Designing for Print – Setting Up Crops and Bleed


A design destined to be printed requires setting up with certain specifications to make sure the work is printed correctly by industrial lithographic or digital print firms. This usually starts with the initial document where the design is to be created and adding the correct bleed area and crop marks. Next we’ll take a look at what crops and bleed actually are, why they’re important and how to set them up in your favourite Adobe package.

Baffling Bleed

The term bleed, this is the area of artwork which extends past the actual dimensions of the document. It is used to avoid strips of white paper showing on the edges of your print should the trim be slightly misaligned when cut to size.

Any items in your artwork that touch the edge of the document will require bleed. For example a background colour or image should fill to cover the entire bleed area as would any objects that slide in from the edge of the page.

A bleed of at least 3mm is commonly required in the UK. This 3mm is for each of the sides of the page, therefore you should add 6mm to the width and height of the document, for example:

A4 Paper = 210mm x 297mm
210mm + 6mm = 216mm
297mm + 6mm = 303mm
Total Document Size = 216mm x 303mm

In addition to bleed, you should also have a margin around the edges of the document to avoid having your objects look as if they are about to fall of the page or even worse actually get cropped off when the document is trimmed! The amount of margin is personal preference, but 3mm, 5mm or 10mm is usually used depending on the size of the overall design.

Setting Bleed in Photoshop

When creating your document, simply make the calculations to the artwork size as above and enter them into the Width and Height boxes.

It is always useful to place some guides to remind you where the trimmed document size lies, I usually do this by heading to Select > All, then Select > Transform Selection.

Right click on the W and H options and change the measurements to MM, then enter the normal document size.

Drag guides to the borders of the new selection.

Let’s not forget to add our margin, in this case we’ll say 5mm per side. Use the same technique to create guides another 10mm smaller (5mm x 2).

Setting Bleed in Illustrator

In Photoshop we had to alter the overall size of the document to include the bleed, however in Illustrator you need to keep the document to the correct, desired finished size. The document settings can be adjusted to add bleed which makes it much easier to work with.

Remember any objects going to the edge of the artboard will need to have bleed, run these out an extra 3mm per side. Go right up to the bleed margins.

Setting Bleed in InDesign

With InDesign being a desktop publishing application, it has the most options for correctly setting up a document for print. When you create a New Document you will notice options for Page Size, Margin, and Bleed, simply enter your figures and let InDesign setup the document for you!

Confusing Crops

Crop marks are the lines that sit on the corners of a document, showing where the area of bleed ends and the proper document begins. They work with the bleed to tell the print worker where the paper needs trimming. Crop marks are usually hairline or 0.25pt in thickness and are set in Registration Black.

Setting Crops in Illustrator

There are a few of ways to set crop marks in Illustrator, the first is to go to Object Crop Area > Make. This will create a set of uneditable crop marks directly around the document edges.

A second method is to create a rectangle the size of the document, then go to Object > Create Trim Marks.

This will create a set of editable crop marks according to the area specified. A benefit of this method is that they crops can then be shortened if needed, Illustrator tends to produce huge crop marks that can sometimes be a little overkill for designs such as small business cards. Editing the points to shorten the crops down to say 3mm or 5mm is sometimes a little more efficient.

Another advantage of this type of crop is that multiple areas can be created, particularly useful if you are laying out a sheet of multiple designs.

Setting Crops in InDesign

InDesign automatically adds crop marks when exporting the document to PDF. You can adjust the Crop Marks and Bleed, under the Marks and Bleed settings by simply checking printers marks required in the dialog box.

What Happened to Photoshop


While I’m sure crop marks could be manually drawn in Photoshop, it probably isn’t worth it considering the time it would take to simply import into Illustrator or InDesign and create the print file accordingly!

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