Margins & Bleeds

What are Margins and Bleeds and how do I set up and export my files with them?

A couple things about printing and design that not a lot of people know or sometimes understand is margins and bleeds. As a Graphic Designer, I’ve spent years developing this useful habit, so I don’t (nor any other person working in a print shop) expect everybody to know what they are and how to set up their files with them.

A margin is the area in between your text/artwork and the edge of the page. In the example below, the black lines are the edge of the page (where the business card will be cut) and the red line is the designated margin space. It is suggested to leave at least an eighth (.125) to a quarter (.25) inch of space from the edge of the page (depending on the size of your piece). This business card has an eighth of an inch margin space, because it is fairly small.


All the text and artwork is inside the margin space, so if this business card were to be printed it would not lose any important information after it was cut down. Good margin spacing is highly suggested because even if something is being printed on a big expensive printer, the pages do move ever-so slightly (some more than others). In the image below, this stack of trimmed paper shows how the papers shift as they go through the printer. It is not drastic enough to be extremely noticeable in the end, but it moves just enough to easily lose a chunk of text if you are too close to the cutting area.


Also, often times when a piece of paper is going through a printer, the printer needs an area to grab onto to pull the it through the machine. Therefore, if an image is supposed to print on the area where the printer has a hold of it, it will obviously not print.

A bleed, on the other hand, is the part of the artwork or background that goes beyond the cutting area so when the piece is trimmed down to it’s finished size there are no white borders around the edge. The reason for bleeds is that it is extremely difficult to print color all the way to the edge of the page, so in order to achieve a full bleed a document is set up on a larger sheet of paper and trimmed down. For example, if a standard 8.5 x 11in flyer is set up for bleeds, it will be printed on an 11 x 17in piece of paper and trimmed down to it’s finished 8.5 x 11in size so the color can go to the edge of the flyer.

In the example below, this business card is set up with a full bleed. The black lines are where the business card would be cut, and the red line is the edge of the bleed. Much like margin spacing, it is suggested to give the bleed an eighth (.125) of an inch to account for the movement of the paper. Because the blue color bleeds across the edge of the business card, there will be no white borders!


It is fairly simple to set up a document for bleeds. In Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, when creating a new document it gives you the option in the initial ‘New Document’ window (In InDesign, it is under ‘More Options’). Just type in your desired bleed width in each of the four boxes.


In programs that do not give you the option to set up bleeds (like Photoshop) the easiest way to account for the bleed is to set up your document with an eighth of an inch extra on each side. For example, if the 8.5 x 11in flyer needs bleeds, set it up as 8.75 x 11.25in. Don’t forget that each side will get an eigth of an inch, making the document a quarter of the inch bigger all together.

A lot of times it is simple to make up for a document not having bleeds when printing, but if your file is set up right it makes it easier for printers to set up and print your job quickly.

Just remember to stay away from the edge of the page.

Now that you’ve gone through ALL this trouble setting up your document with proper bleeds, InDesign doesn’t automatically export your document with your bleeds. So in order to export your document with your bleed setting AND crop marks simply go to File and Export. A window will pop up, type in your desired File Name and by ‘Save As Type’ click the drop down menu and select ‘Adobe PDF (Print)’. Make sure ‘Adobe PDF (Interactive)’ is not selected. Click ‘Export’ and a new window (Export Adobe PDF) will pop up, this is where you will adjust your settings for crop marks and bleeds


In the panel on the left, select ‘Marks and Bleeds’. In this window, make sure to click the check boxes for ‘Crop Marks’, ‘Bleed Marks’, and ‘Use Document Bleed Settings’, this expands your document to show the bleed as well as give the necessary lines to show where it will be trimmed. After you have selected the proper check boxes, click ‘Export’ to finish exporting your document as a .pdf file.

Never hesitate to talk to your Printer or Designer, and ask questions. We’re here to help!

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