (between blue and green). This is commonly abbreviated as CYMK. Some colors, however, cannot be produced with this four-color process. These are called PMS (Pantone Matching System) colors and must be produced by mixing inks to create the desired look. The color process used for your piece will be translated into what looks like a fraction, with a top number indicating the color used on the front and the bottom number noting what, if any, color will be used on the back. When using the CMYK process, the color number will be 4 (for the four CMYK colors); when using PMS colors, it will be the number of distinct PMS colors used. For example,

  • 4/0 indicates full CMYK color on one side with a blank back;
  • 4/4 indicates full CMYK color on both sides;
  • 1/0 indicates one PMS color with a blank back;
  • 5/4 denotes a full-color piece with an additional PMS color on the front.



Bindery is finish work done after printing is complete. This can include embossing, stamping, die cutting, folding, scoring, or binding. Always be sure to fully explain any finish work you’ll want done on your piece to your printer so they can help you get it done as efficiently as possible.


Are you ready to talk about your print order? Contact Blue Frog Marketing! We provide quick, high quality, affordable commercial printing services from our headquarters in Des Moines! Whether your project is large or small, we can help you choose the best way to get it done right and within your budget. Click below to get in touch with us!


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