Photoshop How-To: Adding Bleeds and Crop Marks

One question that I receive on a fairly regular basis, is how to add bleed to an image or project in Photoshop. Both Illustrator and InDesign provide the ability to create a file that contains bleed marks that serve as a reference for you when designing your project. Photoshop on the other hand, seems to be conspicuously missing this feature. Although Photoshop doesn’t have a specific bleed setting that can be applied to a document, it can still be accomplished with a little bit of forethought and pre-planning.

What is bleed?

Bleed is a requirement specific to print jobs. You’ll never hear someone in the web or video industry ask for a file that contains bleed. Whenever you have a project where the final printed appearance contains ink that goes to the edge of the paper, bleed is required. The reason is that printing presses (and even most digital printers) cannot print to the edge of a piece of paper. In the case of a printing press, it technically can print to the edge of the paper, but the results will be poor. Ink will build up and create a big ink splotch at the edge of the paper. To avoid this mess, the project must be printed on a larger piece of paper that includes bleed (image area extended past the trim edge) and then trimmed down to produce the final product.

If the project file doesn’t contain bleed, you run the risk of revealing a white sliver (blank paper) along the edge of the printed piece, which doesn’t look good at all. See the figure below for reference. I placed a black border around the project so you could see the white sliver.

bleed_001

Planning

Regardless of the application you use, one of the first things you need to determine is the finished size of the printed piece. Preferably you’ll do this at the very beginning of the project instead of at the end, because sometimes at the end of your project, you’ve already removed valuable image information that you would need to create the bleed. Standard bleed in the printing industry is 1/8″ but it’s a good idea to check with your printer to be sure. Some projects (like perfect bound books and banners) often require a larger bleed. When in doubt, ask!

Create the document

Begin by creating a new document in Photoshop to the trim size (final size) and resolution that you need. You can also begin with an existing project and implement the techniques that I describe here, but I find that it’s easiest to understand if you start with a new document.

Make sure that rulers are displayed by choosing View > Rulers, and also make sure that snapping is enabled by choosing View > Snap. Click on the ruler and drag a guide to the edge of the document. The guide should snap to the edge of the document automatically. Do this for all four sides of the document.

bleed_003

Create space for the bleed

Now increase the image size (document size) to the size of the project including the bleed. Using some basic math, you can determine that if your desired bleed amount is 1/8″ on all four sides, simply add 1/8″ to each dimension.

In this example, we’re working with a 6″ x 4″ document so we’ll add the 1/8″ amount to all four sides to come up with 4 1/4″ x 6 1/4″.

If your project requires more than 1/8″ bleed, simply add that amount. To achieve this, choose Image > Canvas Size and change to dimensions to the correct amount. Make sure that the anchor at the bottom of the dialog box is set to the center to force the document to add pixels from the middle out.

Another option is to choose the relative checkbox and enter the amount that you want to increase your document by. In this case, it’s 1/4″. Your canvas extension color can remain the background color unless you want the added amount to be a different color.

bleed_004

When you’re finished, you should end up with a document that is to the bleed size of your final project and guides indicating where the document will trim.

bleed_005

Building the project

Now that you have the foundation for the document created, simply build the document as desired using the guides as a reference point. Keep in mind that the final printed piece will be trimmed at the location of the guides in the Photoshop document. Anything that bleeds will need to extend past the guides (the trim edge) to the bleed edge.

Feel free to use layers, shapes, and anything else that you normally use to produce the final product in Photoshop. I find Smart Objects to be particularly useful as they retain the original size of the content so you can adjust things later on.

bleed_006

You can also make use of the new Artboards feature in Photoshop to make this process even easier but that’s for another post 😉

What about trim marks?

The file that we’ve created so far is pretty much all the printer should need. However there might be times for one reason or another, that you’ll want trim marks that go along with the file that indicate exactly where the project should be trimmed.

Because of how we prepared the file, we’ll simply make the canvas size even larger to provide room for the marks. Choose Image > Canvas Size and enable the relative button. Enter 1″ in the Width and Height dimensions and click OK. This will expand the canvas by an additional 1″ in both dimensions. Create a new layer for your marks and create a selection in the corner areas of the image using the Rectangular Marquee tool. You can do all four corners at the same time.

bleed_007

With the selections active, choose Edit > Stroke and apply a 2px stroke to the active selections. Deselect the active selections and hide your guides to view the crop marks applied to the project.

