What are crop marks and what’s their purpose? A guide to trim marks


So what are those marks you see on printers’ proofs in each corner? Known as ‘crop marks’ or ‘trim marks’, they indicate where the page will be trimmed after printing. Essentially, that’s the edge of your page when it’s printed and finished. They are a size guide for your printer.

They are also commonly used by commercial printers to indicate ‘bleed’. This means where the images or the colours used on each page need to go beyond the crop marks to create a printed area which leaves wiggle room for any small inaccuracies when the page is cut to size.

Why are crop marks and bleed needed?

In printing, the process doesn’t go to the very edge of the page. Instead, the required item is printed on a larger sheet of paper and then cut down to size. Crop marks show where this cut needs to take place.

So crop marks are essential for any printed piece which is to be cut after printing to make sure the cut is located in the right place and to the right page size.

What are crop marks?

Crop marks appear in all four corners of the finished artwork. They appear as little lines and markings which denote the limits of the printed area and the final size of the job when complete.

How are crop marks created?

If you want to add crop marks to a piece of artwork you are preparing for print, it’s easy if you’re using a professional publishing software package such as Adobe Indesign, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Acrobat or Photoshop.

All these packages offer you the ability to customise your page sizes and add crop marks. Other packages also offer the capability, and how to do this will be set out in the Help functions for the software. Alternatively, they can be added at the pre-press stage by pre-press software.

What is a cutter guide?

Your finished shape may not always be a square or rectangle; it may be a customised piece or have special requirements like curved corners or even more ambitious shapes like stars or bespoke requirements.

If so, you might need to create a cutter guide. This is a line around your design that indicates what shape you require. It gives your printer the necessary information to cut your piece to shape in the right places at the correct size!

Cutter guides are best supplied as vector outlines or as a separate file for your printer to refer to. Remember that your piece may also have fold requirements. In general, cutter guides are shown as solid lines, and fold requirements are indicated by a dashed or dotted line.

What is bleed?

As mentioned briefly above, ‘bleed’ is the section of a printed piece which goes beyond the crop marks. This means that when cut to the final size, any slight inaccuracies which may occur across a print run during the trimming process won’t show as unprinted edges and areas when the job is finished.  

What would happen without bleed?

You don’t need to think about bleed if you have a white background or white border to your design, as there are no issues then for the trimming process.

However, if your design includes printed sections that need to go to the very edge of the paper or substrate when trimmed, then bleed will ensure you don’t have any unsightly white edges where the cutting process has been slightly less than accurate or working with larger tolerances.

Wrapping things up

So if you want to ensure the quality of your finished item, creating and including printer’s marks such as crop marks and/or a cutter guide in your artwork layout will help your printer make the very most of your artwork. It’s a simple thing to do and will be of assistance to your printer in ensuring the best possible end result.

Remember your printer is the expert. If you have any questions regarding crop marks, how to set these up or how to create a cutter guide, or even what sort of file you need to supply, ask us for advice.

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