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How to setup bleeds in printing

We’ll explain what bleeds are without using technical printer jargon nobody outside the industry will understand and break down in detail how to set up bleeds in Illustrator and Photoshop.

A “bleed” is essentially expendable artwork that is purposely extended to hang outside of the trim lines, or aka, cut lines. This bleed space of extended artwork gives printers extra area of artwork to be cutoff creating a perfect flush edge of ink. Without proper bleed setup you run the chance of white space between the edge and graphics.

One of the best analogies to illustrate what bleeds are is to compare it to painters using tape to create straight lines. We’ve used the painters tape analogy at ULTRA™ for several years to explain what bleeds are and found this analogy to make the most sense with clients.

Painters apply masking style tape along edges to be painted over to make clean straight lines, or when two different colors meet on that straight line. Tape provides a buffer so that paint can be applied overlapping onto the tape, then peeled away to reveal a perfect flush edge of paint.

A bleed in printing is essentially the same principle as painters tape.

In printing, the bleed space, or margin, acts like the tape. You are extending graphics that touch the edge of the finished printed piece beyond the cut or trim line so that when it reaches the cutting department, the cutting operator can trim off the excess graphics to create a perfect flush edge.

Let me step back and note if your design layout has a white background with no graphics or text of any kind touching the edges, you do not need a bleed setup. Bleed setup is only required if anything other than white space touches the edge.

Ok great but how do I set up bleeds?

You are simply making the document size a little bit larger than the finished product size, allowing space to extend graphics, text, or backgrounds beyond the trim line, aka, cut line.

The basic rule is to add a minimum 1/8″ to each of the sides for most basic print jobs. This should be enough for majority of the products offered by printers. That said, certain products such as booklets or large format may require more bleed and certain printers may require different settings. Be sure to verify with each printer you work with.

Technically, you can add as much bleed as you want but for obvious reasons there is no need to go more than 1/4″ even for most jobs. A printer may only require a minimum 1/16″ bleed but if you submit a file with 1/2″ bleeds, the printer should not reject your file.

The Breakdown

Let’s take a common flyer size of 8.5″ x 11″ for example. This is the standard US LETTER size.

All you need to do is add 1/8″ (.125″) to each of the four sides of the document. When you do this, the document size will be 8.75″ x 11.25″. See Fig. 1 below.

bleed document setup size comparison

Fig 1

Image on left is the actual finished product size. Middle image is the expanded document once bleed margins have been added. Image on right shows the bleed space as the yellow outer border. The yellow border is the “tape”.

Bleed setup correct vs incorrect

Fig 2

Fig 2 above illustrates how to apply graphics for bleed. On the left, the flags red and white stripes are right at the edge of the finished product size. It does not overflow onto the yellow border, the bleed area. There is zero margin of error for the cutter to make this cut perfectly along the right edge of the stripes. No printer in the world can accomplish this feat.

Image on the right illustrates the flag stripes extended into the yellow bleed area. This gives the cutter a buffer, or margin of error, to trim the paper down with a nice clean edge of stripes.

Bleed trim off illustration

Fig 3

Fig 3 above illustrates the process of cutting. Image on left shows dotted guide lines at each of the four corners which the cutter will follow to trim off the bleed areas. The dotted guide lines are known as crop-marks. Note not all print shops require crop-marks. If bleeds are setup properly into the document, crop-marks are unnecessary.

Image on right illustrates how bleeds are trimmed off to produce the finished product. Note the trimmed off bleed space on right. A little bit of the flags stripes were cut away to create a flush edge. This is the “expendable” artwork mentioned earlier.

This is why bleeds are essential in the setup for commercial printing.

Below is a good example of perfect setup by one of our favorite clients. Note where the light blue guide lines line up on the ruler.

Below you can see the reverse design. Note how only a smaller part of the red background is extended into the bleed margin. That’s because if any part of the design has pure white at the edge of the trim/cut line, no bleed extensions are required. White equates to ZERO ink in CMYK printing. If any color of any kind touches the edge of trim/cut line, it will require you to extend it to cover the bleed margin space.


If a photo is touching the edge it requires the same bleed extension. Manipulate the image accounting for a section to be cut off as the bleed margin.

Below is an example of good bleed setup for photograph.

Below is an example of a bad bleed setup for photograph.

All said and done, bleeds are required for all commercial printing setups for anything other than white edges.

Other Applications

Bleed setup for other print jobs are exactly the same. For example a standard business card which is 2″x 3.5″. Add 1/8″ margin to each side and you get a document size of 2.25″x 3.75″.

A 4″x 6″ postcard will become 4.25″x 6.25″. A 7″x 10″ folded greeting card will become 7.25″x 10.25″. So on and so on. Once you learn how to setup bleed for one print job, you can replicate the setup for all print products.


As you now understand what bleeds are and why they are essential, take special consideration in how you lay out your graphics. Take the time and energy to carefully plan out your design. It’s difficult to make adjustments halfway through. Visualize your design and setup everything with bleeds in mind.

Good luck and have fun! Please like, subscribe and comment.


Up Next….PART 3 : Correct Color Format For Printing

ULTRA™ BUSINESS CARDS is an experienced online printing and design company serving thousands of clients across the U.S. and Canada. For all of your print marketing needs please visit our website for complete catalog of products and services.

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