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Understanding Full Bleed Printing

If you’ve self-published or are researching your self-publishing options, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered terms like Bleed, Full Bleed, and Gutter Margins. In the book printing world, Bleed, in particular, is an important concept to understand. And for some book layouts, properly applying Bleed settings can be the difference between professional design and…not.

We touched on Full Bleed printing last week when we looked at making a print-ready PDF. Today, let’s look a little deeper at this important printing element.

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What is Full Bleed?

Bleed is the edge of the printed page that is trimmed off during binding. Simple as that. Whenever a bookmaker (and really any other kind of printing like business cards, posters, etc.) prints a sheet of paper, they do so slightly larger than the final size. Then they trim all the book’s pages so they appear uniform after being bound into a book.

Full Bleed Trim lines

Full Bleed is file preparation that includes this added content. 

Let’s say you’re making a novel for print-on-demand. The book size will be 6 x 9 inches. The temptation will be to size your file at 6 x 9 inches, right? 

But the book printers need a file sized at 6.25 x 9.25 inches. That extra 0.25 inch is the Bleed.

From Adobe InDesign Full Bleed Instructions

What this means is that a PDF prepared at 6 x 9 inches is not Full Bleed, a file prepared at 6.25 x 9.25 inches is Full Bleed.

Why Bleed Matters

For novels or memoirs, Bleed may not be that important. If your book is entirely (or almost entirely) text with white margins, the bleed can be added by the printer or print-on-demand service. For example, Lulu will add that 0.25 inch to your PDF if you upload it at the actual size.

Now, if you’re creating a book with any images, color, or graphic design that extends to the edge of the paper, Full Bleed matters a lot for you. Here’s why:

If you create your pages with images that extend to the edge of the page at the final page size, your pages will have a white border.


Because Lulu (and any print-on-demand service) needs to print documents with Full Bleed, If the file is created at the final size, our automated system would have to ADD the Bleed. That small increase in page size (0.125 inches on each side) is just plain white or cream paper. Ideally, that extra paper is trimmed away entirely. 

Image courtesy of Stack Exchange

But the purpose of Bleed is to allow the printing company a small margin of error. While preparing your book for binding, it’s most important that the page trim be uniform. One page may be trimmed slightly more than another to achieve that uniformity.

The end result: thin white lines on an otherwise full-color page. That’s not good.

Full Bleed and Print-Ready Files

If you have any layout and design experience, particularly with software like InDesign, you probably already know about Bleeds, trim lines, and the like. You’re prompted from the very beginning of an InDesign project to create a file with Bleed and throughout the design process, you can see the margins, trim lines, and bleeds as color-coded lines. 

But if you’re a writer working out of any other program (like MS Word, Pages, Libre Office, Google Docs) there isn’t any helpful guide to make sure your work is ready for printing.

Don’t despair!

In fact, the solution here is ridiculously simple. Ready for this?

Always set your file’s page size for Full Bleed.

Bam. You’re covered. Your print-on-demand product is sized correctly from the very first moment.

Here’s a two-step guide (for MS Word users) to prepare your file for Full Bleed before you even add your content.

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From a completely new file with no content:

  1. Select File > Page Setup and assign a page size 0.25 inches larger than the final size. Be sure to save this custom page size (Example: I like to go with names like “US Trade + Bleed”)
  2. Select Format > Document > Margins and assign margins that include the additional bleed (Example: 0.5 inch margins become 0.625 inch)

From there, drop your content and get to formatting! When you’re done and you export your PDF, you’ll have it sized and ready for Full Bleed printing.

Gutters and Full Bleed

The last thing to consider today regarding Full Bleed printing is your Gutter. No, not the thing catching leaves off your roof. 

In page layout, the Gutter is a slightly larger margin added to the inside edge of the page. So nothing is lost when the book is held open. Imagine a novel with text disappearing into the binding. Uncool.

For most books, an additional 0.2 or 0.3 inches on the inside edge of the page is plenty to create a gutter. And all kinds of page layout software (even MS Word) can automatically add a gutter to your specifications with ease.

But, for a book with full-page images and most importantly two-page spreads, the gutter requires a bit of added attention. The goal is to make the transition of the image across these two pages seamless.

To do so, you need to include a tiny bit of the adjacent page’s image—in fact, you’ll include exactly 0.125 inches. Here’s a visual example from our own Full Bleed knowledge base:

Gutter Bleed image

As you can see, the image on the left side page includes just a tiny bit of the image on the right. When the pages are trimmed down, that little extra bit (the Bleed) is cut away. And where the two images meet (in the Gutter) the transition should be nearly seamless.

Page layout is one of the most challenging aspects of DIY publishing. And an absolutely essential skill to master if you want professional-looking books. Fortunately, the basics are fairly simple; increased page size and margins. Once you start to think about Full Bleed as your default page size, the entire process becomes that much easier!

Post below with your formatting questions! 

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