Bewildered by Bleed? Marginalised by Margins? Perhaps you are just feeling cut off by crop marks? This guide will help you to understand the importance of each of these factors and to understand why they are crucial to ensuring that you get the highest quality printed products possible.
Bleed is the single best thing you can do as an artwork designer to improve the quality of your work. The good news is that it is very easy to incorporate into your work (for full instructions, using your design program of choice see below). Essentially bleed is a small boarder (usually of only about 3mm) around each edge of your artwork. Your artwork should flow over into this boarder so that it all just becomes one seamless piece. An easy way to think about bleed is simply colouring over the lines that you wish to cut. It is important to remember that anything that appears in your bleed will not appear on your finished product as it will be trimmed off. Consequently, you should only really have background colours and images in this area.
Imagine you are designing a poster for an event. It is A4 (210x297mm), has a nice title, details of the event and it has a big picture in the middle of it. All of this sits on a red background. Great. Job done you might say. You send it off to your printers who don’t flag up that your file doesn’t contain bleed. A few days later you receive your posters in the post. You open them up but are disappointed to find two thin white strips along two of the edges, but why? Without bleed your printer will find it nigh on impossible to trim it to size without leaving a white edge (Where you image ends) on up to two of the edges. This is because your artwork is not giving them any level of tolerance to work with. Even a very small error margin of 0.1mm will be very obvious on a finished product. One way to get around this is to undertrim your work but this in itself but apart from being unprofessional can lead to problems of its own.
One of the reasons under trimming can cause issues is if artwork has been designed without margins. Obviously sometimes work is designed without margins to meet specific design purposes. However, as a general rule it is a good idea to include them. So, what are they? Essentially margins are an extension of your bleed on the inside of your artwork. They are an area that again you should shy away from including content that you do not wish to have cut off. Whilst in theory anything here really should appear on your finished product, it can end up appearing very close to the edge which may look fine on screen but often looks quite strange on a finished product.
Typically, margins are a minimum of 3mm. However, on larger products you may wish to include a larger margin simply for the sake of aesthetics. On the health and safety publication pictured you can see margins in action on the text. Notice how there is a good amount of space between the edge of the page and where the text begins and ends. Without this you are quite likely to end up with an unprofessional looking document.
Put simply, crop marks indicate to the printer where they should be trimming your document. They mark where the document ends, and the bleed begins. They are usually very thin, either hairline or 0.25pt. They can be good to include from a design perspective just so that you can clearly see from your end how your finished product should end up. If you don’t include them however, do not worry as your printer will include crop marks of their own.