The Importance of Bleed

What does it mean when we ask for bleed on a print job?  Bleed elements are any shapes, rules or images that should extend beyond the page boundary, and bleed area is the extra space around the page to accommodate these elements.

To someone not familiar with the printing industry, bleed might not make any sense and seem like a nuisance. If my job is 8.5 x 11, why can’t my PDF be 8.5 x 11?

Here are the facts. If you have graphic objects that extend all the way to the edge of the page, and the PDF size matches the page (Trim Box) size, we can certainly print that file, all day and every day. The problems start when we reach the trimming stage in our bindery department.

We can cut that 8.5 x 11 flyer right along the edges. But the cutting process is not perfect.  Invariably, you will have a tiny sliver of white paper leaking through on at least one edge. We could continue cutting your flyer – white paper is just as easy to cut as paper with ink on it. But the end product is unsightly, and it looks like we didn’t do our job properly.

That’s the last thing we want. So to remedy this issue, we are proactive. If you give us a file that requires bleed, but no bleed exists on the PDF page, you can expect us to contact you to request the bleed.

We know – this is an aggravation. You already created your PDF. You might want to say, just deal with it –make it work somehow! Trim the job a little smaller, or enlarge the PDF page. But you must understand that these are not solutions. When we do these things, we will probably encounter a host of other problems. Items within the trim area that are close to the trim might end up falling off the edge. Then you must consider the time factor –our prepress department trying to doctor in bleed, or the knife operator cutting small stacks to keep those white edges from cropping up.

So please – give us the bleed we need! The industry standard in 1/8 of an inch –0.125” in decimal format. If you work in picas and points, this amount equals 9 points. This image shows how to set the bleed area in Adobe InDesign (a popular application for desktop publishing), under File: Document Setup:

InDesign Bleed Settings


Once this is set, you must also make certain that any items that reach the page edge are extended to the bleed edge. In InDesign, you can see this bleed edge very easily by Choosing View: Screen Mode: Normal, and then View: Grids and Guides: Show Guides. The bleed edge is usually a red frame outside the page boundary. You can also choose View: Screen Mode: Bleed. In this mode, the bleed is shown as a white space around the page edge, with objects beyond the bleed hidden and the pasteboard colored gray by default.

Another item worth mentioning, along with bleed – if you have something very close to the trim that is NOT supposed to bleed (such as a line of text), it's a good idea to move it at least 1/8 inch inside and away from the page edge.

Now we come to the final stumbling block, and the most common mistake of all. Even though all of the bleed has been added correctly, it doesn't end up in the PDF output. To ensure that the bleed is included in the PDF, make certain to set the bleed in the InDesign PDF Export dialog box:

PDF Export Bleed Settings

And remember –marks are unnecessary! Many designers mistakenly think that marks are helpful. But we will not use your marks – we end up throwing those away and adding new ones. If you must include marks for your own benefit, please mark certain that the marks are offset 0.125”, so that they live outside of the bleed area.

And yes – with bleed added, your PDF will look a little goofy. It doesn’t look like the  finished job with all of the extra stuff around the edges, and it certainly can’t serve as a proof. That IS a problem. Our suggestion is – using Acrobat Professional, if you have it – to go to Preferences, Page Display:

Acrobat Display Preferences

Then Enable “Show Art, Trim & Bleed Boxes”.

The PDF page will remain oversized, but at least you will see a colored rule that represents the final trim size of the job. Maybe one day, Adobe will add an Acrobat feature that actually hides the bleed –similar to Preview mode in InDesign. But as things stand, we have to live with the extra clutter around the edges.

And what about crossovers in booklets? I don’t need bleed in the spine area of a saddlestitch book, you say. Plus, I want to see my crossover images in my PDF.

You can! We encourage you to go to your Resource Center and download our settings and instructions for PDF Export from InDesign. If you have an InDesign booklet document with Facing Pages enabled, go to File: Document Setup and unlock the bleed constraints. Then set the Inside Bleed to 0, but maintain the bleed around the other three edges:

In Acrobat, you can view the PDF in two page readers spreads. Under View: Page Display, select Two Page View, and enable Show Cover Page in Two Page View. When you do this, you will see your seamless crossover images.

Remember – in your document, please leave the booklet in reader’s spreads! We are the ones that will build your printer’s spreads. If you make printer’s spreads, you do a lot more harm than good. We won’t be able to paginate your job properly, or preview any crossover elements.

A final word: when you give us your PDF with the bleed area included, and bleed elements extended through this bleed area, please remember – we are saying thank you, every time! Lack of bleed is the number one problem with PDF files we receive. When we work our way past this issue, your job’s production will be much faster and easier, and the edges will look the way they were meant to look.

Again –thank you for giving us the bleed we need! If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to help!