If you've ever paid for a press run of brochures, menus or letterhead stationery, you may know what a center spread and a watermark are. But even if you recognize widows and en dashes, you've only scratched the surface of lithography.

Beginning today, a slick 700-page guide to the graphic arts business will be distributed free to 500 clients of Todd-Allan Printing Co. The product of two years' work and some $200,000 in contributions, the weighty "Practical Graphic Arts Guide" is the creation of Todd-Allan "and friends"--some 20 business associates including a dye stamper, paper houses, photography studios, engravers, a four-color process house and printers.

What distinguishes it from other industry reference books is it's potential to assist future members of the trade. After the first 500 guides have been distributed, other versions will be sold for about $100, with revenues put toward a scholarship fund for graphic arts students.

A major aim of the project is exposure for Todd-Allan, a firm bought out of bankruptcy eight years ago by its president, Allan Kullen, and currently doing about $21 million in business a year.

The book's stated purpose is to direct graphic arts clients to the right facility for a particular job. "Because it is impossible for any single printer to fulfill the complete spectrum of graphic needs for each client," the introduction says, "we are using this book to help printing buyers save time, avoid costly mistakes, and make their job easier." Kullen's colleagues and competitors are listed and, in many cases, represented by letters describing their services.

Todd-Allan, located on Rhode Island Avenue NE, specializes in medium-sized, "quick turnaround" jobs in stationery, letterheads, brochures, posters, advertising fliers, menus and assorted commercial printing jobs. "We're treading water," says Kullen. "Normally that's an awful thing to say, but in today's market it's kind of a plus. Business is off, no question."

Kullen expects a return on his promotional effort, however. "If 25 customers begin doing $1,000 worth of business a month," he said, "that would be a quarter of a million dollars to me."

North American Publishing in Philadelphia, the largest publisher in the graphic arts field, has agreed to market the book, turning profits over to the National Scholarship Trust Fund, or some similar organization, to benefit graphic arts students. North American President Irvin Borowsky intends to market the guide on a regional basis, replacing the Washington-area entries with information on services available elsewhere.

The contents of "The Practical Graphic Arts Guide" are not necessarily original, but apparently were compiled for the first time. They include samples of embossing, engraving, tints and dyes and plastics; a 52-page glossary of lithographic terms, and histories of printing, paper manufacturing, type and ink manufacturing that have been borrowed from trade association texts.

Also included are sections on layouts, paper and font selectors, stationery, typesetting, camera and stripping, printing inks, press work, web printing, process color printing, bindery and finishing, mailing and shipping, screen printing and other processes. CAPTION: Picture, Allan Kullen, president of Todd-Allan Printing Co., says it does about $21 million in business a year. Photo by Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post