Someone told me my file has to bleed.  Why oh why would I want my files to bleed?  Didn't Arnold Schwarzenegger say, "if it bleeds, you can kill it!"?

Full bleed is printing from one edge of the paper to the other without the standard borders by which most personal printers are limited. This is useful for printing brochures, posters, and other marketing materials. Often the paper is trimmed after printing to ensure the ink runs fully to the edge and does not stop short of it.  A bleed is the extra-size designed into your document which thereby allows for paper and design inconsistencies.  In other words, if the printing goes to the very edge of your 4 x 6 document, you're safest designing the document at 4.25 x 6.25, so there's a 1/8" play on all four sides. 

Bleeds in the USA and UK generally are 1/8 of an inch from where the cut is to be made. Bleeds in Europe generally are 3 to 5mm from where the cut is to be made.

Why?  Because in 2008 there is simply no technology that allows accuracy to the millimeter.  Your printout may not be perfectly straight, your file may not be perfectly centered on the page, the large stack of paper may be a mm off between the top and the bottom of the stack... From sheet to sheet the printing press or copier will have some play, too, leaving the registration of the image slightly "off." 

When you try to cut out a photo with scissors, you most often leave a tiny slice of white border around your picture, which you frustratedly fight for the next 3 minutes.  Because you're not that accurate.  Well, we are as accurate as technologically possible, but that's still not perfect.  If you don't leave us any space for play, you will end up with some white borders on your photos, business cards, etc.

Sometimes we are able to create a bleed for your file, i.e. blow up the photo a bit or create a fake corner, but if your design is too complex or too tight, we may have to ask you to redesign your piece (or charge you to do it ourselves.)

Die-cuts sometimes require a 1/4" bleed from where the page is intended to be cut; this is because of the possible movement of the paper during the die-cut procedure.

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