Professional printing and bleed settings

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Professional printing and bleed settings

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    Jay Smith

    I’m looking to have some Tabloid size color prints made at a professional print shop that were created in InDesign.  In the past when I’ve tried to do this I get a white border around the edge.  I realize there are certain bleed/crop settings that have to be made but I’m just not understanding the process and I was hoping someone might be able to explain this is layman terms.  

    I always thought the option of crop marks were done if the print shop would physically be cutting my sheets down to a certain size.  But I’d rather just keep them Tabloid size.  (I assume it’s much more expensive to start with a bigger sheets and have a shop cut them down?).  

    I may just make the background and outer edges of my sheets white anyway, in turn eliminating the bleed issue, but I’d really appreciate some help if anyone can spare a few minutes to explain it.

    Jason T. Radice

    First, what kind of technology is the shop using (laser, offset, digital offset, etc) and what is the shop capable of. Most copy/printing places now use high quality laser prints for short run printing. Digital offset is next (if you can find a place that has the machine), and offset is for when you are looking for several hundred to thousands of prints, as it is very expensive to set up.

    Second, with any of these technologies the use of oversized paper is required to get a full-bleed print. The “press” prints on 12″x18″ or 13″x19″ paper. This is so the printer’s paper path has something to grab on to keep the paper level and moving through the machine properly without smudging the print on the press or ruining the toner transfer on a laser system.


    If you intend to do full bleed from the start, your page size must also refect that in InDesign. You then tell it or set up your margins including a bleed of 1/8″ (.125″). So your full image will be 11.25″x17.25″ with the bleeds added in. Any text, graphics, or important images should be around 1/4″ from the edge of the 11″x17″ page size to allow room for error in trimming. This is pretty much standard for most printers. Traditional offset can sometimes require a little more depending on the equipment or the press operator’s preference. The paper is then trimmed using a guillotine cutter set to trim the paper to the size you require. Cutting cost depends on your print shop, the quanity, and what kind of equipment they have to do the cutting. I am always charged for trimming laser prints (which is why I don’t trim them), but my prepress house who has a digital press and my traditional offset press shop include trimming in the price, as it is their finished product.

    You also don’t always need to print crop marks either, as the guillotine cutters are usually already set up to trim the extra half in or inch off each side of the paper. Crop marks are handy for proofs or cutting one offs or cutting by hand. Ask your shop if they need them.

    Some print shops may also slighly enlarge a regular 11″x17″ print to include a bleed if you don’t set it up properly in InDesign. Be careful doing this, as image edges and text can get cut off or be too close to the edge using this method. Slightly enlarging the image is also how most ‘borderless’ inkjet printers work. They can print edge-to-edge because the ink dries before the second set of feed rollers come in contact with the printed surface.


    If you want to be sure you get the results you are after, simply ask your print shop if its not a Kinkos. They will tell you how they want the page and file formatted and what not to do.    

    Jay Smith

    Thanks Jason, I always appreciate your very informative posts.  I think you cleared up quite a bit for me.  I haven’t yet picked out a new print shop (wasn’t happy with the service at my old one), but now I’ll be armed with better questions.  Any advice on finding a good print shop? 

    At the moment I’m leaning toward a white background (and white edges) anyway after several frustrating experiences trying to get consistent solid color background prints the last time I put together a color brochure.  The printed colors often varied from one print shop to another (sometimes drastically), and I even had variation when I’d go back to the same shop.  All of this with the exact same pdf mind you.  InDesign is a great program and produces a very magazine-like finished product, but I think there’s something to be said for a more simple and well organized portfolio slick in which one’s work speaks for itself. 

    Jason T. Radice

    I use a local copy house, like a Kinkos, but with with much better laser equipment and good paper for my portfolio slicks. I don’t mind the white band around the outside as long as its even. I’m lucky to have such a good shop nearby instead of being stuck with just a Kinkos. Even still, their good equipment was broken one day, and they ran a test on one of their color copiers, and it came out terrible and fuzzy, which shows just how different the results from different equipment can be.

    Anyone in printing will tell you, solids are the worst thing to try to print unless you are using spot colors on an offset press. Process inks work good if the moire pattern isn’t detectable, but even the best laser printer has trouble. Most printers band like hell, and some color tones look better than others. The darker to color, the better the solid generally speaking. It is the limitations of the printing process as the machine has to “mix” the four colors in a matrix to create that color.


    Ask the prospective color print shop what their best color machine is, and if it is an office color copy machine, a ‘graphics class’ copy machine or a “production printer”. You want one of the last two. You can also ask to see samples if you don’t want to test print your own stuff. The best and most reliable color copy equipment I’ve used has been Xerox. I spec’d a ‘graphics class’ color copier for one office I worked in and a Xerox Tektronix Phaser printer for two others. Canon makes some good ones as well. Both make good ‘graphics class’ office copiers and production printers. Minolta’s are hit and miss. The office copiers and printers are garbage, but their production units give good printed results and good color, but are not that reliable, which isn’t entirely your problem (you don’t have to fix them). I’d stick with those three manufacturers. My local shop uses the top shelf Minolta production printers, they do a great job mostly, but I’m not totally thrilled with some of the halftones and fades off of those machines if I had to spec one for an office.

    You will always get different results if you use different places and equipment, none of it is really standardized. Different machines have different color capabilities depending on their toner color range, composition, and particle size (the true measure of laser resolution), emulation software, and how they are tuned and maintained. Printer’s inks have the same limitation, which is why there are so many color profiles in the software to adapt to specific inks. High volume laser printers that are not maintained fully (read: Kinkos) often have their registration off. Registration is the alignment of the four color transfer belts in the print engine. If they are not aligned properly, the image is blurry and there are often gaps around letters and such.


    The key to consistency is to use the exact same equipment with the exact same paper at the same shop. Printers and their software vary greatly in their ability to both create CMYK color and how they rip the file into the language the printer speaks. The biggest variable comes in how they rip to CMYK from RGB. Also keep in mind that printers use CMYK colors rather than the computer’s RGB. CMYK cannot produce as many colors as RGB, which can also be a cause of poor results when printing solid colors. Stick to Pantone solids when designing for more predictable results. Also make sure you are always using the same color settings in InDesign and are printing to a high quality PDF the same way each time you save it. I also would not suggest saving the files as CMYK on your own…let the print shop rip that as they generally have profiles that are tuned to their specific equipment. Despite being a great layout program, InDesign used to have all sorts of imaging and color issues they had to patch over the years. Don’t use .indd files for output, and try PRINTING to PDF rather than exporting it.        

    When going to a new print shop, take along a good example of what you want printed and how, if you have one. Then ask for one print or a ‘proof’ to compare the two before you get a bunch of them made. Often the shop can change a few settings to attain the results you want.   


    Holy crap, I’m a nerd. The OCD is strong with this one.

    Tanya Olson

    Jason did a good job with the nerdy stuff (haha Jason) and here’s the touchy feely…Find out what print shop local designers use and go to that one.

    For full bleed 11×17’s they tell us to make the print size a little bigger than 11×17 , equal on all sides, say 1/4″, and they trim them correctly. We can leave the crop marks or not – they do it right just about every time. And if they don’t they’re happy to do it again. Its not THAT much more expensive to go to a larger sheet size but you might not have as much choice about the quality of the paper…

    oh yeah, ABSOLUTELY print to pdf.

    Jay Smith

    Good to know, thank you both.

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