Design Definitions: Part 1

Cynthia Bartz • May 7, 2015

Sometimes, when we get really deep in our industry, it is easy to forget that other people don’t understand some of the words we use. In order to communicate effectively we have to educate each other. Below is the first in a series of definitions/explanations of common design terms in plain language.


DPI: or Dots Per Inch is a common term thrown around in graphics, often referring to a photo’s resolution. DPI tells you how many dots per inch will be printed. Generally the higher the number the sharper the image. The standard resolution or DPI for print is 300dpi. Designers will sometimes use DPI to refer to digital images as well, even though PPI is more accurate.

Embedded: Different programs handle images differently. Ideally, starting a fresh design project you will have each asset in it’s original file for the designer to use in the design. This means if you are designing a business card you would send your logo and head shot as individual files to the designer, not inside a Word document. The reason for this is Word, PowerPoint, PDFs, and other documents ’embed’ the image inside the document. So your big, crisp logo turns into a fixed 2″x3″ rasterized image and your super high-resolution headshot is now tiny and looks like crap. When you embed an image the program discards all the unnecessary information in order to keep the file size down.

PPI: or Pixels Per Inch refers to the number of pixels rather than print dots in DPI. PPI is used more often in digital applications. You will commonly see this term used to refer to the resolution of flatscreens or tablets, the higher the number the sharper the image. Standard resolution for digital graphics is 72PPI.

Raster Image: Raster or rasterized images are images made up of pixels. Rasterized images look crisp and clean up to a certain limit. When they are stretched beyond their native size they become pixelated. Professionals will always advise to either keep the image the original size, replace with a higher resolution image, or choose a different image all together. Rasterized images are commonly used for photographs, web graphics, and print documents (though vector is always preferred in print). Raster file formats include: .jpg, .png, .gif, .bmp.

Vector Image: There are two different types of images in the design world- vector and raster. Vector images are infinitely scaleable. That means they will look beautiful printed teenie-tiny on a product, as well as blown up as huge as a football field. The reason vectors can do this is the file is built based on math, rather than lots of pixels. Vector files are commonly used for logos, infographics, and icons. Vector file formats include: .eps, .ai, .svg

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