K.I.S.S. – “Keep It Simple Stupid” A Glossary of Printing Terms

May 4, 2008
Like most businesses, the printing industry has its own unique jargon that gets thrown around and we expect that most people just understand what we are talking about. Now sometimes people do but other times I’m sure they are thinking to themselves, “What is this guy talking about?” Our industry is a very technical one: from print fabrication methods to different materials, specifications and to all the various processes a nameplate or label can be subject to in the manufacturing process. When speaking, or writing for that matter, we use the terminology that best describes what we are trying to explain despite the fact that you may not know what the heck we are talking about. This can be confusing and I am certainly guilty of this so let me be the first to apologize, for I am not trying to be the pot calling the kettle black. So I am creating this post for people out there that who may not be “in the loop” with some of today’s printing terminology. The Willington Companies are trying to “KISS” and make up for anytime that YOU may have been puzzled by industry web sites or sales reps by creating some awareness of the more technical terms that you might be encounter out there when sourcing your product identification. Below is an updated glossary of terms that can also be found here on our web page under the Help Desk tab. When you find a term that is blue and underlined, click on it for further information on the topic including a visual representation.

This technical glossary contains terms and abbreviations associated with the nameplate and label printing industry.


Acrylic: A synthetic polymer which has very good aging characteristics, and an initial tack which is relatively light to allow for repositioning; full strength is reached over time. Most transfer adhesives are acrylic.

Adhesion: The bond which is created when two surfaces come into contact.

Adhesive: A compound that adheres or bonds two items together. Adhesives may come from either natural or synthetic sources. Some modern adhesives are extremely strong, and are becoming increasingly important in modern construction and industry.

Alloy: A substance that has metallic properties and is composed of two or more chemical elements, of which at least one is a metal.

Anneal: To Temper the process whereby metal is rolled to a temper beyond the desired temper, and then annealed back to attain the desired tensile. The result is a more uniform grain structure and tighter tensile range.

Backing: The release liner which protects adhesives. It is removed prior to use of the product.

Bleed: Background printing which extends beyond, the specified dimensions of the part, when the part is cut at the specified dimensions, there is 100% ink coverage on the finished part.

Blocking: A condition created when one layer sticks to another layer within a roll or in sheet, thereby making it difficult to unroll or feed the sheets.

Carrier: The material on which the adhesive had been coated, and on which it stays during use, often referred to as “face stock”.

Chemical Etch: The dissolution of the material of a surface by subjection to the corrosive action of a liquid or gaseous acid or an alkali.

Color Retention: The ability of a color to resist fading and other deterioration due to light exposure.

CSA: Canadian Standards Association.

Deadfront: The property by which a transparent color is visible only when backlit, as when used on keyboard overlays and front panels.

Debossing: The process of lowering a pattern or copy below the original surface.

Die Cutting: The process of cutting various shapes to their finished dimensions.

Digital Printing: Printing in which an image is applied to paper or another substrate directly from a digital file rather than using film and/or plates. Benefits are for short runs or personalized print.

Dimensional Stability: The property of a material to resist changes, under varying environmental conditions, in its length, width, or thickness.

Ductility: The property that permits permanent deformation of a metal before fracture by stress under tension.

Embossing: A technique used to raise a pattern of copy above the original surface using matched male and female dies.

Face Stock: The base substrate to which an adhesive is applied. This term is often used for self-adhesive label stock, i.e. decals, etc., otherwise the term “Carrier” is preferred in the industry.

Flexibility: The property which indicates how various materials will conform to curved surfaces, measured under specific conditions.

Flexographic Printing: Flexography is the major process used to print packaging materials. In the typical flexo printing sequence, the substrate is fed into the press from a roll. The image is printed as substrate is pulled through a series of stations, or print units. Each print unit is printing a single color. As with Gravure and Lithographic printing, the various tones and shading are achieved by overlaying the 4 basic shades of ink. These are magenta, cyan, yellow and black. Magenta being the red tones and cyan being the blue.

Hard Tooling: Class “A” tooling which is usually used when material thickness is over .020 (.508mm), to cut tight dimensional tolerances less than +.005” (.127mm), and on large volume production runs. Hard tooling consists of male and female die halves.

Laminate: To apply a protective layer of material over the substrate to provide protection and give it a glossy or matte finish. It is also used to increase protection against wear and tear.

Matte: A dull finish or surface which reflects a minimum of light. In some applications it allows a surface which can be written on.

Memory: The property of plastic material which causes it to return to its original size, after being stretched or distorted.

