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Three Factors When Designing Your Print Job

Posted on: April 13, 2016 9:00 am
Tags: Bleed, Trim, Live area, Guideline, Design

When designing a piece to be printed, three important meausurements from largest to smallest are Bleed, Trim and Live Area.

What is a “Bleed”?

A bleed is any part of your design that extends up to or past the edge of a page. Items meant to go to the edge of the page need a bleed to compensate for slight variations when printing and cutting the edges of the paper. Without a bleed included in artwork, a small non-printed gap or blank edge can appear in the final piece.

We use a standard bleed of .125” (1/8-inch) to ensure no blank edges are left. This adds .25” (1/4-inch) to each dimension of the piece. (For example, a 5”x7” postcard with a .125” bleed becomes 5.25”x7.25”. The outer .125” edge is cut off each side to reach the final trim size of 5”x7”.)

What is a “Trim”? 

Trim is the final size of your piece when cut. If your piece folds, trim is the flat, un-folded size. Sounds simple enough, and usually is, but if you have a folded, multi-page booklet, the final trim size may be slightly smaller than you think. 

When folded, the inner pages stick out from behind the cover sheet, so the booklet needs a “face trim” to even up the outer edge. The sheets closer to the center stick out further and get more trimmed off than the cover. (This is called “creep” as the images on the pages seem to creep toward the trim.) 

Design your pages all the same size as you normally would, but adjust the design on the pages to compensate for creep to keep all the important text and graphics in the live area.

Okay, so what is “Live Area” and why it is important to design within this area?

Live Area is smallest of our three measurements and just like you extend your design out for bleed, you want to pull in important design elements for live area. Live area is the area in which important text or images are safe from being cut or cropped when a piece is trimmed or folded. 

How do I know my Live Area?

Every piece has its own live area. For example, we recommend a live area be .125” (1/8-inch) from the finished edge on every side of a single sheet piece with a bleed. Pieces without bleed should be certain to be within the margin of the sheet, usually .25” to .50” (1/4-inch to 1/2-inch). 

The live area in a folded booklet shrinks. When the inner pages that stick out from behind the cover sheet are trimmed, the cover also is trimmed, so the cover’s live area is smaller than if it was just a single sheet by itself. The thickness and number of pages help determine the live area.

(One method you can use to figure your live area is to create a mock up, even if only with the blank stock, and trimming the outer edge. Whatever size your finished piece comes to, move in at least .125” from that outer edge; .25” is probably safer.)

General Guideline Points:

For pieces that don’t bleed, be sure to account for printer margins. You don’t want your printer cutting the edge off of your design. This includes margins between multiple pieces on a sheet.

For pieces that do bleed, like business cards or small postcards, use .125” from the trim edge for your live area.

For larger pieces like booklets or folders, using .25” to .50” from the trim edge for your live area is a good rule-of-thumb.

Checking to make sure how much to allow for both the live area and the bleed before you start your design can save you time and money.