Jargon busting guide for graphic design

Here we demystify graphic design terminology for newcomers to Affinity Designer.

If you’re an absolute beginner to all things Affinity and even graphic design, you may stumble across some terms and terminology that just stop you in your tracks.

With a focus on Affinity Designer in this article, we’ll give a little more understanding to these terms so your learning experience is maximised. This should help when interpreting videos and help topics for the first time.

Handles

The term handle generally implies something you can grab onto. In graphic design, this is still very much true. Handles mean the small circles at the corners of a selected object from which you can drag to resize (or rotate) that object. They’re also placed midway along an object’s edge to allow further resizing or shearing. In both instances think of them as being transformation points.

Transforming

Umm.. sounds like something from an 80’s science-fiction action series. However, if we swapped this title for an alternative title of Positioning, sizing, rotating and shearing objects we’d be 100% correct. It’s simply a catch-all term for manipulating a selected object in different ways.

Z-order

Objects such as curves, shapes, images and text are ‘stacked’ on the page, from back to front, as if your page had depth. The higher an object’s order the further to the front that object will be. This is known as the z-order. If objects overlap, the frontmost object will partially or fully obscure the object beneath it.

Pen drawing

If you didn’t know it already, the Pen Tool is one of the most commonly used graphic-design tools—the building block to many a design. It’s a relatively complex tool so it has its own set of terms worth explaining.

Nodes

Those small squares or circles you create with every click (or drag) of the Pen Tool are nodes. Where you place them will dictate the length and shape of your curve. Squares indicate sharp nodes, while circles mean either a Bezier (smooth) or best-fitting Smart node.

Incidentally, the Pen Tool’s sister tool, the Node Tool, is named as such as it edits those nodes previously laid down by the Pen Tool.

You may hear fellow designers talk about working “on-curve”—this simply means manipulating nodes as, by their nature, they are always located directly on the curve itself.

Segments

Not grapefruit segments—instead, the portion of the curve that sits within two adjacent nodes. Multiple segments make up the entire curve.

Control handles

We’ve covered handles already, but for the Pen Tool, handles have a different behaviour, so they’re qualified, terminology wise, as being control handles. Always extending from a node as a pair of opposing handles, they can be dragged in different directions and to different lengths to reshape the curve as it transits node to node.

Control handle manipulations are considered “off curve” as they never ‘sit’ on the curve itself.

Symbols

Not to be confused with symbols used as special characters, this feature in Affinity Designer creates symbolic links between copied instances of the same object (e.g., the OVO logo below). By editing any one instance, all the instances will update with the new change automatically. Which is great for repeating elements across multiple artboards.

Take a look at the article How to use symbols in Affinity Designer for more details.

Bleed

The term bleed has its origins in the lithographic print industry. For graphic design with press-ready print support, you’d expect to see the term appear during Document Setup or at export time. Simply put, it extends the page dimensions so your graphics can be placed outside the page edge—when your printer trims the printed sheet no white edging will appear (otherwise without bleed, imagery touching the page edge may leave white edging).

Assets

You may be familiar with business assets, i.e. an item of value to a company (based on cost, security, confidentiality, etc). In graphic design, an asset is an object(s) which has value to a designer because it has been previously designed and can be reused (so saving design time). Assets are valuable in branding projects as they could carry an approved consistent brand message (e.g., as a logo), important to a client.