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If you are new to the art and design world or maybe you are just self taught, art terms can be pretty confusing. We thought we would help you out a bit and break it down. Here are four super common art terms that you are going to hear a lot about.


The term actually stands for “Joint Photographic Experts Group,” because that is the name of the committee that developed the format. But you don’t have to remember that because even computer nerds will think you’re weird if you mention what JPEG stands for. Instead, remember that a JPEG is a compressed image file format. JPEG images are not limited to a certain amount of color, like GIF images are. Therefore, the JPEG format is best for compressing photographic images. So if you see a large, colorful image on the Web, it is most likely a JPEG file.

While JPEG images can contain colorful, high-resolution image data, it is a lossy format, which means some quality is lost when the image is compressed. If the image is compressed too much, the graphics become noticeably “blocky” and some of the detail is lost. Like GIFs, JPEGs are cross platform, meaning the same file will look the same on both a Mac and PC.


Both GIF and JPEG images are widely used on the Web and are supported by all Web browsers and other Web software. The choice is usually a simple one. Charts, screen shots and technical drawings are compressed best as GIFs, and GIFs only hold up to 256 colors (8-bit color). Most all photographs are better as a JPEG, which supports 24-bit color and has the option of several compression levels (the choice depends on how much degradation you can tolerate). If you save a scanned image in both formats, you may see a dramatic difference in file size between them.


BMP (short for bitmap) is a graphic format used internally by the Microsoft Windows graphics subsystem, and used commonly as a simple graphics file format on that platform. BMP files are usually not compressed, so they are typically much larger than compressed image file formats such as JPEG or PNG. Despite its shortcomings, the simplicity of BMP and its widespread use in Microsoft Windows and elsewhere, as well as the fact that this format is well-documented and free of patents, makes it a very common format. As such, many image programs are likely to be able to read in BMP files.


A spot color is a specially mixed ink that is applied on the printing press, as opposed to a mix of the four inks which make up process printing. Spot colors can be produced in a much more vibrant range of colors, and can have special characteristics which aren’t available in process inks, such as day-glow or metallic ink. Because they only use one screen, spot colors can reduce the cost of printing if you limit your ink choices to black and one spot color. For example, if you choose to print a red and black logo in process inks, you will actually need three inks on three screens (with associated , etc): Magenta, Yellow, and Black.

However, if you are already printing a full-color piece, adding a spot color will dramatically increase the cost of printing. You will add one more color to the four colors needed to produce, for example color photographs. It then is a five-color job requiring five inks, five screens, five positives, etc. Many companies make spot colors, but the most popular is Pantone, Inc. They not only make and sell inks, but they have a process which enables printers to mix the exact same colors from a set of base inks


Do you have a specific art term that you would like some help with? Post a comment and we can help you out!

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