How to add bleed in Photoshop: Advice from a pro graphic designer


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So you want to add bleed in Adobe Photoshop.

Well, I have some good news, and I have some bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first shall we?

Photoshop does not have a built-in bleed feature.

I know. I was disappointed too.

Ready for the good news?

There’s a workaround.

And in this article, I’m going to show you exactly how to utilize that workaround for your next project.

This Photoshop tutorial covers the following topics:

a sample of a bleed document next to a document with no bleed
(design by Ardea-studio/shutterstock.com, composite by Morgan Overholt)

What is bleed?

Have you ever noticed how most standard printers create a white border or a white margin around your designs? Have you ever wondered why that’s happening? It all has to do with something called “bleed”.

Bleed refers to the extra area that extends beyond where the paper will be cut.

Professional printers and print shops use this excess printed area to create prints that run all the way to the edge – or bleed to the edge – of a printed document.

The standard bleed is usually 1/8″ (or .125″) on each edge. Although, it is important to note that bleed may vary for specialty prints, such as large format.

For example, let’s say you want to create an 8″x8″ print with artwork that covers the entire area.

To allow that design to bleed to the edge of the paper without any extra white space, you would add an extra 1/8″ to both the width and the height of the document to create a document that’s actually 8.25″x8.25″, making sure that you’ve extended the document’s background to fill the entire space.

The printer would then print the entire 8.25″x8.25″ document but trim off the extra .125″ on each side.

Pro-Tip: This may sound intuitive but it’s important to note the importance of making sure that only the background of an image extends into the bleed area of a document. You don’t want the printer to cut off any important information, like text.

a poster with bleed and a photoshop icon
(design by Ardea-studio/shutterstock.com, composite by Morgan Overholt)

How do you add bleed in Photoshop? (the workaround)

As stated earlier, there is no built-in bleed function in Photoshop. This is because Photoshop’s primary function is image manipulation, not document handling.

Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign are the preferred programs for handling documents with bleed. There’s even a way to use Illustrator and InDesign to set up bleed on your Photoshop documents, but we will get into all of that that a bit later.

For now, let’s assume you don’t have access to those other programs and you only have Photoshop.

Here’s the workaround:

1. Launch Photoshop and open your working file or create a new one.

2. Go to Image > Image Size and enter the dimensions for your Trim Size (before bleed). Click OK.

3. Return to your document, click on the ruler on the y-axis (the left ruler) and drag to create two vertical guides on the right and left edges of your document.

4. Now click on the ruler on the x-axis (the top ruler) and drag to create two horizontal guides on the top and bottom edge of your document.

5. Go to Image > Canvas Size and check the Relative checkbox. Now enter .25 inches for both the width and the height (this will add .125″ to each side). Click OK.

6. Return to your document and extend the background all the way to the new edge, past the new guides.

Presto – you now have a document with a clearly marked trim area for bleed. However, you’re not entirely done.

If you’ve used this method to set the bleed, you have to keep in mind that it’s more of a pho-bleed. So you’ll need to tell the printer what you’ve done, so they understand what to look for when printing your file.

Or, if you have Adobe Illustrator or Adobe InDesign, you can take the new document you’ve just created and add a true bleed which brings us to the next part of this tutorial …

a poster with bleed and indesign and illustrator icons
(design by Ardea-studio/shutterstock.com, composite by Morgan Overholt)

The best way to add bleed to your files (the right way)

The best way to add bleed to your Photoshop files is to use Adobe Illustrator or Adobe InDesign. And of those two, Adobe InDesign is the truly preferred method.

For some bizarre reason, in my personal experience, many junior designers seem to lack experience with InDesign.

I always find this to be a bit surprising as the two are built to work together. Using one without the other is a bit like Batman without Robin. Woody without Buzz. Ron without Hermoine. Hans Solo without Chewbacca.

But I digress.

When I create Photoshop documents that require bleed, I simply use two programs to get the job done.

And in this section of the tutorial, I’ll walk you through the process for both Illustrator and InDesign.

How to add bleed in InDesign

1. Create your Photoshop document exactly as described in the original tutorial above either with the pho-bleed.

2. Open InDesign. Go to File > New > Document.

3. Set the Width and Height of your Trim Size (the size before bleed).

4. On that same document setup screen, scroll down to the Bleed and Slug section and enter .125″ for all four edges (top, bottom, inside and outside). Click Create.

5. Go to File > Place and locate your Photoshop file. InDesign can handle nearly any type of image file including .PSDs. I prefer to use .PSDs in case I need to make edits later on. Click Place.

6. Click anywhere on the document to place the file and position it to fit within the new InDesign document. Make sure the image extends all the way to the thin red line.

7. Go to File > Export and choose Format: Adobe PDF (Print) from the dialog box dropdown. Click Save.

8. On the export screen, select Marks and Bleeds tab from the sidebar, then check the box that reads Use Document Bleed Settings. Click Export.

You will now have a final product with properly marked bleed values that any professional printer will instantly be able to recognize.

Alternatively, you can also use Illustrator.

How to add bleed in Illustrator

1. Create your Photoshop document exactly as described in the original tutorial above either with the pho-bleed.

2. Open Illustrator. Go to File > New.

3. Set the Width and Height of your Trim Size (the size before bleed).

4. On that same document setup screen, scroll to the Bleed section and enter .125″ for all four edges (top, bottom, and left and right).

5. Go to File > Place and find your Photoshop file. Illustrator can also handle nearly any type of image file including .PSDs. And again, I prefer to use .PSDs in case I need to make edits later on. Click Place.

6. Position your document to fit within the new Illustrator document. You will now notice that the trim and bleed area are clearly marked with a thin red line. Your design will need to extend off of the main artboard all the way to the red line.

7. Go to File > Save As and choose Format: Adobe PDF from the dialog box dropdown. Click Save PDF.

8. On the save screen, select Marks and Bleeds tab from the sidebar, then check the box that reads Use Document Bleed Settings. Click Save PDF.

Congratulations – now you’re creating bleeds like a pro.

If you found this article helpful, let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to connect with me on social media for more Photoshop tutorials just like this one.

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