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Design Fundamentals

June 5, 2015 Gina Gallup

I’ve written before about how design is important even in a firm like ours that focuses on public relations, content and inbound marketing.

I thought I would expand on that a little and offer a few design basics that are helpful for anyone to know.



These abbreviations refer to color spaces, and they are the two most commonly used in the design world. Without going into specifics about additive colors and subtractive colors and how they work, here is a quick overview.
RGC vs CMYK color spectrum

RGB = Red / Green / Blue

CMYK = Cyan / Magenta / Yellow / Black (“K” is used for black because it initially referred to “key,” when the black plate was used to register the others during the printing process.

RGB is the format for computer monitors, phones and digital photography and other digital environments. It is a very broad color spectrum, and graphics and photos in the RGB spectrum can show an amazing depth of vibrant color. There are 16,777,216 possible colors in this color space! We can’t even distinguish them all, but trust me, there is great flexibility there.

CMYK is how most things actually print, whether it’s your office copier or on a printing press. The CMYK color spectrum is more limited than RGB, which is why photos might look great on a monitor and not as good in a brochure. Most printed pieces are using CMYK – also known as process colors – so it’s important to have images converted in a photo-editing program, like Photoshop, and adjusted as necessary to optimize and control the final output.


Pantone Matching System

Pantone books This is a system that designers and printers use to standardize how color is reproduced. It’s crucial for a brand to consistently represent itself across every medium. One way to visually do that is to make sure all graphics – especially the logo – have a uniform look whether in a brochure, on TV, in an advertisement, etc. The Pantone system minimizes undesirable color shifts with defined spot colors, hexachrome numbers and mixes for RGB and CMYK that translate to video, printing, plastic, fabric and more.


Vector vs. Raster

vector vs rasterPhotos are rasterized images. You know how sometimes if you zoom into a photo, it pixelates or looks fuzzy? That’s because it’s resolution-dependent. Meaning, once that kind of file is enlarged too far (probably about 150% of original size), it doesn’t have the pixels or digital information to fill in the gaps and keep the details. Rasterized images can always be reduced, but enlarging them too far produces unwanted results. A rasterized file most commonly has the extensions: .jpg, .tif, .gif, .png or .bmp.

Vector images are more like illustrations drawn on the computer, most commonly in Adobe Illustrator. They are not dependent on resolution, which means that they can be enlarged 4,000% and still look smooth and crisp. Most logos are created as vector images so they can be used in a variety of places, from a business card to the side of a building. A vector file most commonly has the extensions .eps or .ai.



DPIDPI, or “dots per inch,” is a measurement of how much color information a rasterized file contains. The higher the DPI, the more data there is and the better it will display in the final output. Most monitors display about 72 DPI; your office copier probably prints about 100 DPI; large format outputs are approximately 150 DPI; printed brochures need a minimum of 300 DPI at actual size.

That doesn’t mean that if a file is 72 DPI it’s low-resolution though. When you take a photo, it may display as 72 DPI, but the dimensions of the image might be really large, like 54” x 36”. That means at 300 DPI, the photo would be 12.96” x 8.64”, so it could fill up an entire page and still look great when printed. The photo’s resolution is dependent on both the DPI and the file dimensions.

Sometimes designers can use terms that may sound like another language, but I hope this overview shows you it’s not that difficult to learn it. We live in a visual world. It’s important for everyone to have a good understanding of color spaces, file formats and resolution and how they impact graphics.

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