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Direct commerce | Catalogue print

Print Catalogue Design Glossary

image: Print catalogue word cloud illustration
Fonts and bindings and hot spots, oh my! Here’s a guide to all those sometimes-confounding catalogue design terms

Terms such as full bleed, kerning, and squinch can be confusing to those unfamiliar with the specifics of print catalogue design and production. This glossary will translate all that jargon into actionable information.





This refers to how type and images line up within a design. There are four primary types of horizontal alignment:

flush left (also known as left justified or ragged right): The copy and/or images are flush, or perfectly even, on the left side of the column but not on the right. This is common in many magazines and catalogues.

flush right (also known as right justified or ragged left): The copy and/or images are flush on the right but not on the left. This is atypical in copy that is read from left to right, so it can be attention grabbing when used sparingly.

centered: This is most often used for headlines, captions, and other display copy.

fully justified: Copy and/or images are flush on both the left and the right sides. Most books use this format.




When you can see the images and/or type on the opposite side of the page you're looking at. The thinner/lighter in weight the paper, the more likely a catalogue is to suffer bleed-through.




CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key, or black, and it's how images have traditionally been coded for print design, with each hue broken down into percentages of these four colours. Online images, however, are defined in terms of RGB, or red, green, and blue. RGB offers a wider range, so an RGB image needs to be converted via software to CMYK before it can be printed with the same vibrancy as the original.




This entails adjusting the appearance of the type to ensure that the copy fits in the designated area of the design. You may need to tweak the font size, the leading, the tracking, or the kerning—or edit the copy itself.



Cover stock:

Many catalogues use a heavier paper—a cover stock—for their covers. While this can add to the expense, it can also help protect the catalogue in the mailing process and increase its shelf life, making it a good choice for reference catalogues that are meant to stay in the home or office for an entire year.




An image or block of copy that spans across both pages of a spread is considered crossover. When proofing pages or on a press check, you need to check that the crossover aligns properly on the top and bottom.




A page in which part of the interior has been intentionally cut or punched out, usually so that part of the following page can be seen, is a die-cut or has been die-cut. It can also refer to a page in which the borders have been cut to create a design. A die-cut page needs to be of a relatively sturdy and thick paper. Though expensive, die-cutting is attention-grabbing.



Display copy:

This encompasses headlines, captions, and subheads. Think of them as the "sizzle" that encourages people to read the product copy, aka "the steak."



Drop shadow:

This visual effect creates the appearance of a shadow behind an image. In can be used to emphasise a product image or display copy.



Eye flow:

When designing a page or a spread, you want to direct the reader's eye to the most important elements. To that end, you will lay out the page for maximum eye flow, taking advantage of how most people typically scan a page or a spread. As a rule, people will generally look at the upper right corner of a spread or a page first.


That said, adroit use of typography, imagery, display copy, colors, and layout can encourage readers to pay attention to the so-called corner of death on the bottom left.




For the purposes of catalogue design, the folio is the page number. Best practice is to include at least one page number per catalogue spread.




The font refers to the size and weight of characters in a typeface. In print, the size is referred to in points, whereas in web design, it is usually measured in pixels or ems. Larger doesn't necessarily mean more legible: A 10-point font of some typefaces could be more readable than 12-point font of other typefaces, depending on the design of the typefaces themselves. Bold, italic, and roman are the three most common weights of type. When referring to a font, then, you might say you'd prefer 12-point bold versus 14-point roman.




This is the line of copy that runs at the bottom of each page. The page number often appears as part of the footer; best practice is to include contact information—your phone number and/or URL—on the footer and to ensure that each spread displays at least one footer.



Full bleed:

A full-bleed image is one that runs to the very edge of the page.




A hero product is a star item that accounts for a significant share of your sales. In keeping with the 80/20 rule, in which 20% of your products account for 80% of your sales, heroes are the stars of those top 20% of your products. In a catalogue, you'll likely want to show them off with hero images: large photos, styled to perfection. If most of your catalogue photography is straightforward, equal-size product shots, arranged in a grid nine to a page, a hero shot might be a half-page or full-page, full-bleed photo showing the product in use or in an aspirational setting.




Any unwanted spot on a printed page resulting from dust or another particle on the printing plate or cylinder can be considered a hickey.



