Saturday, November 17, 2007

Freely Bleeding

iF you don't work in a printing-related field, you may be forgiven for thinking the title of the site merely cryptic (if catchy). But perhaps you are a small business owner in need of a business card. You have photoshop but no money to hire a designer (likely because you bought photoshop), so you decide to make your own business card. Or maybe you are a designer just starting out, working on your first marketing collateral. You spend hours noodling with your pen tool and filter effects, your text layers and clipping paths. Finally, your masterpiece is perfect, just the way you want it to look on paper.

You send your files off to a commercial printer. Then someone like me promptly sends back an email with the following: "Please send files with bleed."

What is bleed?

Bleed is the part of your art that gets printed - then cut off and discarded in the finished piece. If that sounds confusing, an illustration may help.

In the picture above, the dashed line indicates the border of a business card (the trim edges). The yellow area is the bleed. The black lines near the corners are called crop marks. They are there to let the printer know where to make the cut on the finished piece. Notice that the crop marks are entirely within the bleed. They, along with the rest of the bleed, will be cut off and discarded.

By definition, the bleed is entirely superfluous. So why do printers need it?

In real life, the act of printing on many sheets of paper, then cutting it down, are all mechanical processes with a slight degree of imprecision. Simply put, we don't know exactly what will fall outside the bleed until we have made the final cut.

Here is a partial example of a business card with no bleed:

In a perfect world the cuts will fall right on the edge of the printing, and only the white part will be discarded. But in real life some of those business cards will have edges that look like this instead:

The drop shadow indicates the edge of the final piece. The white slivers are very noticeable, especially on pieces with heavy color saturation.

Here is that same business card, but with bleed:

Unless something goes very wrong, the final piece will have continuous color right up to the edge.

So please make sure your design bleeds. It will make you or your client happier with the final product and willing to pay for it. That in turn makes everyone else happy too.

Practical considerations
  • Your piece should bleed on all four sides
  • The crop marks should not be too close to the trim edge - you don't want weird black marks showing up in the final piece
  • The bleed should be at least 1/8", though you can get away with 1/16"
  • Make your bleed as large as you want. You printer should be able to crop it down as needed.
  • The bleed is free. Nobody should be charged for what's thrown away. If your printer is charging for bleed, switch vendor.


Anonymous said...

Very good tips! Thanks.

Printjockey said...

I like your web page and I'm sure Matt Groening would enjoy seeing Futurama graphics on a blog.

However, as someone that WORKS at a print shop, I feel I must make a comment about the statement "The bleed is free. Nobody should be charged for what's thrown away. If your printer is charging for bleed, switch vendor." Pretty big blanket statement there. Might want to consider some actual scenerios.

For a smaller cut piece, the bleed may not make a difference in cost, that depends on the finished size and the press sheet size. Let's take your business cards for example. I can get 12 up on an 8.5 x 11 press sheet if there are NO bleeds, but only 8 up if there are bleeds. So for 5000 cards, that's 417 printed sheets with NO bleed versus 625 sheets WITH bleed. The cutter will load up to 250 sheets at a time, that's 10 total cuts for the NO bleed card. That's 36 total cuts for the card with bleeds. More stock, more labor. You do the math.

For a piece that's final size is the same as the press sheet, having a bleed will always cost more. Why? Because if I print an 8.5 x 11 piece (with no bleed) on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, it's done. 8.5 x 11 WITH bleed requires a larger press sheet which costs more plus the extra step to cut it down, or in other words, more labor.

So please don't mislead people into thinking there is not a cost difference involved. I have to pay the paper suppliers for the stock, I have to pay employees for their time.

Milo Conway said...


You are right, my statement does not take into account your scenario. I suppose I am just too used to thinking of bleed as a necessary part of business, like overs and whatnot, and should say "The bleed is being given away" but that doesn't alliterate...

Even so, I believe your scenario also has certain hidden costs that does not arise out a workflow that presupposes bleed. For one, your scenario is only applicable for pieces that do not bleed, or have a uniform/repeating background. So to make sure only the appropriate pieces go this workflow, you need someone to act as the gatekeeper to channel the right pieces to the right imposition.

Bleed-less impositions also limits opportunities such as ganging. If you can impose eight different business cards with different bleeds on one sheet, you can save quite a bit as opposed to having all eight printing separately on their own 12-up sheets.

Of course, what I've stated above doesn't come into play unless you are working with high volumes. Picking the right imposition for a single job doesn't take long, but with higher volumes this can represent a significant labor cost. And good ganging opportunities don't come unless you get enough jobs with the right quantities and right turnaround - hard to come by with low volumes.

Perhaps your print shop needs to charge for the bleed because your volume is so low you need to scrabble for every penny for every business card. But if you'd like more jobs coming in maybe you should consider making your bleed free.

Printjockey said...

Your explanation of what a bleed is and the description of how to set up the file is well done. Short and concise, which is great. I found the page because I was trying to get a good example for a customer who was having trouble setting up artwork in Photoshop (*gasp*) with a bleed, and just didn't know how to do it. I really liked what you had, and was taking the title with a grain of salt until I got to the "switch venders" line. I think that making such sweeping statements because of something which only applies in certain situations is pretty harsh. It can be really hurtful to the small print shops, and not just for things like business cards. The statement implies that anyone that does charge for a bleed is overcharging, which is a breach of trust. But as I pointed out, there ARE times when the cost is directly affected.

You are correct regarding volume, colors and quantities allowing for ganging up several orders on one press sheet. Unfortunately, the premise that all printers are set up to produce cards this way cuts out the majority of small print shops. Plus, the majority of BC, letterhead and envelopes we do are 1 or 2 pantone colors, so ganging up multiple orders on a 2 color offset press just doesn't work.

As you probably know, business cards are not really a money maker for smaller shops anyway. There are far too many online stores that do print like you mention with multiple orders all ganged up CMYK for cheap. That's fine. You have no control over quality & you will end up paying the same as to a local printer if you want color matching, hard copy proofs or something that isn't cookie cutter. The 250 quantity CMYK business card order is not what we are worried about, heck, I've sent plenty of people to online stores for things we can't do as cheap. What is a worry is losing someone's trust and therefore business due to someone telling them they shouldn't pay more for larger stock or less up on the press sheet or more labor.

Of course, you are right in that all these things can be hidden in the cost and you would never know. We don't roll that way, but I'm sure many printers do.

Anonymous said...

So, what if I am using a swirly design in the corner of my card or brochure. If I bring it out to the bleed area some of my design will be missing once it's printed and cut, right?

Milo Conway said...


Right. If you're not willing to lose any part of the design, make sure it's not too close to the edge.