How Big Should a Bleed Area Be for Printing?

Commercial printing is a highly specialized industry whose primary purpose is helping people and organizations get their messages across to others. From business cards to glossy brochures, printing is a vital part of visual communication. There are many behind-the-scenes processes that go into printing that not many people know about and one of these is the concept known as a bleed area.

As a general rule, a bleed area should be 0.125” (1/8 of an inch) all around the artwork for the document being printed. This applies to a wide range of printing projects, but it should be noted that depending on the final size of the print job, the bleed area may need to be enlarged or reduced.

Establishing a properly sized bleed area will ensure that all of the visual elements in a printed document turn out the way they are supposed to, including the artwork extending to the very edges of the final product with nothing cut off and without any undesirable white edges. It may sound complicated, but a bleed area is a fundamental part of printing and everything you need to know is below so keep reading.

How Big Should a Bleed Area Be for Printing?

Printing is all about communicating information and a big part of getting the message across effectively is making sure that all of the intended visual elements hit their respective marks. In the case of printed materials featuring artwork, this means that images are crisp, clean, and correctly colored. Another important aspect of printing is having the proper amount of bleed.

Generally speaking, the bleed area for most documents will be 0.125” (1/8 of an inch) all around the perimeter of the artwork. In the case of projects that are larger than 18 inches by 24 inches, then the recommended bleed area is 0.5” (1/2 of an inch) all around the document.

Regardless of its size, the buffer zone created by a bleed area will ensure that the entirety of the document’s content will be printed and that the artwork will extend right up to the very edge of the printed material’s trim line (which is the effective edge of the finished product).

Why Should the Bleed Area Be 1/8 of an Inch for Printing?

Having an appropriately sized bleed area is critical for any print job to come out the way it was intended by the document’s creator. While 0.125” may not seem like very much (it is, after all, a mere eighth of an inch) this seemingly small margin of error can make all the difference between producing a flawless print job and one that looks amateurish.

Commercial printing presses are complex machines, but they are mechanical in nature, meaning that they must physically grab the printing medium (e.g., some type of paper in most cases) and feed it through the printer. For this simple reason, printers cannot print all the way to the edges. Thus, while printing is an extremely reliable processing method, it is not an absolutely perfect one.

To accommodate the bleed area added onto the artwork’s edges, printing companies typically utilize paper or stock that is larger than the original document’s dimensions and trim off any excess material to bring the print job down to its final size. This is typically done as one of the final stages as a printing project nears its completion. Therefore, when properly allocated, the bleed area will:

  1. Eliminate any unwanted white borders, especially after the print job is trimmed down to its final size
  2. Prevent words or images from running over the edges of the document and getting cut off
  3. In the case of colored backgrounds or floods, ensure that colors appear to run right up to the absolute edges of the final product without falling short or running over

In a way, a bleed area serves as an invaluable insurance policy against slight variations that can result from slight misfeeds or imperfections in the printing process.

Setting an Appropriately Sized Bleed Area in a Document

Generally speaking, commercial printing companies receive press-ready documents, meaning that they are ready to print without further revisions or digital manipulation. While many printers have in-house designers who can make minor changes as needed, such work will only create delays in the completion of a project and potentially add to its costs as well.

Thus, setting a correctly sized bleed area in a document is an important aspect of its original design and creation. Most of the computer programs that are commonly used today to create printable files feature built-in tools for automatically incorporating a bleed area into a document’s settings.

Adobe® InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, and Microsoft® Publisher allow for setting up a bleed area as part of the process of saving a document into PDF format (which is the preferred platform for most printers). But not every program has built-in bleed formatting, with Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Word being the prime examples. In such cases, document sizes and margins will need to be manually manipulated.

Here are a few examples of how adding a bleed area (in this case, the standard 0.125”) on each edge increases the overall dimensions of a document:

  • A standard letter size document will increase in size from 8.5” x 11.0” to 8.75” x 11.25”
  • A standard postcard size document will go from 5” x 7” to 5.25” x 7.25”
  • A standard business card size document measuring 3.5” x 2” will become 3.75” x 2.25”

It bears repeating that setting a bleed area protects visual elements like color and artwork from being improperly displayed and is not required in every instance. Certain print jobs, such as those designed to have a white background or containing elements that are a comfortable distance away from the edges of the final document, do not need a bleed area when they are printed.

Final Thoughts

Commercial printing plays a vital role in visual communication even as personal devices like smartphones, tablets, and even watches, have become popular ways for people to view and consume content. Even in the midst of the so-called digital age, printed materials are not going anywhere anytime soon.

The next time you receive someone’s business card or thumb through a brochure with splashy graphics, you may have a greater appreciation for all the behind-the-scenes processes that were required to produce those materials, including the setting of a properly sized bleed area.