WARNING: The following story is kind of scary. It’s a horror story with a bit of graphic content, so viewer discretion is advised. If you’re feeling squeamish, continue reading after the end of the horror story.

 

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You’re a farmer. You go outside, and you find that your crops are bleeding. It’s very scary.

 

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END OF HORROR STORY

 

In the printing world, crops and bleeds aren’t scary at all! In fact, they’re a necessary part of printing your document properly. It is exceedingly difficult to print to the very edge of a page; that means most pages will have a white trim around them, and that the print shop will have to trim the page down to your exact specifications. When the elements of your document extend to the edge of your document, your print shop will need crops and bleeds in order to make it looks right.

 

Crops are the marks that indicate to your print shop where the trimming should be done so that the finished document meets your specifications. The crop marks will appear near the corners of the page, with two lines appearing on each side of the page (for a total of 8 lines). Those lines tell the printer where to cut along the vertical and horizontal axes of the page.

 

The part that the print shop trims off is called the bleed; when you’re editing your document, any element that extends beyond the crop marks will not be in the final document. By cropping a document with elements that extend past the crop marks, the print shop ensures that the elements you want to display appear throughout the whole document. Without element bleed, when trimming the document a thin white border might appear around it, or important elements of the document might get chopped off. Obviously, this means you can’t let any element you want shown on the final document to extend past the crop marks, or it will bleed off.

 

When you want the elements in your document to reach its edge, it’s important to give your print shop some leeway; while those doing the trimming are more precise at cutting paper than your average person, if your elements only go a millimetre past the crop line, there’s a higher chance you’ll see white trim around the document. The further your elements go past the crop marks, the easier it will be to create a finished document with no unsightly trim.


For designers using Illustrator, Adobe has provided a guide to setting up crop marks; they call them printer marks because you can crop in Illustrator, and they wanted to avoid confusion (I assume). Experienced printing companies will be able to go over all the elements of your design with you, and will help you determine appropriate crop marks and bleeds to ensure that your document looks it’s best. Never hesitate to ask questions; your print shop is your partner in creating beautiful documents!