Metalized Film: A plastic film which has been coated on one side with a thin layer of metal.

Metal Photo: A unique process which embeds the image of a film within a saphire hard, anodized layer of a photosensitive sheet of aluminum. Government and aerospace extensively specify metal photo for demanding applications that require resistance to the effects of weather, abrasion, heat and most chemicals.
Munsell Color System: A uniform color measurement system or scale, usually used in conjunction with a spectrophotometer.

Nameplate: Something (as a plate or plaque) bearing a name (as of a resident or manufacturer) and pertinent information.

Nomenclature: Names, or descriptive words.

Pantone Matching System: One of the most common color matching systems, often referred to as PMS. It is a standard used by most printers as a guide for selecting and matching the color specified. There are over 530 color variations.

Peel Adhesion: The force needed to remove a strip of pressure sensitive material from a surface. Measured at a specific rate of removal and at a specific angle from the surface.

Polycarbonate: A versatile film which exhibits excellent clarity, stability, printing and die cutting characteristics, as well as good solvent resistance. Used often for decal face stocks.

Polyester: A versatile film used for decal face stocks. It is available in a variety of thicknesses, and in clear, matted, pigmented, metalized, brushed metalized, or transparent colors. Exhibits clarity, stability, good print and die cutting characteristics, as well as good exterior durability.

Polyethylene: A plastic film available in various densities and thicknesses. Generally used in applications where heat resistance and exterior durability are not required.

Proof: A printed impression of the original copy produced for the final verification of spelling, type size, color, etc. Usually a client must sign off on the proof, and printer keeps the final approval on file.

Register: The exact corresponding placement of successively printed images, and/or a die cut, etc.

Release Liner: A material that has been specially treated which protects a pressure sensitive adhesive. It comes in varying thicknesses, and it allows for easy removal from the adhesive.

Reverse Printing: The printing of a background in a specific color, thus leaving the nomenclature or verbiage the color of the original substrate being printed.

Scoring: The marking of lines on a substrate. In printing this facilitates an easy fold on a thick substrate to avoid splitting.

Service Temperature: The range of temperature that a pressure sensitive label will withstand. Often referred to as “exposure temperature”.

Shear Adhesion: The force required to pull a pressure sensitive label or material from a standard flat surface. The pull direction is parallel to the surface to which the pressure sensitive item has been attached.

Shelf Life: The length of time a product can be stored and remain suitable for use.

Slip Sheeting: The placing of a piece of paper, tissue, or some other material between parts to protect against scratching.

Solvent: A dissolving or thinning agent.

Subsurface Printing: Printing on the underside of a film, usually a transparent film. The ink will then be between the film that was printed and the substrate which it is applied. Also known as “second surface” printing.

Substrate: The base material upon which printing is done.

Tack: The ability of an adhesive to adhere to a substrate with only a minimum of pressure.

Temper: A condition produced in a metal or alloy by mechanical or thermal treatment, having characteristic structural and mechanical properties.

Transfer Tape: A pressure sensitive adhesive that has a two sided release coated liner which comes in rolls, and between two release liners when in sheet. When applied to a surface, the release liner is left in place for removal at a later date.

UL: Underwriter’s Laboratories.

Ultimate Adhesion: The maximum bond established between product and the surface to which it is adhered. The time involved varies, but usually ultimate adhesion takes place in 72 – 96 hours.

Unique Identification (UID): A mandate that was issued by the Department of Defense (DoD) which requires all contracts, deliverables, and government property in possession of contractors to be marked with a unique identification number. Essentially it is a 2-D data matrix symbol. This matrix is comprised of data which is scanned and interpreted into three main parts: CAGE Code, Serial Number, and Part Number. These three parts together make a unique serialized identification number for items which the DoD will use for lifecycle management.

U.V. Drying: A system which employs ultraviolet radiation to complete the ink curing process.

Varnishing: Clear finish applied like ink on a press or a roller coater that provides additional protection and sheen to a printed piece. A varnish may have a dull or glossy appearance, and may be tinted with coloured ink. A flood varnish is applied to the entire page; a spot varnish is applied only to selected image areas and requires a printing plate to apply.

Web Press: A rotary press which can accept material from roll stock.

On behalf of the Willington Companies, we hope that everybody finds this printing glossary helpful. However, if you find yourself still sitting there scratching your head; feel free to give us a call and we will gladly explain whatever it is that may be confusing you. Our toll-free phone number is (877) 967-4743, we would love to help you understand your requirement a little better.