Design Tips From Our Art Dept

Why Are Bleeds Needed?

When submitting artwork for a job to be printed, there is too often a disconnect between what the designer intended (or visualized) the print job to look like and what they’ve communicated on their submitted artwork.  The Art Department here at has to often request changes to artwork submitted for printing plastic cards, key tags, gift card holders and other products.  Probably the number one reason we return artwork:  the lack of bleeds.

What follows are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding artwork, and bleeds in particular.  We welcome your feedback, so please post comments below.

What is a “bleed” (layman’s terms)?

In the simplest terms possible, a “bleed” is a term used by printers to describe a color or image running off the edge of the paper. The term “full bleed” describes a printed sheet that has color (or image) running off all four edges of the sheet.

What is a “bleed” (technical terminology)?

To be more precise about describing bleeds, it is a term we printers use to describe the 1/8″ (.125″) area of artwork that has printing on it, but is trimmed off in the finishing phase of the production process.

Why do you trim that area off if it has printing on it?

Now, that is a GREAT question… and we have a nifty picture that illustrates it perfectly.  See “Fig. A” below:

Fig. A -- What occurs if your artwork does not include bleeds.

To understand why this non-printed gap can appear in the printing production process, we have to look a little bit more into the steps we go through to make a standard plastic card, also known as a CR80.

Your artwork is received and reviewed by our art department.  If the artwork we’ve received passes our production standards, an online proof is shown to you.  When approved, the card enters production.  When it is printed, the ink is laid onto the rectangular sheet of teslin or PVC.  After printing, it enters the finishing phase for “die cutting”.  Die cutting is used to generate large numbers of the same shape from a material such as paper or plastic.  If you’ve done any baking in your lifetime, think of die cutting like a cookie cutter pushing through cookie dough.  Pretty much the same idea.  In our case, we use a 3.375 x 2.125 rectangular shape with rounded corners.

Bear in mind that die cutting is an automated process.  We can’t possibly align the die with each card individually and then cut it from the sheet.  It would take forever and cost you a fortune.  Instead, die cutting is performed by a machine that can accurately punch the cards from the sheet.  But even these machines cannot align perfectly every single time, and will sometimes punch within an acceptance tolerance of approximately between 1/32″ and 1/16″ or between 1 and 2 mm.

To accommodate the times when the die cutting is slightly misaligned, we set up the artwork to print beyond the die cut lines.  That way if the die cutter misses the line, there will still be a printed image on it.  If you do not extend beyond the die cut lines, the result is what you see in Fig. A.

I don’t want this to happen to me!  How do I avoid that problem?

Well, it can be as simple as preparing your artwork so that the image area or color extends at least .125″ (1/8″) beyond the cut lines.  Fig. B shows an example of what properly prepared artwork looks like when a bleed is called for:

Artwork that Includes bleeds
Fig. B -- This is what properly prepared artwork looks like if your job needs bleeds.

And this is what the finished product looks like when it is die cut:

Fig. C -- The finished, diecut, plastic card with bleeds.

As you can see, there are no gaps or blank edges!

All of us here at are always ready to help you understand what you need to do to create artwork that is properly prepared for printing.  We have templates for every kind of printing that we do:  Plastic cards, key tags, gift card holders, scratch-off cards… and if you need a template for some custom printing, we can assist with that as well.  Please don’t hesitate to email us or call us with questions about your plastic card order!  During regular business hours, our web site is also staffed with a live chat feature for assistance.