Hot spot:

A hot spot is a page or portion of a page that recipients are most likely to look at. The front and back covers, the opening and closing spreads, and any pages adjacent to an insert are hot spots; the top right of a spread is a hot spot as well. As a rule of thumb, you want to place your best-sellers or your most profitable products on hot spots.




Sometimes called a road map, this is the arrangement of the pages to be printed, taking into consideration the type of binding and the number and size of the signatures. Imposing a catalogue properly can save printing and binding time and costs




As its name suggests, an insert is an item placed within the pages of a catalogue, such as an order form or a subscription card. The two common types of inserts can be blow-ins (which are literally blown in between random pages of the catalogue by a special machine at the printer's bindery) and bind-ins (which are bound between signatures or, in the case of a saddle-stitch catalogue, in the center of the book).




This refers to adjusting the spacing between individual characters in a word. It's primarily used in display copy for purely aesthetic reasons.




This refers to the amount of space between horizontal lines of type. Decreasing the leading can enable you to squeeze in more copy, but it can lead to a cramped, difficult-to-read block of text. Conversely, too much leading can also be difficult to read.




Sometimes called a catazine, this is a catalogue that includes a fair amount of editorial content akin to that of a magazine. A seller of kitchenware, for instance, might include recipes and menus; a seller of dental supplies might include articles about how to build one's practise and increase client loyalty. Readers tend to keep magalogues longer than they might traditional catalogues because of the valuable content they contain. The content also positions the company as an expert in its field, adding to its credibility.



Page flow:

A catalogue in which spread upon spread of similar-looking pages induces the reader to stop leafing through is said to have poor page flow. So is a catalogue in which there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the order of the pages or in which the layout of each spread is jarringly different from the next. In short, page flow is like eye flow writ large. It's also why catalogues should be designed and paginated as a whole, rather than as a collection of pages. Hero pages are a key tool in preventing a monotonous flow, as are proper use of hot spots.




Both an art and a science, pagination determines which products are to be placed where within the catalogue and how much space on a page is to be given to each. Generally speaking, you want your proven winners and your most profitable sellers to appear in hot spots. You also want to ensure that less profitable, weaker-selling items are not given more space than their sales warrant. (This is where squinch analysis comes in.) At the same time, you want there to be a certain rhyme and reason to the placement of your products—for instance, you probably don't want to include a toddler toy on the same space as a sweater for a teenager, unless they're united by a common theme. But you might want to include complementary items on the same page or spread—for instance, if you're spotlighting a best-selling shirt, you might want to feature ties or jewelry that go well with it, so as to encourage add-on sales and a greater order value.




A proprietary system for identifying, matching, and communicating accurate colors, Pantone offers a guide (of nearly 1,800 colors for graphics and some 2,300 colors for interior, fashion, and furniture designers) that helps ensure consistency. The graphics guide includes printing-ink formulas so that the designer and the printer can be sure of achieving the exact color requested.



Paper stock:

Most commonly this refers both to the weight of the paper and its finish. Paper weight is usually measured in GSM (grams per square meter) and/or pounds (representing pounds per ream, or how much 500 sheets of paper weighs). Heavier paper prevents bleed-through, is less likely to be damaged in handling, and provides even catalogues with relatively few pages a pleasing "plop" factor. The downside is that it's more expensive than lighter paper and can add to your mailing costs.


The finish of the paper can affect its weight and, of course, its appearance and feel. Uncoated paper feels rougher than coated paper, because it does not have a pigment applied to smooth it out—or to make it less absorbent, so that it will soak up ink more than coated paper, reducing the sharpness of printed images. Coated paper is smoother and offers better print reproduction than uncoated paper, but it's also more expensive. Varieties of coated paper include mat, gloss, and semigloss.



Perfect binding:

A perfectly bound catalogue is created by gluing the pages and cover together to create a flat spine. The rule of thumb calls for catalogues of more than 64 pages to consider perfect binding over saddle stitching.



Press check:

The final stage in the QA process, a press check requires someone to be at the printer as the catalogue is being prepped onto the presses. It's used primarily to check for color accuracy, hickeys, and missing or misplaced images or text, as well as to be sure that the correct paper is being used.



Print run:

This is simply the number of catalogues printed.



Reverse type:

Light type against a dark background, rather than the typical dark type against a light background, is called reverse or knockout type. Designers often use it as a way to attract attention to a particular block of text. That said, it is more difficult to read than standard type, so it should not be used for long blocks of copy. What's more, the font used should be highly legible, perhaps larger, bolder, or heavier than that used elsewhere in the catalogue.



