What is Print Bleed and Why do Printers Need it?

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Print bleed is where we extend the design outside of the trim dimensions (the dimensions of a document once it has been printed and cut down to the desired size from a larger sheet of paper). This ‘bleed’ area is usually 3mm to match most standard printing practices. It can be more or less, dependent upon the product and the finishing that is required.

Bleed is necessary due to the required tolerances within the printing process and although many are less than 1mm, several processes are often required to produce the finished piece. 

For example, printing an item on both sides is accurate within .25mm and guillotining has an even smaller tolerance but the combination of the two can make a visible difference, in particular, if narrow borders form part of the design.

Binding processes force the printed sections to “creep” and therefore require more bleed, 3mm bleed is usually sufficient to allow your printed masterpiece to look like a masterpiece.

We will explain what products may need different bleed settings below.

Diagram showing print bleed before and after cutting
Diagram showing print bleed before and after cutting

If you’re still in any doubt as to what print bleed is then watch the following video.

Why is printing bleed important?

Bleed is important when creating artwork because it gives a better final product when the trimming process takes place. The bleed area helps to give an accurate appearance to the finished piece. Bleed is when the colour or image is taken outside the trim line. This means that when a stack of print is cut on the guillotine, it avoids having a thin white line visible as there can be slight movement within production. It is really important to take anything that is beyond the trim area to the full bleed dimensions.

Example image with correct and incorrect bleed

What are the key areas of a document?

Standard document setup consists of a 3mm bleed and a margin of a minimum of 5mm around the edge for best results. Some other printed products may need more bleed because of the way they are produced, such as wallpaper and wall vinyl.

Bleed line/Trim line

The bleed line or trim line is where the document will be trimmed. This is known in many of the design programs as document size.

Safe zone

A safe zone is created (AKA artwork inside the document margins) on the artwork with a minimum of 5mm margin. As a rule of thumb, a 5mm safe zone on business cards and a margin of 10-15mm on anything up to A2 is sufficient. A safe zone is an area that any important images or text need to be within.

Borders/Margin

A margin helps define the safe zone, and good practice would suggest keeping all the important information such as logos and text within the margins. This can be set up in most design programs as a guide to making it easier for you to design within the margin.

Calculating the final document size with bleed

On standard print, the bleed needs to be 3mm on each edge. We have listed some common print sizes below with page size and bleed dimensions.

Document TypeSize in mm (WxH)Size with 3mm Bleed (WxH)
A0841 x 1189847 x 1195
A1594 x 841600 x 847
A2420 x 594426 x 600
A3297 x 420303 x 426
A4210 x 297216 x 303
A5148 x 210154 x 216
A6105 x 148111 x 154
A774 x 10580 x 111
Business Card85 x 5591 x 61
Pull Up Banner800 x 2000806 x 2006

What products need what bleed?

Usually, the bleed is set to 3mm outside of the trim dimension for most products. Wallpaper, wall vinyl and wrap-around mounted print all need 20mm on all edges.

How to add bleed in popular desktop publishing packages

Adobe InDesign

In Adobe InDesign you will need to ensure your document setup includes bleed. You will also then need to add bleed when exporting your PDF.

File > Document Setup > Add bleed dimension to boxes, usually 3mm.

When exporting a PDF (File > Export, select Adobe PDF and click save), under the Bleed and Marks tab add the bleed dimensions in there and tick the “Crop Marks” box.

Adobe Photoshop

For Photoshop you would need to calculate the size of your document including bleed dimensions (see information above). It is difficult to add crop marks in Photoshop. This can be done but we would recommend Adobe Illustrator or Adobe InDesign to create print documents.

When saving a PDF, (File > Save As, select Photoshop PDF and click save).

Adobe Illustrator

In Adobe Illustrator you will need to ensure your document setup includes bleed. You will also then need to add bleed margins when saving your PDF.

File > Document Setup > Add bleed dimension to boxes, usually 3mm.

When saving a PDF, (File > Save As, select Adobe PDF and click save), under the Bleed and Marks tab add the bleed dimensions in there and tick the “Crop Marks” box.

Microsoft Word

Word is not suitable for professionally printed documents. You have very little control of the output file and can’t add a bleed area or crop marks. You may also get low-resolution images in this depending on the export/save setup you have.

Finishing marks

To help get the print to line up front and back as accurately as possible crop marks are recommended (AKA tick marks). This helps with finishing the printed document as well as the alignment, front and back. We use crop marks to correctly trim the finished product.

Wrapping up

We hope you now understand what print bleed is and how important it is for printers in order to produce a quality printed product.

Do you have a question about any other aspect of print? If so please comment below and we’ll do our best to explain.

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