Using page bleeds in desktop publishing

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In the hands of a knowledgeable desktop publisher, page bleeds are an effective graphic design effect. However, if not done properly, they can cause unnecessary expense and delays to a print job.

In printing and desktop publishing terminology, a bleed is an element that extends right to the edge of the page. You can bleed a photo, a shaded box, a line, a piece of clip art, or even text.

Studies have shown that bleeds are a good way to catch the attention of readers. Research by Roper Starch Worldwide (a U.S. research firm) on magazine advertising, for example, showed that bleeds resulted in measurably better response from readers, both for colored ads and for black and white ads.

Before determining whether you want to take advantage of this graphic effect, a talk with your printer is in order. While most offset printers and digital print places can accommodate page bleeds, this effect can result in added cost. If you are designing a newsletter, for example, and you plan on having it printed on an 11” by 17” (tabloid) sized sheet folded in half to create four 8 1/2 by 11 pages, bleeds will mean that your printer will in fact run 12 by 18 sheets through his or her press, and then cut the final product to size before folding. Thus, you may end up paying extra for the larger sheets and the extra cutting.

In order to ensure that you don’t get thin white lines at the edge where the element is supposed to bleed off (since your printer’s acceptable margin of error when cutting will be a few millimeters), you must extend the bleeding element off of the actual page in your document using your page layout software, usually by an additional .125” (again, ask your printer what specifications they prefer, because they can vary). If you don’t do this, the end results may lessen the impact you are looking to create with bleeds.

A note of caution; different desk top publishing software programs handle bleeds differently. Again, talk to your printer or service bureau (or check out your software documentation) and get instructions on how to set up your file to properly print bleeds. A little bit of preparation will save you headaches in the final stages of producing your document.