The Importance Of Including Bleed When Designing Printed Materials

One of the most frequent mistakes with new print page designers is insufficient “bleed” in design layouts before the finished work is sent to a digital printer. Resulting problems can include parts of a design cut off when printed, which usually require a project to be redone. Forgetting to add enough bleed to each printed page costs valuable time and resources, so this aspect of a print job is essential for getting the desired results.
Another common issue with incorrect bleed areas is that small white strips remain at the edge of a solid-color background, creating an unprofessional-looking document. These strips can take away from the design’s quality and create undesired effects with text or color. Headings and titles at the tops of pages also need sufficient bleed area to ensure the edge of the letters will not be printed too close to the edge of the page.

What Does “Bleed” Mean?

In the printing profession, “bleed” is defined as the amount of edge space left blank around the design, and the printer will trim this space according to the specified paper measurements it recognizes. Many digital printers can now recognize various paper dimensions according to the settings the designer enters in either the printer software or the image editing software he or she works with. Understanding the ratio of bleed to paper dimensions is vital for getting a correct print, and many design software suites now have tools to help a designer calculate these needed bleed measurements.
measuring image before cut

Measuring and Applying Bleed

The exact amount of bleed required varies by country due to different standard print paper dimensions. European countries and the UK have bleed measurements ranging from 2mm to 5mm, and the most common bleed measurement in the U.S. is 1/8 inch. In all cases, the designer needs to apply these space measurements to all four sides of the page. For a standard business card, the average bleed requirement is 5-6-mm. Print designers also need to take into account that correctly applied bleed will increase the overall width and length measurements of the final printed document.
In the days of print presses and handset type, bleed measurements needed to be applied by hand with rulers and pencil marks. This step took quite a bit of practice to perfect, and even small mistakes could lead to white strips left over or edges of designs cut off. Today, measuring and applying bleed can be accomplished easily with a professional-level design software program, many of which have bleed dimension tools where the designer simply enters and saves the needed measurements.

Bleed in Web-to-Print Projects

Web-to-print projects have grown in popularity among non-print professionals, particularly among business owners who want to order custom business cards or brochures. Many web-to-print sites allow users to upload their finished designs as digital files and order a specific number of prints for a fee plus the cost of shipping. The same rules of bleed measurements apply here, and individuals ordering one of these web-to-print can save themselves the headache of a corrected order by learning the basics of bleed.
If they are using a stand-alone design suite, information on bleed measurement settings is available in the software’s manual. For web-based creation spaces, the staff of a web-to-print business are normally available to answer questions about getting started with bleed and selecting the recommended measurements. If at all possible, DIY designers should go with a web-to-print site that includes previews of finished work prior to order submission.