Studio Time: Bleedin’ Crop!

Having been involved with both the sales team and studio for well over a year now, I’ve been fortunate to deal with all aspects of the banner process, from taking the original customer enquiry, giving quotes, designing original print-ready artwork, through to passing it on to our print and finishing department.

Bleed and Hem on 440gsm PVC
Bleed and Hem on 440gsm PVC

Generally speaking, from a customer’s viewpoint, ordering a banner is a relatively simple process. Let the sales team know: the banner size, material and finish. Oh, and don’t forget to pay them soon afterwards too.

In the artwork studio at Venture Banners, we see a whole host of different artwork: good design, bad design, usable formats, unusable formats, small files, huge files (sometimes in excess of our current 2GB upload limit!). I don’t think I’d be the only one in the office to say that the artwork stage is often the most sticky point of the process.

It’s such a broad topic that I could write a whole book on the specifics of supplying artwork. This will be the first in a series of artwork related posts, hopefully making things a bit clearer on what can often be a confusing subject for those not dealing with it on a daily basis.

For now, we’ll be concentrating on bleed and crop.

Over The Edge

Bleed is the term given to an area of surplus artwork around all sides of a print, which is usually trimmed off. This ensures that the trimmed print is completely ‘filled’ with the design, leaving no white edges where print or finishing movement has occured. Crop marks (also known as trim marks) are simply a few small line marks to indicate where the design stops and the bleed starts. This is where the print is cut.

“Isn’t this a waste of ink?”, I hear you ask. In short, not really. Traditionally, any professional litho or digital printer will require around 3mm (sometimes more) bleed on any supplied artwork. This doesn’t amount to much, and solves a problem that could otherwise ruin a perfectly good print run.

Trimmed 3mm Foamex
Trimmed 3mm Foamex

In our case, because we deal with hems (our most popular banner finish), we don’t need to cut off the bleed, but rather wrap it around the back to create the hem itself. Without any bleed, there would be a fair chance that some banners would end up not being folded on exactly the right point – remember that we are large-format printers, and aren’t able to match the finishing precision of smaller-scale lithographic printers. Their tolerances and ours differ, simply due to the large nature of our printing.

Cutting Out the Problem

For a while here at Venture Banners, we actually preferred to not have bleed. This made checking artwork sizes and also scaling up artworks a bit simpler. We began to run into the occasional issue, though, when important content (text, foreground images) close to the edge, effectively got ‘chopped off’. Only slightly, but enough to cause the odd problem.

What happened, was that we scaled up each design a tiny fraction, thereby giving us some ‘faux-bleed’. Because we deal with large-format printing, losing 5mm from the edges of a design is a non-issue 99 percent of the time. But we wanted to fix that 1 percent.

So, as of recently, we’ve been asking customers to supply any artwork with 5mm of bleed on all artwork.

Future Proofs

We realise that not everyone knows what bleed is, or how to add it to their artwork so we’ll try to help with the basics.

InDesign Document Settings
InDesign Document Settings

The best starting point for creating artwork and adding bleed is to set your page/pasteboard/artboard size to that of the design you’ll be creating. Some prefer to do this at actual size, but we are happy to accept artworks supplied at 25 percent scale and more. For this post, we’ll use a 3m × 1m banner as an example.

Here, we use Adobe InDesign to create nearly all of our artwork, so I’ll use this for the example, but most good desktop publishing software will have a similar form of bleed option.

InDesign Bleed Guides
InDesign Bleed Guides

If we’re creating a 3m × 1m (3000mm × 1000mm) banner at full size, we’ll need to setup the bleed in InDesign (see picture). When the pasteboard is created, you’ll now see the usual area to create your design on, but you’ll also notice a extra red line around the perimeter of the pasteboard – the gap between these two lines is the bleed area. If you switch between normal and preview modes in InDesign (usually by pressing W), you’ll see that the bleed area is hidden, showing you a ‘cropped’ version of your artwork.

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that it’s best to not put any important content within 50mm of the edges of the design (see full document settings picture). This is so that the hems, stitching and eyelets do not interfere with your artwork. We’d strongly advise that this area is left for background images and colours to bleed off the banner, and also give the design some breathing room.

Once you’ve finished your design, you’ll need to export it in a format that we can accept. PDF is preferable to us, and is an industry-wide recognised file format. In InDesign, go to File > Export, and you’ll be presented with the option of where to save the file you’ll be exporting. Once you’ve done this, you’ll get another set of PDF options. These can look pretty complicated at first, but there’s actually not much that needs to be done.

InDesign PDF Settings
InDesign PDF Settings

A good preset to use is the one named ‘[PDF/X-1a:2001]’. This should do all of the hard work of embedding fonts, images, flattening what needs to be flattened, and down-sampling any large images to only a quality that’s required. All that’s left is to set your bleed and crop marks. Under the ‘Marks and Bleeds’ section, tick the ‘Crop Marks’ and ‘Use Document Bleed Settings’ options. The second option will use the bleed size you specified earlier when setting up the document dimensions. If you plan on sending us more artwork in the future (and we do of course hope that you do), and to save doing these few bits again next time, you can save your preset and settings together for quick access next time round.

When you’re ready, hit ‘Export’, and InDesign will do all the hard work for you, spitting out a print-ready PDF complete with bleed area and crop marks, all automagically in exactly the right place.

For the complete list of our artwork “do’s and don’ts”, feel free to peruse our detailed artwork requirements. On occasions, we will be able to help out if you’re stuck on adding the bleed, but if a complete print-ready artwork is supplied to us, it means we can put it straight through to print without us having to mess with your carefully crafted design or delaying the order.

Look out for more Studio Time tips in the near future. Keep up-to-date with us at Facebook, Twitter and on our Blog (RSS feed).