Bleeding Edge: How to Properly Create Bleed Area for Print


Bleed Area for Print

We’ve written at ImageBlog before about how to create proper bleed area for your print files. Missing or insufficient bleed area and crop marks rank in the top three of prepress problems along with color separations and font issues. Interestingly, thanks to improved pdf creation in desktop publishing applications and the more forgiving nature of a digital printing workflow, those latter two problems are increasingly a thing of the past. But not for the old missing bleed area problem!

Bleed is any printed area that extends off the edge of the page. Presses do not print to the very edge of a sheet, so files with bleeding elements must be larger than the desired finished size and printed on larger sizes of paper, then cut down. Knowing that ahead of time, you can easily create files and export pdfs that will trim out exactly as you expect.

You might be surprised, but many folks think their printer can add a workable bleed area to most any file. In reality, some printers will attempt to make a non-bleeding file “work” without telling you the customer, in an effort to save the extra time and hassle. A file can be printed slightly larger than 100%, which will allow a slight trim area. Also, some printers will cut a file slightly smaller than the finished size – a risky move if done without your consent, but one that also will create a finished bleed edge. If the bleed is a solid color, the file can be imposed on top of a bleed area of the same color. All of these work-arounds are less than ideal solutions, and you could be charged more in prepress costs for the fix. Here’s how to create the bleed you need in your layout program.

Remember, the bleed area you define upon originally opening your new document is only the bleed area that appears on your screen as you work on your file. It IS NOT (necessarily) the bleed area that automatically ends up in the pdf file you output for print.



InDesign makes this very simple. Set up your new document size, and at this step give yourself as much Bleed Area to work with as you want. Some folks put in 1/8″ because the actual pieces of artwork or color rarely need to extend any further off the page than that small amount. However, when you export your final pdf, go to the Marks and Bleeds Tab, choose only crop marks, then at this step add .5″ of Bleed Area to the pdf file on each of the four sides. Do NOT check the box “Use Document Bleed Settings”.

Marks and Bleed Area
Crop Marks and 1/2 inch Bleed Area

If you do, the final pdf will try to size itself to include the bleed area you put in at document setup. If that is insufficient to hold the crop marks, the pdf will auto-enlarge to accommodate the crop marks and the finished size will be something odd like 8.821 x 9.415 – not so easy to work with when imposition time comes. Keeping the math simple, if you put in .5″ at export as your bleed area, your 8.5″ x 11″ document will create a pdf that is 9.5″ x 12″ wide. Perfect for a bleed.


If you design entirely in Photoshop, you need to initially create your document LARGER than the finished size. Again, keep the math simple by using .5″ extra on each side: a finished piece at 9″ x 5″ would be a PhotoShop document of 10″ x 6″. You can add the crop marks yourself, or simply tell your printer that the bleed area is there and let them add the correct crop marks for final cutting. The important part is to have the actual bleed area on there!


If you work in Illustrator to create your final print files or pdfs, simply choose File – Save As and then choose pdf/x-1A. Just like in InDesign, go to the Marks and Bleeds tab, turn on crop marks and allow a .5″ bleed on all four sides of the finished pdf file. If you submit a native Illustrator file or eps, you can also add crop marks around an object by choosing Object – Create Trim Marks. Just be sure your Artboard is large enough to accommodate those marks.


ImageSmith is proud to be a printer in an exciting era of digital communication. Your printer should be able to provide you with the latest information, inspiration, technical advice, and innovative ideas for communicating your message through print, design and typography, signage, apparel, variable data printing and direct mail, integrated marketing and environmental responsible printing. They should also be able to work with you to solve any difficult prepress issues with your files. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!

Call us at 828.684.4512. ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your print and marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.