The printing process isn’t perfect, but by far the biggest contributor to printing errors is failing to consider the effects of Bleed, Safe Area, and Trim. While these sound like complex (and painful) print terms, but they are actually quite simple once you get to know them.
To understand the importance of these concepts let’s first start by explaining what your print job might look like after we print it. We print on a large commercial press that that uses large sheets of paper which can fit many designs on a single sheet. Once dried, each design needs to be cut to its respective size. For our example, we’ll use a standard business cards size, 3×2.5 inches.
The point where we try to cut your card to its final size is referred to as the Trim Line. This is where we aim to cut the paper, but it’s not an exact science so some margin of error has to be accepted. Below you’ll see a dotted line. This is the Trim Line, what your file should look like once cut.
Let’s talk about the margin of error mentioned above. The paper cutter won’t always cut exactly on the Trim Line, if this happens, you’ll be left with a white edge on one or two sides of the final print. To mitigate this issue we must extend any elements that go to the edge of the card past the Trim Line, so if the cut isn’t exact, you won’t get a white line. This extra area beyond the Trim Line is called a Bleed. We want things like background images and colors to extend into the Bleed Area. How far must we push these elements? Well that depends on what we’re printing. Business cards need a 1/8 of an inch (.125″) bleed; this means your business card artwork size should be 3.625 x 2.125 instead of 3.5×2.125.
Below you’ll see we’ve made our artwork size bigger, this represents the Bleed Area. You’ll also notice we’ve extend the yellow background of our design to fill this Bleed Area. If our file isn’t cut exactly on the Trim Line it won’t matter because there’s extra background color to prevent a white edge on all sides.
There’s one more factor that may affect our design if our final print doesn’t get cut exactly on the Trim Line. That is what happens to the important content in your card like logos, contact information or images. If we place these important items close to the edge, they have the possibility of being cut off. For this reason we need to keep our important content away from the Trim Line. The distance this needs to be from the Trim Line is called the Safe Area. The distance from the Trim Line where the Safety Area starts is equal to distance used for the Bleed. In our business card case that’s .125 inches.
Below you’ll see a black line. This black line represents the Safety Area. Everything within the Safety Area is safe from being cutoff.
That’s it, remember your artwork should not actually contain any of these lines within the design. They should only be used as a reference when creating your artwork. Below is a representation of all three points within the design. The darker yellow area is our Bleed, the dotted line is our Trim Line, and the solid line is the Safety Area.