In the figure below, I shortened the crop marks as my preference but you now have a project built in Photoshop that contains the correct amount of bleed and trim marks indicating where the final piece should be trimmed.

bleed_008

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Posted on: April 4, 2016

Chad Chelius

Chad Chelius is a Trainer/Author/Consultant/Speaker on Adobe software and the Editor-in-Chief of incopysecrets.com. You can learn more at cheliusgraphicservices.com.

25 Comments on Photoshop How-To: Adding Bleeds and Crop Marks

  1. Look out Extensis, I’m gonna beat you to the punch and develop a Photoshop plug-in that creates sophisticated printer’s marks on a layer….uh, as soon as I learn how to code.

  2. So, what produces the crop and bleed marks? After the selection, I’m not sure if I use the same commands that I would use normally in the print with preview dialog.

  3. thanks, this helped me

  4. This is awful advice. For one, using inches instead of mm is archaic and error-prone. Secondly, Photoshop can handle crop marks itself without room for human error, which this guide almost encourages.

    • Inches are simply the unit of measurement that is used here in the US. Not archaic at all and not error prone. Inches are just as accurate as mm. Not sure why you would say that. Photoshop can handle crop marks but they’re based on the document size and doesn’t account for the bleed.

  5. I’m using a PC (ugh!!!) and don’t find the “print with preview” command under File. Any suggestions?

  6. thank you this helped me. i was at first confused on why to make the canvas 1/4″ larger to the width and height, but later realized this is because 1/8 is added to each side, which adds up to 1/4. seems obvious, but it really took me a few minutes of thought to get there… thanks again for the help.

  7. Thanx mate… you helped me out!

  8. Very handy post, and just in time for a print job I’m delivering out of Photoshop tonight. Many thanks for sharing!

  9. great tutorial, very helpful, thanks so much!!

  10. This will not work as the cut marks should be outside but in line with the area to be cut, Easier just to put them in manually using the pencil tool

    • As I indicated in the tutorial, these crop marks are exactly inline where the project should be trimmed (cut). Using the pencil tool would be a bit inaccurate but the method shown above is based on measurements and is quite precise.

  11. Just want to say thank you for the great advice which worked very well. Thanks for the explanation too.
    Regards
    Kris

  12. It led me to this web page. Can I say… the info on bleed and crop marks in photoshop really helped me out. Many thanks!
    Chris R.

  13. Thanku!! So simple.

  14. DO NOT USE THE SECOND METHOD. The crop marks need to be OUTSIDE the bleed area, otherwise you will end up with black marks in the corners after trimming.
    I work at a printer and this is one of the most frustrating things someone can do. It would be much more preferable to send the file with bleed but NO crop marks than to do this.

    • In the last paragraph, you’ll see that I shortened those crop marks exactly for this reason so that the crop marks don’t go into the bleed. This way, there’s no chance of having the trim mark in the final product.

  15. On a broader note, Photoshop should be a last and desperate resort when preparing files for printing. Whatever Adobe’s claims to the contrary may be, InDesign and Illustrator are much better suited for the production of press-ready files, and offer much better integration with the PDF engine. Thank me later…

    • I agree with that, I see way too much crap from people who use photoshop as a page layout program.

      Another way to add trim marks (if you have indd) is to place you psd into indd and export a pdf with bleed & trim marks,

    • I’d agree that most projects should be built in InDesign or Illustrator as it takes care of the crop and bleed marks automatically and it’s easier to build the project. That being said, there are some projects that are perfectly acceptable to build in Photoshop and often it’s a tool that people are familiar with. I wrote this post based on a common need that people have and a limitation of Photoshop as an application. Choose the tool that suits your needs and use them accordingly.

  16. To have trim marks printed as part of your image you need a bigger paper size (or a smaller image) so what I usually do, when I need trim marks, I print a single dot at each corner. The dot is made with four pixels and is centred both ways on the cut lines so after trimming I’m left with one pixel at the four corners of the image, a small disadvantage that doesn’t bother me for most of my work.
    Consider that when you trim on one side you are cutting off the trim lines for the other “sides”, not so with my Dot method.

  17. Wow! Helpful Photoshop tutorial. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Also make sure to keep anything you don’t want trimmed at least 1/8″ away from the edge of the page.

    • Yes, a very good suggestion. I refer to this as a “safe area” to account for variables in the printing process.

  19. This is a good tutorial and describes basically the same method I’ve used for years if I’m using Photoshop as the most appropriate tool for my project.

    Similar to crop marks are FOLD marks on greeting cards and such. Dashed lines outside of the trim area can be used to simply indicate the point for a fold.

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