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Common Printing Terms - The Basics

Every skilled trade has a vernacular all its own and printing is no different. The team at Capitol City Press wants to help you understand our fascinating vocation and the terms we use. Below are some of the most common subjects we are asked to clarify when talking about the wide range of solutions for we offer. Most of these terms are books within themselves so our descriptions are as general as possible.

Offset Printing

Liquid Magenta Ink in a clean ink fountain.

A printing technique that transfers liquid ink through a series of rollers to a plate to blanket to paper. This can use any number of inks from 1 to 4 or more depending on specification and desired results. Special coatings can also be applied like varnishes and even scratch and sniff!

Digital Printing

Mixed toner from one of our digital print engines during maintenance.

A printing technique that uses dry toner, static electricity and heat to create images. Some devices can use specialty colors, but most print engines use a monochrome or cyan, magenta, yellow and black “full color” mode to create high quality shorter run projects. Capitol City Press uses a non-toxic organic toner to create prints that produce an extremely wide color range and vibrancy.

Process Color

Color bars showing the inks used.

Uses 4 colors to create full color images and art. Cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks are laid down in a specific order and “registered” to align perfectly. Process color is standard on our digital presses to simulate spot colors (see below!).

Spot Color

Pantone color swatches.

A specific way to create accurate color. The Pantone Matching System is the most common system in use. If you ask for PMS 200 C (red) somewhere in Hammersmith, UK it will be the same here at Capitol City Press.


Bleed example with crop marks.

When you have an image or art element that needs to seamlessly flow off the finished edge of your project, you need “bleed”. You can add this in most common page layout applications.


Panels on a gate folded brochure for the Thurston County Auditors Office.

A Panel is the distance between the folds in a document. Panels need to be sized correctly in order to fold flat. Our print specialists can help you figure out what panel sizes you need to have, no matter how complex.

Crop Marks

Crop marks clearly define what the finished size should be.

Crop Marks indicate where the finished edge of your project is located. If you project has bleeds it can also help you determine if your file is set up correctly when exported as a PDF. Most page layout applications can apply bleeds when exporting.

Soft Proof

A “soft proof” is digital and can be delivered a number of ways. This can speed up how long it takes to start printing your project. It is an excellent option if color isn’t critical and you just need to review content.

Hard Proof

Our hard proofs are certifiable. No wait certified!

A “hard” or paper proof is great when you want to review color as well as judge the finished size and content within. These take more time to create and are a bit more expensive. Capitol City Press offers G7 color proofing for consistency.


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