How to add bleed to a PDF or artwork. Your complete guide

adding bleed to a pdf

The where, why and how guide to add bleed to a pdf artwork

Adding bleed to your pdf is really quite easy once you understand and visualize the project.  But first of all you need to understand what bleed is and why you need it.  So what the heck is bleed?  Keeping reading and it will be explained.

How do you add bleed to a pdf?

Have you ever had a print design project; designed a postcard, brochure or business card only to be asked questions you didn’t understand?  Questions like “have you added the correct bleed” or is it in the correct dpi, are you fonts embedded and files flattened?
All of these questions are key, but they are not difficult once you have been through the process.
Your artwork needs to be printed and then cut.  So if you submit the exact size some of your art will be clipped off.  Bleed refers to the area beyond the cut line that you don’t mind being clipped. So your artwork needs to be extended beyond the cut line when you submit to your printer.


Why add bleed to a pdf for printing?

When you design a business card. It will be printed on a larger card. So if your business card has blue colored background edge and is printed on white card stock, all will be fine if it is cut perfectly on the edges. Reality alert: it won’t. But there is an easy fix. Add bleed, when the art of your blue ends at 2”. Add an extra 1/8” to each of the four sides of your art . Then when the cut blade comes down the edge will be blue, not blue with a little bit of white.


How to add bleed to a pdf and how not to add bleed to a pdf.

Here is an example of a postcard submitted with bleed that is incorrect.  Can you spot what is wrong?


adding bleed to a pdf


The blue line is the “safe area” everything within that area will definitely be included after the card is cut.  The red line is the cut line.  Here is where you have to give room for era.  The cut could be a little to the right or a little to the left.  So you should submit your art so that you don’t care if it is a little bit in either direction.  On this card the art was submitted without regard to safe area so the mailbox on the right side and the end of the garage on the left side might get clipped off.


How to fix the bleed on my artwork?

This error can be fixed by either resizing the photo or artwork so that the mailbox and garage are fully inside the safe area blue lines.  Or more simply you can fix it by shrinking the art a bit and adding a border.  Below we fixed it by shrinking the art and adding a black border.


adding bleed to a pdf


So now the garage and the mailbox will be included when we print.  But note that the black border is larger than what we will see after printing and cutting.  The cut line is the the red line.  The black beyond the the red line won’t be there after cutting.  Think of it as a “fudge line”  it gives us a bit of room for the cut and we don’t care if the blade comes down a bit to the left or a bit to the right.  So for your final product imagine that the area outside of the red line doesn’t exist.

But when you shrink your and add a border (Which may be any color you choose, it need not be black.)  make sure you create a border that is at least an 1/8″ of and inch.  If it is to thin it may look like a mistake.  Always error on the side of a little thicker than you think you need.

After adding bleed how do you know what size you are submitting to printer?

You will usually add .0125″ to each side of your document when adding bleed.  So this means 2 x .0125 to the width and  2 x .0125 to the to the height.  That means add .25 inch to the width and .25″ to the height.  So if your postcard is a 5″ x 7″ card then your art with bleed will be 5.25″ x 7.25″.


  • 3.5” x 2“ business card  —>  3.75” x 2.25”
  • 4.25” x 6” postcard      —>    4.5” x 6.25”
  • 5” x 7” invitation     —>         5.25” x 7.25”
  • 8.5” x 11” flyer    —>             8.75” x 11.25”
  • 11” x 17” sheet      —>        11.25” x 17.25”

Adobe Photoshop

  1. Open Photoshop and click File > New…
  2. Enter the FULL BLEED dimensions. That means you need to add 1/4″ extra both to width and to height.
  3. Set the Resolution at 300 pixels/inch
  4. Set the Color Mode to CMYK

Adobe Illustrator

  1. Open Illustrator, click File > New…
  2. Enter the TRIM dimensions for width and to height (these are dimension not including bleed)
  3. Enter 0.125 for the top, bottom, left and right bleed
  4. Set the the Color Mode to CMYK
  5. Set the Raster Effects at High (300 ppi)

Should you add crop marks

I would say no.  Often the printer doesn’t want them.  If you tell the printer your art is being submitted with bleed, you should be fine.  You can always request a proof to be sure.  But this calls for giving yourself enough time to receive a proof and approve it.  Planning is key, without planning you could have a few rounds of back and forth and multiple proofs which usually result in extra charges and a delay to when you receive your final product.

Call and talk to you printer

If this is still confusing you should call and talk to your printer.  Or ask if he or she can just add a border to your art to adjust for bleed (be sure to tell the printer what color you would like the border to be).

Are these postcards going to be mailed?

If you are planning to mail this project there are other concerns you should consider when designing your artwork.  For more information on this follow the link Five Postcard Mailing Tips.

Bruce Binenfeld – owner of Cloud 8 Printing in Columbus, OH.

If you have any questions on print design or printing call
Cloud 8 Printing 614-273-0845.

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