Professional Photographer Looking At Prints And Choosing Picture

Getting your document ready for print

You have worked hard on a design and you are ready to print. Before sending it to the publisher, you decide to do a test print.  Attentively you hit the control P and watch as the paper emerges from your printer. To your dismay, everything is off. You check the document and everything looks right. So what went wrong? It could be that you checked the scale to page or (if the print is to be large) that you did not scale the piece accordingly. However, if you have the piece scaled properly and are still getting cut-offs, the odds are strong that it has something to do with the bleed, trim, and margins that you set up, or forgot to set up.

Bleed Edge

When setting up a document, many people just hit the OK button and go on to working on the digital painting or the project that they need to be completed. Yet, overlooking these settings can have adverse effects on what you want to be done when the document prints. The first element to consider is the bleed edge. This is the marker that tells the printer and yourself where the vital and non-vital information lies. The bleed edge is the acceptable overlapping area (not printed) which eliminates that pesky white edge that appears on some prints. It is important to note that the bleed edge is not to have any vital information.

Generally, when using a bleed edge the artist will pick a single color. If using photographic images, the picture should expand to the bleed edge. Keep in mind that you will also have the trim edge and so information will be lost to an extent.

Most printers require a bleed edge of 1/8th of an inch. If you wish to be overly cautious, set it at .25, anything over that is overkill.


The margins of a piece sometimes get overlooked. Yes, you need to have space between the edges of your document. But consideration also needs to be given to the intent of the design. For example, if you have a magazine that will be saddle stitched, you will need to have a larger interior margin than the outer. Yet, you cannot just say the left or the right as the pages alternate. Most professional software will allow you to set up the alternating margins using master sheets or alternating margin settings.

What is the purpose of the margin? There are two real reasons to have margins. Firstly, the margins ensure that the content does not fall into the folds of reading and that everything is framed well. Of course, you have gutters and column spacing, but that is a totally different topic for layout. Secondly, the margins give you your safety zone. It shows exactly where text and other important data can be placed within your document.

When setting your margins, ensure that you contact the printer to find out an acceptable setting for them. Should no information be given, it is a wise practice to set your margins at .25 for exterior sides and .5 for the interior on magazines and books. To some, this would appear to be a bit much, but I have found that it makes the overall reading better when you do not have to read into the crease.

Trim Edge

This is perhaps the most important part of the document set up for print. While the other edges are mainly used for the guidance of the designer (though there is a bit used for the printer’s set up), the trim edge is essential for the publication of the work. The trim edge, sometimes called the cut edge, is the area where the document will be cut to make the output size. For example, if you designed a document with 9 by 12 but need to have the document at 8.5 by 11, the printer is not going to hit a scale to fit button. Rather, the printer is going to cut down the document by shaving off .25 on the sides and .5 on the top and bottom margin.

Keep a close eye on the trim edge. It is best that you ask the printer what size paper they use, what the trim edge should be for documents, and then plan your design to stay well outside of that area. Even if the printer cuts .25 off the document, there could be a level of fluctuation error. This is a situation where distance is good. 1/8 inch is the best for safety.

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