Heed the Bleed: A Step By Step Guide

What is bleed? Why is it important? We hear these questions on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I asked myself these questions when I first started working with Photoshop. It’s a recurring theme in the printing world worth discussing. We’re here to help! This brief post will guide you in properly sizing images and adjusting for bleed. With this tool under your belt, preparing files will be a breeze!

Bleed 101

Let’s get started. So what is bleed? It’s additional image added to the actual image size. Why do we need this? To ensure that the edges of an image aren’t cut off during the printing process. Fun fact: we print using dye-sublimation, which is a fancy term for a heat transfer printing technique. Prints can shift during this process causing the edges to be lost. Which is why adjusting an image for bleed is crucial. You can think of it as extra “wiggle room.”

Another key point is the type of product you plan to print your image on. When printing dye-sublimation, smaller prints such as decorative tiles and coasters don’t require as much bleed as larger metal prints for example. Some products, such a giclee fine art papers, don’t even require bleed.

For the product type and corresponding bleed, take a peek at this handy chart: 

Credit: NWFAP blog post “The Need for Bleed” by Eric Seremek.

Got it. Now that we know bleed is important, how do we adjust images accordingly? Glad you asked! We’ve included a step by step guide to help breakdown the process.

Adjusting for Bleed: 8 Easy Steps

In this example, we’re printing a 12 x 8 metal print. This will require .25” bleed added to each dimension. This means our final size needs to be adjusted to 12.25 x 8.25. (Please note: the chart above mentions that metal prints smaller than 25 x 25 only need an additional .125″ for bleed – It’s ok to have a little extra!)

  1.  Open your image in Photoshop. Click on the “Image” tab at the top of the page, then scroll down and click on “Image Size.”

    Photo Credit: Shutterstock Images.
  2. A pop-up window will show the original image size. The Seattle waterfront image I’m using comes in at 28.973 x 19.313.

  3. Since we’re printing at 12 x 8 we need to size the image. I’ve typed in 8 for the height, which automatically changed the width to 12.001. Sometimes you have to play with the height or width to reach the desired size. If one of the dimensions is smaller than 12 or 8, then try the other dimension until you get a value larger than 12 x 8. You can always crop down but you can’t work with an image smaller than the desired print size.

  4. Now we can add the bleed. I’ve typed in 8.25 for the height, which changed the width to 12.376. If you try this and one of the dimensions is less than .25” for bleed, try adding it to the other dimension. Again, you can always work with a little extra image.

  5. The bleed has been added! Since the width bleed is slightly larger than .25″ we will need to crop a little. Click on “Image” and then “Canvas Size.”

  6. A pop-up window will show the image size at 12.376 x 8.25.

  7. Click on the width and change to 12.25. Photoshop will crop evenly unless you select the anchor (direction you want cropped – top, bottom, right side, or left side).

  8. You can double check your image to make sure the sizing and bleed are correct. Just like in Step One, click on “Image” and then “Image Size.” The pop-up window shows 12.25 x 8.25 as the final size. Hooray!

Violà! The image is now properly sized and adjusted for bleed. While sizing images in Photoshop can be a learning curve at first, it becomes easier with practice. Sizing your images is a vital step in properly preparing your files and better understanding digital photography. Now you’re ready to print! Cheers!