The Demystification of Printing


Have you ever looked closely at a proposal from your printer and wondered what all the code was for but were afraid to ask?

Here are 3 of the most understood terms used by printers:


Everyone in the business of print understands that CMYK refers to the colors of ink used to print a four-color process piece. Even the greenest rookie in the print shop quickly learns these:

C= CYAN (blue)
Y=YELLOW (yellow)
K=BLACK (what?)

Why is K=BLACK? If you ask most seasoned print professionals, the answer you would get would be that if BLACK was represented by a B, then it would be confused with BLUE. Not true…

BLACK is represented by a K because the BLACK plate on the press is considered to be the KEY plate that all of the other colors must register to. Use that one to stump your printer next time he tries to use this acronym on you.

Four-color Process

The best way to understand four-color process is to first imagine an old-school comic book with the large dots in the color photos. Well, those dots are still there but they have been dramatically reduced in size so much that they are difficult to see without a magnifier. Offset printing presses can only print in solid colors so those dots are made up of various sizes and the CMYK colors referred to above.

This allows for thousands of shades of different colors to be reproduced from only four inks on the press. Example — the Greenest Rookie spoken of earlier would print with a percentage of Cyan dots and a percentage of Yellow dots.

Paper Weights

How can 100# paper be thinner than 80# paper? The BASIS WEIGHT is a measure of the weight of 500 sheets of paper of specific size in pounds (#). Here’s the confusing part of what should be a simple answer, each type of paper (cover, book, writing, etc.) is measured with different sizes.

That’s how 80# Cover can be thicker than 80# Book. The 80# Cover is the weight of 500 sheets of 20″ x 26″ sheets, while the 80# Book is the weight of 500 sheets of 25″ x 38″ sheets. Here’s a brief list of types of paper and sizes that determine the basis weights…

BOND & LEDGER PAPER (20#, 24#, 28#, 32#) is the weight of 500 sheets of 17″ x 22″

OFFSET, BOOK & TEXT (50#, 60#, 70#, 80#, 100#) is the weight of 500 sheets of 25″ x 38″

COVER PAPER (65#, 80#, 100#, 120#) is the weight of 500 sheets of 20″ x 26″

OK. We didn’t make this stuff up and there will definitely NOT be a test after this. We’re here to make sense of this for you.

Either you can remember all of this, or you can let us demystify all of this for you.

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