What Is Bleed in Printing? 101: How To Set Them Up Like A Pro!

Printing Tips/12.31.2018

I’ve had the times in my life when the question “What is bleed in printing?” came up more than once in my mind. Even for someone who knows their way around Photoshop, it can be super confusing.

So if you don’t understand what bleeds in printing means, you’re not the only one! So, I’m here to give you lots of clarity on bleed printing, what it is. We’ll also share a short and easy tutorial on how to set up your printing bleed margins in Photoshop CC.  

First, let's start with a straightforward question that will help you with a burning question. The answers will help you on your way to becoming a printing full bleed master.

bleed in printing rainbow color scheme

What is Standard Bleed and Full Bleed?

I’m so glad you asked. I want to cover some things first, so you have no confusion, only clarity. According to Wikipedia, bleed is the area that goes beyond the printed area that will be trimmed.

Why do printers require bleed printing?

It’s for a good reason. Because if the printing bleed is done improperly, or not at all, your project can come out looking unprofessional. You can end up with parts chopped off in the wrong places. Or something that’s just as bad is having a weird white border around your piece that you don’t want.

Bleeds in printing are essential because of the edges of your artwork and the paper matter. When you send in a design, you want to keep this in mind. Because things are printed and cut. When the paper, canvas or foam board is going through a printing and cutting process, the printer “grabs” the edge of the substrate.

That leads some of you to the questions what a substrate in bleed printing is?

A substrate in printing is the actual paper, vinyl or other foam core that is getting printed and cut to size. It doesn’t matter what type of substrate you’re using, many designs still need to consider the bleed printing dimensions.

No printer in the world will be printing off the edge of the substrate or paper. This wouldn't make any sense. Often the printer machines are doing their jobs at incredibly high speeds so the paper might not be perfectly aligned in the process. Even million dollar printers aren’t printing to the millionth of an inch when it comes to perfection.

In this tutorial, we’re not just going to show you one image of bleed photoshop

You’ll see easy to follow instructions with tons of screenshots to follow along. It’s so frustrating to learn when you’re a visual person, and there just aren’t enough pictures for you. Learning is easier when you can follow along, read through step-by-step and do the process at the same time. Many people learn by doing, and this is the easiest way you can follow along and learn the easy way.

Bleed printing is essential, so you don’t lose any of your graphics, logos or words on your artwork

Let’s say you get you’re getting a business card printed. You may have taken hours to create it (Obviously my example took one minute). If your logo is too close to the edge of the card, you could end up losing part of your image!

bad bleed printing setup mock up business card

Check out the heart. The bleed wasn’t set up properly, and now you’ve lost part of the design. ! Now it if you set up your bleed in printing the right way from the start, you’ll never have to worry about this problem.

If the bleeds in printing were set up correctly, you would instead have this beautiful card. The heart is still intact. OK, maybe it's not that gorgeous, but you get my drift.

set up bleed files

Knowing the standard bleed size at your printer is critical when setting up your file for printing

When you understand all about bleed margins, this will help you keep your designs looking professional and as perfect as you imagined. There are some more tips I want to share with you on how to set up your file the right way.

When you’re doing bleed photoshop processes or changing an image size . . .

Make sure you check the link to the left of the Width and Height boxes after you clicked the Image Size in the main menu. This will keep your proportions the same as your original size. If you forget to click the link and only change the width, it will distort your image. Things can be stretched out or squished down.

.125 inches to .25 inches are standard bleed measurements

Many printers ask you to provide ⅛” or .125” bleed on all printing documents. Using a .125 inch bleed will make your final file size .25 inches wider horizontally and .25 inches taller vertically.

As an example, if you’re printing an 8” x 10” rectangular document, you’ll need to add .125  inches to each size. The actual size for full bleed is .25 inches.

Having an ⅛” bleed margin on every edge gives the printer more leeway to cut on your business cards, so they look perfect

.125 inches = ⅛”

.25 inches = ¼”

Here’s an easy-to-use chart showing the basic bleeds for a few standard sized printing projects using the .125 inch bleed. Most printers require a bleed of .125 inches to give the printer plenty of wiggle room when they make the cut on any document or poster. Once again, make sure you check with your printer and get the exact specifications for the bleed printing job.

