Bleed, Trim and Safety Margins

Size (and Position) Matters

Bleed, Trim and Margin are all common measurements used in commercial printing. They refer to a project’s dimensions and the position of certain elements within the layout. Understanding how these dimensions work and using them correctly can make your project a successful one.

Trim Size

Trim is the most obvious measurement of your document. We call it “trim” because we literally trim it out of a larger sheet of paper.

illustration showing parent sheet
most commercial print projects are done using large “parent” sheets

This is just how commercial printers work and it allows us to print a wider range of projects more quickly and efficiently. Larger sheets also give us space for our equipment to “grip” the paper as it feeds through the machinery. Then once that “parent” sheet has been printed and all other finishings applied to it, we use an industrial cutting machine to precisely remove the excess paper and then package up the finished product. So, Trim size— which is sometimes also called “finished” size— is just what most people think of simply as the paper size, though it actually starts out larger.

 

Bleed Size

trim-closeup
closeup showing the trim edge

Now “bleed” refers to ink coverage that appears to go all the way to the edge of the paper. What many people don’t realize is that we don’t actually print that way. If we stopped printing right at the paper edge, small but perceptible shifts in the paper would make those elements near the trim edge appear quite awkward. But as we are printing on larger parent sheets, the solution is very easy: extend the print area out beyond the trim edge, just a little. Then when the excess paper is trimmed, it will appear that the ink goes all the way to the paper’s edge… when it actually goes beyond it.

 

illustration of bleed area
closeup showing the bleed area

So when we say artwork needs a bleed of 1/8 inch, what we mean is a 1/8 (.125) inch area beyond the trim size to accomodate the edge elements. A finished size of 8.5 x 11 inches, for example, would require a total artwork size of 8.75 x 11.25 inches to accommodate bleeds on the edges. Some programs can handle this more directly than others, but first let’s get to the last measurement.

Safety Margins

As bleeds define the area outside the trim lines for artwork to extend into, margins define the amount of space inside of the trim edge that should not contain any crucial elements.

illustration of margin area
closeup showing margin area

This margin area is often called the “safety” because it is intended as a signal to designers to keep non-decorative elements safely away from those awkward edge areas. How much margin is necessary for this is mostly a matter of aesthetics, but we recommend somewhere between .1875 and .25 inches. The technical issue to avoid is losing bits of important elements that come too close to the trim line. We also want your project to be a success, so feel free to share your plans with us and let’s work together to make it happen.

How does all this work in practice?

image of a sample flyer with bleeds
a sample full-color flyer with bleeds

Some layout programs like Adobe InDesign let you specify these measurements directly, which greatly reduces possible print problems and cost-overruns. Other programs that are not built to handle them require more time and effort to use and often produce costly mistakes. Let’s take a moment to look at how a project might be setup to work with bleeds.Let’s imagine that you are designing a flyer to be commercially printed. If you are using a program like InDesign, the New Document setup dialog will look something like this:

image of InDesign new document settings
InDesign new document settings

As you can see, all the bases are covered. There is a place for Page Size (trim), Margins (between .1875 and .25 in.) and Bleed (.125 in. for our equipment). The working page area produced by these settings uses colored lines to help visualize to the designer where they fall…

illustration of InDesign
closeup of bleed, trim and margin in working InDesign document

You can also go back and add or change these dimensions to any existing InDesign document, which helps when it comes to making corrections to a project or changes to press specifications..

The Harder Way

Typically, programs that do not directly support bleeds require a lot more work and attention… and math. Your program also needs a few basics, like a screen ruler and the ability to work with non-standard page sizes. For example, a document with a finished (trim) size of 8.5 x 11 inches should be made at the bleed size (+.125 in. on all sides) of 8.75 x 11.25 inches. Then, you need have a way to keep track of your positioning in your document so that you know where those bleed and safety margins lay with respect to your artwork. This can be very hard to visualize, making it very difficult to spot errors in the layout. If it gets to be too much, ask about having one of our Graphic Support Specialists build it for you.

Further information

Did you find this article helpful? You can always call 909-825-6970 and ask us questions about printing and file preparation. Simply ask to speak with a Customer Support Specialist or any of our Graphic Support people, or email us at support@wirzco.com. We want to make your print experience with Wirz & Company Printing a satisfying and successful one.

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