Saddle stitching:

This refers to stapling spreads of pages together in the center to create a catalogue. For catalogues of fewer than 64 pages, saddle stitching is usually preferred to perfect binding; for larger catalogues, the staples may not hold securely. Saddle stitching is often cheaper than perfect binding, in part because it's a quicker bindery process.




This refers to a catalogue in which the covers are the same type of paper as the inside pages, as opposed to a heavier cover stock. It's more economical than using cover stock but less sturdy, making it a good choice for companies that send multiple catalogues to recipients throughout the year rather than just one or two reference catalogues.




The tiny lines that extend from the strokes of a character in certain typefaces are serifs. Times New Roman, Garamond, and Palatino are among the most popular serif typefaces; popular sans-serif or nonserif typefaces include Helvetica, Futura, and Franklin Gothic. In print, serif faces have traditionally been considered more readable, while online sans-serif type dominates, largely because the serifs are less visible on a computer or mobile screen.




A print signature is a group of pages that are printed, trimmed, and bound together to make a catalogue, magazine, or book. Most signatures are 8 or 16 pages, so it's most cost-effective to create a catalogue that is a factor of those numbers, unless you're adding a 4-page self-cover. In a saddle-stitch catalogue, signatures nest within each other; that means for a 32-page saddle-stitch catalogue without a self-cover, pages 1-8 and pages 25-32 would be one signature, and pages 9-24 would be another. In a perfect-bound catalogue, however the signatures are consecutive—in a 32-page perfect-bound catalogue, pages 1-16 would be one signature and pages 17-32 would be another. This is important when designing and imposing a catalogue. If you are saving money by running some pages in full-color and others in black-and-white, for instance, you need to ensure that all the full-color pages are within the same signature. Also, for quality purposes, you want to avoid a full-spread image from running across two signatures.




Product photography in which the product is seemingly placed on the page without an apparent background is a silhouette. This is a common way of displaying merchandise online; in print catalogues product silhouettes, or silos, are used when it is not deemed necessary to show the merchandise in use. Often smaller, less popular, less expensive, or less profitable products are displayed as silhouettes in a grid on a page.



Spot colour:

The vast majority of images are produced using varying combinations of standard CMYK inks. Spot colour, an additional colour created with a nonstandard ink, allows for hues otherwise unattainable via the standard method, including metallic and fluorescent colors. In Europe and North America, the Pantone Matching System is most commonly used for spot colour: A designer can flip through the Pantone guide of swatches and pick the color of his or her choice to add to the CMYK colors. Spot colour is generally used for special emphasis and logos.




Two adjacent pages of a catalogue, a magazine, or a book make up a spread.




Short for square-inch analysis, squinch is a tried-and-true method of evaluating the profitability of products on a catalogue page. Basically you want your best-selling or most-profitable products to take up more square inches of catalogue space than less-profitable or less-popular items. More about conducting squinch can be found




Small (though not necessarily thumbnail-size) images, either of products or of symbols, such as a Facebook "f," the Twitter bird, or a drawing of a phone beside a phone number.




Table of contents.




Whereas kerning adjusts the spacing between two characters in a word, tracking adjusts the spacing equally between all the characters in a word. It can be used judiciously to squeeze in an additional word or to kill or fill a widow. Tracking a word or a line much more tightly or loosely than the rest of the text in a block, however, can look amateurish and be difficult to read.



Trim size:

This is simply the size of the catalogue pages after the excess paper along the edges has been trimmed.




This refers to the entire set of type characters—letters, numbers, punctuation—in a given style. It also includes the various sizes of the typeface available (measured in points for print) and the various weights, such as bold, italic, and roman. (See also font.)



White space:

Also known as negative space, this refers to areas of a design that do not contain images or copy. You might think that by reducing the among of white space on a page, you can sell more product and your catalogue more cost-effective. Pages with insufficient white space, though, can be so difficult for readers to navigate or, to put it blunt, so ugly that consumers are turned off. A lack of white space can also make a catalogue and the products it's selling look cheap. Generally speaking, the more upscale your product, brand, or audience, the more important white space is.




A line of type that is appreciably shorter than all the others in a copy block—consisting of just the last word of the paragraph, for instance—is a widow. Because they interrupt eye flow and can easily get lost, widows should be "killed or filled," either by deleting or adding a few words or by playing with the tracking of the type.


author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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