Updated: Jun. 12, 2024 - Published: Feb. 17, 2023 • 7 min read

Understanding Bleed in Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

Learn about bleed in printing and how it affects the quality of your printed materials. Discover professional tips for managing bleed in your designs to ensure top-notch results with Mixam's printing services.

Understanding Bleed in Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

Mastering bleed can significantly impact the overall quality and appearance of your prints. Whether you're a seasoned designer or new to printing online, understanding what bleed is crucial. This guide will give you a comprehensive overview of bleed in printing, explaining why it's central to print design and how you can effectively incorporate it into your designs. From enhancing the aesthetics of your print materials to paving the way for a smooth production process, applying bleed is a skill every print designer should acquire.

 

What is Bleed in Printing?

Bleed refers to the extra space you add around the edges of your design to ensure no unprinted areas appear when cutting prints to their final size.

Bleed helps to create clean and professional printed materials, like booklets, comic books and flyers. But imagine you’re colouring a picture and drawing outside the lines. You wouldn’t want any white lines at the edges of your print designs, so you’d use a bleed to ensure the artwork extends right to the edge. Bleed ensures that background colours or images cover the pages entirely. This extra area, the bleed area, is usually 0.125 inches beyond where we'll cut the paper. 

Tolerance movement can occur during production, from a sharp cutting blade falling short of a trim size to paper shifting slightly during a print run. Factors like this are known as tolerance movement, which describes acceptable print variations per industry standards. Most tolerance movement is infrequent, and our top-performing printing machines require small margins for movement. As incredibly sharp cutting blades cut hundreds or thousands of paper sheets to size or when pages are bound together, a slight shift in the final alignment or placement can occur during a print run, which is why printing machines need allowances, such as bleed, should slight inaccuracies occur during a print run. 

 

The Importance of Bleed in Printing

Bleed isn’t solely a technical term—it's crucial for achieving edge-to-edge or full-bleed printing. Bleed compensates for slight variations in the cutting process, ensuring your artwork appears as intended.

Consider a flyer where the background colour stops at the trim line. Even if the cut is marginally off, positioning the background colour short of the trim line can result in unintended white strips along the edge. If you’ve positioned artwork centrally, unprinted borders can make it appear off-centre and detract from the professional look of your work. In contrast, a flyer with properly applied bleed will maintain a clean, polished appearance, even if the cut is slightly off.

But bleed is not just about aesthetics either; it can also save you money. Mixam’s automatic file checks and experienced print experts ensure no print work enters the production queue without bleed. This process eliminates the need for reprints, saving time, resources, and additional costs. Ultimately, a design with bleed will look seamless, with images and colours running smoothly to the edge of the paper.

 

Recommended Bleed Settings

We recommend a standard bleed size of 0.125 inches for most print items. However, products like hardcover books require a bleed of 0.8 inches for the cover and the standard bleed for the inner pages. This variation is due to the different handling and trimming processes involved in producing hardcover books.

An image of a print file with correct bleed, whereby artwork extends beyond the bleed line with a magnified area.  An image of a print file with incorrect bleed where no artwork is extended beyond the bleed line.

Best Practices for Setting Up Bleed in Design Software

It's always best to include bleed from the start of the design process. You can easily set a print bleed in Adobe design software programs like InDesign or Illustrator. In InDesign, you can specify the bleed size when creating a new document or adjust it in the document setup menu. You can set the bleed in the new document dialogue box for Illustrator. This step will ensure that when it’s time to export your files, they’ll be the same size as the option you selected in your initial print quote.

 

Design Tips for Managing Bleed

 

  • Extend All Design Elements: Always extend background colours, images, and other design elements beyond the trim lines into the bleed area to minimise any unprinted areas appearing. Use guides and rulers to align your design accurately.

 

  • Keep Key Content Away from Trim Lines: Position important content away from trim lines within the safe zone to prevent them from being cut into or off. This step helps maintain your design’s integrity and ensures all critical information remains visible.

 

 

  • Check Alignment: Regularly check the alignment of your design elements against the bleed and trim lines to ensure accuracy throughout the design process.

 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

 

  • Ignoring Bleed Requirements: One of the most common mistakes is completely ignoring bleed requirements. Failing to add bleed can result in reworking your print designs and delays sending orders to production.

 

  • Misunderstanding Bleed Margins: Another frequent error is misinterpreting the size of the bleed margins. Bleed is typically 0.125 inches beyond the trim line, except for hardcover items with a bleed of 0.8 inches.

 

  • Using Low-Resolution Images: Low-resolution images can look pixelated and unprofessional when printed, especially at the edges where bleed is applied. To maintain print quality, ensure all images are high resolution (300 dpi).

 

  • Failing to Account for Trim Lines: Not accounting for trim lines means you could place important text or graphics too close to the edge. Elements placed too close to the edge risk being cut into or off, so always keep essential content within the safe zone, known as the quiet area (green line).

 

A close-up of a highly decorative book cover print file displaying the bleed guideline in bright green with artwork extended.
Exalted Funeral (@exaltedfuneral)

 

How Mixam Ensures Quality Bleed in Printing

Whether you order one copy or thousands, we’ll only use the most advanced printing technology to give you exceptional prints. Our state-of-the-art equipment minimises the risk of cutting issues, and our print experts are on hand to assist with your print-related questions. Each file undergoes a thorough check to ensure bleed is correctly applied, and our automatic file checks catch any issues early on, reducing the need for reprints and ensuring your project stays on schedule.

 

Conclusion

Understanding and properly implementing bleed in your designs is central to creating exceptional printed materials. Visit our Full Bleed Support Page for a comprehensive guide to help you achieve a polished, edge-to-edge finish. And for more news and inspiration, check out the array of posts on Support Pages and visit our Mixam's Blog for helpful guidance and advice on all things print. Remember, mastering bleed is just one of the many steps towards becoming a skilled designer.

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