Bleed in printing chart for .125 inches

There is a process (or several ways) of setting up printing full bleed for any printing project

We’ll start with the most basic solution. Leave the appropriate margin (whether it be .25 inches or .125 inches around all edges of the material you’re thinking about bleed printing. You can also think about the bleed margin as a safety zone for any copy or logos.

For instance, if you’re going to print your standard size business card (”8” x10”) with .125 bleed printing in mind, simply add .25 Inches to both numbers. 8.25” x 10.25” will give you the appropriate area to keep your graphics safe.

Let’s say you want to extend your background all the way around the card, how do you set up this kind of bleed in printing document?

You’ll want to put the background past the safety zone or printing bleed margin. So when it is cut off, you’re left with the background color all the way around the edges. When it’s trimmed, the color goes all the way around.

So if you want to have color go all the way to the edge of an 8’ x 10” photo, you’ll want to extend the canvas size of the document to 8.25” x 10.25.”

Some larger documents may require a larger safety bleed printing area. So remember to always check with your printer first, this is important. Printers in the United States generally use the standard system inches and feet instead of the metric system.

However, if you set up your documents using the metric system, you can use a simple conversion to make it set for the US standard system

1 inch = 2.54 centimeters

Keep in mind a printing full bleed is often needed, but not always!

The only time that you don’t have to set up a bleed is when you have plenty of space around any copy or graphics. If you have a plain white business card with your information in the center, and not close to the edge, you probably won’t need a bleed.

This is true for flyers, banners, posters or anything. If you’re unsure, you can play it safe and add the bleed in printing, or ask customer support at your printer.

It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a 2mm bleed or a 3mm bleed or .25 inch bleed

Whether you’re using the standard US measuring system or the metric system, it doesn’t matter. When you click Image > Image size, it’s so simple to change your image from Pixels to Inches, to Centimeters to Millimeters, to Points to Picas to Columns.

Are there any other times I don’t need to use a printing bleed?

There is another time when you might not need a bleed on every side of your printing project. One example of this is known as a printer spread. This is true for magazines, book covers or a newspaper.

You will only need to set up a bleed for the outside edges. Like this example of a book cover:

bleed in printing spread bookcover example

It’s still a good idea to set up a bleed on the inside edges, but in this case, you don’t have to do that. In magazines, it's a little different setup. At a magazine printer, there is usually a template used for precise bleed areas. Especially for thick magazines or books where the pages may have to be cut a little different.

In printing bleed projects you need to make sure you have any text, photos or graphics in the safe zone or standard bleed size margin. As you might remember is usually .125 on each side.

Keep everything important inside the safe zone and away from the bleed printing area.

Here are the easy instructions to set up a print-ready file using Photoshop CC with an 8” x 10” document as an example

Before creating your file, you’ll want to go ahead and add in the standard bleed size of .125 inches or the actual size for the full bleed of .25 inches. The following method will be precise for your printing bleed.

  1. Open Photoshop, choose “File” then “New” Choose your width of 8.25”, height of 10.25” and 300 dpi resolution for printing. If you’re only doing this for practice using 72 dpi is fine. And finally, choose CMYK color mode (also best for printing), then hit “Create.” If you already have a Pantone file you can convert it to CMYK.
  2. Next, click the “View” menu, then “Rulers” then you can see everything laid out.
  3. Then click “View” and “New Guide Layout.” Check the “Columns” and “Rows” box and make sure to have both “Number” boxes set to “1.” Make the “Width” 8 in and the “Height” 10 in. Click the “Margin” and “Center Columns” checkboxes.
bleed lines
  1. For the most important part, set the “Top, Left, Bottom, and Right boxes to 0.125 in to create the printing bleed margin. Make sure to put in this number for all four boxes. Check out the screenshot to make your document exactly as the screenshot below.
bleed printing new guide layout example photoshop

Following this process will give you a visual guide to create your document. If you don’t want to risk losing an image or copy, keep it well inside the guide you’ve created. If you want a graphic or color to be to the edge of the cut, let it overlap the bleed printing guide.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning how to print full bleed in Photoshop!

There is magic when you learn the intricacies that are available to you in Adobe’s powerful software. When you follow the easy-to-use instructions at Printmoz you’ll put yourself ahead of the game!

You’ll be on your way to having a well-laid-out standard bleed size print-ready document. If you have any technical questions, feel free to reach out to our customer support team.

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