If you ever wanted to create beautiful art in print, it's important to understand the proper use of bleeds and margins. Believe it or not, there are a lot of designers out there who prepare files for print and are confused about the proper use of bleeds and margins. If that is you, please continue to read on. This is a quick read that I hope you'll find helpful.
In the diagram below, you can see a document setup showing trim, bleed, and margin lines. The black line in between the bleed and margin area represents the trim line. The area outside the trim line represents the bleed while the area inside the trim line to the margin line represents the margin area. The center area, inside the margin area, is often referred to as the "live" area which makes up most of the area on the page. In the diagram, the bleed is set to .25" (1/4 inch) while the margin is set to .5" (or 1/2 inch).
Bleeds and margins can seem similar, however, they represent two completely different things. Let's diver deeper into what bleeds are. Bleed lines are intended to guide background images that you want to "bleed" off the page. These can be solid colors, background images, or whatever you want to extend all the way to the trim line. However, it's important to note when designing bleeds for print that you must never design only to the trim line. This is the most common mistake newbies make. You must always extend bleeds beyond the trim to the bleed line or else design for non-bleeds and stay within the live area altogether inside the margin area. Bleeds by definition are always extended by design beyond the trim line to the outermost bleed line.
In contrast, the margin area makes up the safe zone. It's important to keep vital design elements from getting too close to the trim line by sticking to the live area and avoiding the margin area altogether (with exception of designed bleed elements). Type, page numbers, logos, and other critical elements will always look bad if they are too close to the trim line. The page will appear to be crowded and In worst-case scenarios, these elements can actually get trimmed during the print manufacturing process destroying your otherwise beautiful design.
In our diagram, the combined area of both the margin and bleed is .75" (or 3/4 Inch). In this example, the margin area is greater than the bleed area because a design choice was made to allow for greater spacing. The choice was made so that elements will appear less crowded on the page. However, when it comes to bleed there is no benefit of extending the bleed line because it only needs enough area to allow for a proper trim. (Like a cookie cutter needs enough dough to form a clean edge). The more you design for print the more you'll find your ideal settings for bleeds and margins based on what you're designing for, what you like, and what your printer recommends. It's always wise to ask your printer in advance for what their minimum settings are for bleeds and margins, however, you may not always know who the printer will be. In such cases, it will be safest to use a minimum of .25" (or 1/4 inch) bleed and margin settings. Here's why.
For most sheet-fed printers, minimum settings are .125" (or 1/8 Inch) for each bleed and margin setting. This is because sheet-fed presses are very precise and can get by with very tight tolerances. For most web printers, minimum settings are .25" (or 1/4 Inch) for each bleed and margin setting. This is because web presses print at high speeds and require a slightly greater tolerance. Universally speaking, virtually every printer can work with .25" (or 1/4 inch) bleed and margin settings because if you have created too much bleed, the printer can easily adjust on their end for the print manufacturing process. However, if there isn't enough bleed and margin area, the printer is stuck with few options to take corrective action and may ask you to make adjustments to your document. That's why if you're unsure or in doubt, we always recommend a minimum of .25" (or 1/4 inch) area for bleeds and margins. We hope this article has been helpful and good luck on your next print project!
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