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What is Bleed and Why Does it Matter When Printing?

Learn the definition of and best practices for the important concept of bleed when it comes to printing documents, folders, binders or other office supplies.

bleed printing example

In the printing world, bleed is a very important concept that deals with the edges of paper and how it is printed or cut. Since printers essentially grab each sheet of paper by the edges to feed it through the printer, no printer is capable of printing all the way to the outer edge of the material.

In addition, paper and other material is often printed at a very high speed, which can cause it to not feed through the printer in exact perfect alignment—even when using a professional printing service.

If you print words, logos or images all the way to the edges of your template, they will likely end up appearing slightly cut off in the final product. Understanding bleed margins help prevent this problem by expanding the text or image outside of the designated printed area, resulting in a polished and professional final product.

How to calculate the final document size with bleed

There are several ways to deal with bleed when it comes to printing. The first is to simply leave an appropriate margin around the edges of the material you’re printing to allow a slight margin of error for printing and cutting. The “safe zone” for printing text is a minimum of 0.25 inches inside the edge of the document (or cut line).

If you want images or other graphics to extend all the way to the very edges of the material, then the best way to do that is for the printer to print larger than what you want and then trim the edges off. For this reason, you want to extend the image beyond the size you want into the bleed zone. That way, when it’s cut, it trims off an extraneous portion of the image and you’re left with a clean, seamless print that goes to the edge of the document or binder.

A standard bleed area is generally .125 inches on each side. So, if you’re preparing a standard 11 x 8.5 inch document for printing, you will want the final template to actually be 11.125 x 8.625 inches. Or if you’re printing a custom background image on a standard 9 x 12 inch folder, the image should extend to at least 9.125 x 12.125 inches for each side.

Most common documents only require a .125 inch margin; however, larger documents may require a larger bleed area. The standard bleed area for documents larger than 18 x 24 inches is generally .5 inches. For example, if you want to prepare an 18 x 24 inch document for printing, you will want to prepare an 18.5 x 24.5 inch template. Remember to also leave room for cutting.

There’s no way to be sure exactly where the bleed area will be cut, so be sure to extend images beyond the edge of the final document and all the way to the end of the bleed zone. For instance, it would be okay to extend a background design into the bleed zone, but you wouldn’t want to have a photo of someone in the bleed area or else you risk them getting cut from the final design.

Here’s a table of common document sizes and their measurements with bleed:

DocumentSizeSize w/ bleed
Business card2.3″ x 2″2.425″ x 2.125″
Postcard4″ x 6″4.125″ x 6.125″
Invitation5″ x 7″5.125″ x 7.125″
Letter (standard) paper8.5″ x 11″8.625″ x 11.125″
Legal paper8.5″ x 14″8.625″ x 14.125″
Pocket folder9″ x 12″9.125″ x 12.125″

Feel free to use our downloadable templates for your printing project to ensure bleed is properly considered.

Note: Binders, Inc. primarily uses the Standard System (inches). If you work with the Metric System (centimetres), you can easily convert your measurements to inches by using the following formula: # centimetres ÷ 2.54 = inches (or inches x 2.54 = centimetres).

A comparative overview of bleed vs. no bleed printing

When it comes to professional printing, understanding the difference between bleed and no-bleed printing is crucial for achieving the desired outcome for your documents, marketing materials, or any printed piece. 

The choice between these two printing methods can significantly impact your final product’s visual appeal and functionality. 

Below, we provide a side-by-side comparison to help you make an informed decision based on your specific needs. Whether you’re designing or ordering business cards, brochures, custom-printed binders or any other printed material, knowing when to use bleed or no-bleed printing is key to ensuring your project’s success.

FeatureBleed printingNo bleed printing
DefinitionBleed printing extends the printed design slightly beyond the edge of the final cut size. When the product is trimmed, this ensures that the design or color reaches the very edge without any unprinted margins.No bleed printing involves printing the design strictly within the confines of the final cut size, leaving a border or margin around the edge of the printed material.
AppearanceCreates a seamless appearance where the design, color, or image flows to the very edges of the material.Results in a bordered appearance, with the design or content being surrounded by whitespace or a margin.
Use casesIdeal for designs that need a full coverage look, such as business cards, brochures, posters, and photo prints where edge-to-edge design is desired.Suitable for documents or items where a border is preferred or where the content does not need to extend to the edge, such as letters, certificates, and some types of formal documents.
PreparationRequires setting up the design file with an additional bleed area (commonly an extra 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch) beyond the final trim size.Design files are set up to match the final size without any additional area beyond the edges, simplifying the design process.
TrimmingAfter printing, the excess bleed area is trimmed off to achieve the final size, ensuring the design extends to the edges.Trimming is more straightforward, as the design does not extend beyond the final size, but precision is still necessary to maintain even margins.
ProsNo risk of white edges appearing due to slight misalignments in cutting. Offers a more professional and polished finish for certain products.Easier to design without the need for adding a bleed area. Ideal for designs where a white border is intentionally part of the aesthetic.
ConsRequires more precision in the design and cutting process. Can be slightly more expensive due to the extra printing and trimming involved.Risk of uneven white borders if the cutting is not precise. Limitations on design extending to the very edge of the material.

Binders, Inc.: Professional printing services

Still confused about bleed?

If you have any questions about bleed areas or what types of materials are best for extending into a bleed area, always be sure and talk to a printing specialist like Binders, Inc. before you place an order. A template can always be adjusted prior to printing, but once it’s printed, any adjustments are both costly and time consuming.