Demystifying Bleed.

In the printing world, the concept of “bleed” comes up daily. Explaining it, faking it, adding it, requesting it, requesting it again. It’s always about the bleed.

If you are looking to get something printed, the question, “is there bleed?” can be downright intimidating. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what to say to that question when I first started in this industry, but now I can officially say that I get it.  Here is the bottom line.

The reason for bleed on a document is to avoid having white borders.

That’s it. It sounds sort of silly, but it’s the truth. Printed materials generally look more professional when the document seemingly extends off the page. The white border screams “I printed this on my home computer” and lets your audience know you were in a hurry, or don’t care. There’s nothing worse than sitting down at a fancy restaurant and the menu has that white border all around it. Ok, there’s a lot worse than that, but you know what I mean. How about walking into an “if only someday” million-dollar home Open House and seeing the flimsy property brochure with a border and an unscored fold that is cracking. At this point, the only thing I’m thinking is that the real estate agent is going to make a killing on this house because they aren’t spending any money on marketing, that’s for sure. Note to self: do not use this agent to sell my house. Check.

So, what does the term “bleed” have to do with the dreaded white border?

If you think about your home computer and when its print head moves from side to side, it stops short of the edge of the paper. Because it’s spraying ink or toner down on the paper, you can imagine the mess if it kept spraying that ink past the paper and on to the print rollers themselves. It would cause all sorts of buildup and, eventually, the print head wouldn’t be able to work at all. Essentially, it’s like the printer would be “bleeding” ink. Make sense?
The way to prevent this from happening is to print on larger sheets of paper and then, after the document prints, cut off the excess paper, so the ink appears to run off the edge. Of course, if you want to print your standard 8.5” x 11” real estate flyer at home, you are going to have a hard time finding a home printer that accepts the larger sized paper and probably don’t want to go through the trouble of cutting each one down individually. That’s where professional printing companies come in.

Now that I have decided I want to have bleed, how do I set up my file to make that happen?

Getting your document set up to account for the bleed really depends on what software you are using and whether you are going to print it yourself at home or want to work with a professional printing company. Let’s tackle the DIY’ers first.
Most folks that want to do it themselves are generally designing documents in Word, PowerPoint, Google Sheets, etc. So, for example, let’s say you want to print an invitation and mail it. Invitations are commonly 5” x 7” in size and, you’ll easily be able to find envelopes that fit that size.  In your software of choice, set the page size to 5.25” x 7.25”, that will leave you with a .25 “bleed area” that can be cut off after you print. It is simple to do but, after cutting a few of those, you might be having second thoughts.

How do printing companies need your files set up to print with bleed?

Again, setting up bleed correctly really depends on the software you use. In short, it all starts with setting your page size to include the extra amount to be cut off (trimmed) after the document prints. Industry-standard would be adding .125” to all sides of the document, making it .25″ bigger overall. When you are saving the document to send to the printer, you should include the trim marks OR make sure you let the printer know what the final cut size should be.
Hopefully, this has helped demystify the whole concept of bleed, and now you can go forth and create excellent looking documents.  For more information, send us an email at or give us a call at 303-765-2000. We are here to help and make you look good!

Jenny Mulligan

Jenny Mulligan

President and head cheerleader at YellowDog.
Jenny Mulligan is President and head cheerleader at YellowDog, a Denver-based design, print and marketing studio. We help our clients create effective and meaningful connections with their audience. We do this for every client, no matter the size or type of project. We will help you start, grow, change, communicate. Everyone matters.
READY TO TALK? Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, send me an email to, visit us online at or call me directly at 303-765-2000
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