Prep Like A Pro

Printing A Full Bleed Image

Kyle Irwin

What is Full Bleed Design?

If you’ve ever wanted to try borderless printing from home, you’ll notice it’s a bit tricky. Your printer can’t set the print edge past a certain margin on the sheet of paper, resulting in a small, possibly undesirable border. The only way to get rid of the border is to cut it off; and this is the case as well for (most) commercial printers, like us at Printworks. Thankfully there is a solution that makes it easy: full bleed design, printing, and finishing.

If you’ve ever noticed the little crosshair print markings on the corners of a digital design, you’re most likely looking at artwork with full bleed. These print markings, called crop marks, designate where the print will then be cut during the finishing process. Any part of the design that is outside the crop area, will be removed, giving you a print that “bleeds” off the edge.

Print before trimming:

Image showing a Printworks business card with marks and bleed before trimming.

Print after trimming:
Image of a full bleed Printworks business card after trimming.

Print Bleed Size

Standard bleed for printing is 0.125 inches here in the United States (3 millimeters if you’ve gone metric like most of the world) and works for nearly all print design. For example, if you want to print a 4 x 6 postcard, adding 0.125 inches of bleed on each side will result in a print area of 4.25 x 6.25. A full bleed 8.5 x 11 document would be 8.75 x 11.25.

You get the idea.

Image depicting the proper amount of bleed.

This being said, some projects need different amounts of bleed. If you are unsure of how much bleed you need to add to your print design, let us give you a recommendation!

Safety Margin

In addition to understanding full bleed design, it’s good to keep in mind that trimming can be an imprecise process. When print shops cut down large stacks of printed sheets, there is the possibility that some shifting will occur, resulting in slightly skewed cuts. Luckily, there is a way to make sure your full bleed prints won’t suffer this fate! It’s called safety margin.

Image explaining Safety Margin, Cut Line, and Bleed Area.

Good designers will make sure to keep all important content at least .125’’ away from the trim lines, but different projects call for different sized safety margins. By keeping all of your important content, images, and text within the design safety area, none of it will get trimmed off during the finishing process due to unwanted paper skew. In the image below, everything within the green box is safe from getting trimmed into:

Image explaining to keep content at least .125" inside of cut line.

Setting Bleed In Illustrator Or Photoshop

If you plan on using Adobe software to create your design, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are both extremely effective tools. Here are some tips for each on setting up bleed.

Bleed in Illustrator:

1.) Set your artboard to the desired size of your finished print by pressing ‘Shift + O’ (Mac/Windows) and changing the width and height values. Either here:

Image showing how to set artboard in Adobe Illustrator.

Or here:

Image showing another way to change artboard size in Adobe Illustrator.

2.) In Document Setup (‘Option + Command + P’ on Mac, ‘Alt + Ctrl + P’ on Windows), set your desired amount of bleed and click OK.

Image showing how to set bleed in Adobe Illustrator.

3.) Your design area will now look like the image below. Everything within the red box will be printed, however everything outside of the white area will be trimmed away. Designing the artwork to fit within the red box, but all important content to fit within the white box, leads to full bleed!

Image showing bleed area inside red box in Adobe Illustrator.

Image showing artwork with bleed in Adobe Illustrator.

4.) To save your design with bleed and crop marks included, click Save As. Make sure to change your file type to Adobe PDF, then choose a name and save location. After hitting Save, another window will pop up with a “Marks and Bleeds” category on the left hand side. Click that to add crop marks as well, to make it easy when trimming to size. (Also make sure the box for “Use Document Bleed Settings'' is checked)

Image showing how to name and save file as PDF in Adobe Illustrator.

Image showing how to save PDF with trim marks in Adobe Illustrator.

Bleed in Photoshop:

1.) The process is a bit different when creating your design in Adobe Photoshop. First set your Image Size by pressing ‘Option + Command + I’ on Mac, or ‘Alt + Ctrl + I” on Windows, then adjust the dimensions to reflect your final size. For instance, if you want to design an 11 x 17 poster, put “11” for your width, and “17” for your height.

Image showing how to set document size in Adobe Photoshop.

2.) Next set your vertical trim line guides by clicking anywhere on the left ruler, and dragging two separate guides to the edges of your canvas area. Repeat the process for the horizontal trim line guides, by clicking anywhere on the top ruler, and dragging two additional rulers to the top and bottom. You’ve now given yourself design guides to make sure no important content is included too close to the trim edge.

Image showing how to add cut line guides in Adobe Photoshop.

Your result should look like this!

Image showing properly set trim guides in Adobe Photoshop.

3.) Then, adjust your canvas size for bleed by pressing ‘Option + Command + I’ on Mac, or ‘Alt + Ctrl + I” on Windows. In the “New Size” area, add 0.25 inches to the width, and 0.25 inches to the height, which adds 0.125 inches of bleed on each side. Click OK and you’ll now see your canvas area extends past your rulers. Any area outside of the blue lines is your bleed, and will be trimmed off during finishing. After you are done with your design, save as a PDF.

Image showing how to adjust canvas size in Adobe Photoshop.

Image showing canvas size extended slightly past trim guides to add bleed in Adobe Photoshop.

Image showing properly set trim guides with bleed in Adobe Photoshop.

When designing your artwork with bleed in Photoshop, adding crop marks is not as straightforward as it is in Illustrator. That being said, when submitting files to Printworks, as long as there is bleed in your artwork, we can add the crop marks for you.