The first time I heard of the word Bleed when referring to artwork was in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. I was 13. I feel that 20 years and a few thousand illustrations later I can explain to you confidently what that’s all about.
When a printer refers to the bleed line, they are referring to the part where their guillotine is going to cut the printer paper or card, and the general rule of thumb is that you extend your image across the bleed line so that when the paper or card is cut, the colour runs right up to the edge and there is no white (or whatever under color you may happen to have, but it is generally white) showing.
The bleed line is usually an 1/8 of an inch in width and gives the printer a small amount of space to work with in case the paper moves during printing. Ideally the artwork will extend right through the bleed area so that when trimmed no un-printed edges occur in the final trimmed document. as you can see on the left my images extend way over the bleed line. It’s probably a bit overkill but notice that for the most part, nothing in the bleed area or beyond it is crucial to the artwork.
In the case of our Justice card for Twisted Tarot Tales on the left we see the jars with the frogs in them. The jar on the right cuts off. Items can be moved in further if you wish, but in this image I didn’t want to overcrowd the scene so most of the jar will be cut off. This is something to keep in mind when designing your illustrations. Even if you are planning on having borders on your Tarot cards, and therefore the actual illustration will not be connecting with the cut line itself, I still recommend keeping the bleed line in mind in your initial images in the event that you’d like to release a borderless version. It is possible to extend / expand your illustration at a later date to accommodate the bleed line but I recommend planning it out from the start.
Now look at the Image on the left. It shows our Justice card and what it would look like if it were measured to the correct size of the trim line but no more. At first this looks ok, it is the correct size, no more no less. What’s the problem right? Well, there would be no problem if every single printing of this image on the printing press was precise, but at the end of the day there is always the chance for error in printing, especially if you’re printing off thousands as it stands to reason that the more prints you have the higher number of slight errors you will have overall. The idea is to keep the errors minor, which is why you extend your artwork across the cut line.
Now, let us examine what happens if the print slides even a little. Below right we see again the image. It is the same image as the one above, the exact measurements that cut off right beside the trim line. This example is going on the assumption that we feel we do not need to extend our image across the bleed line. Let’s say that after a few hundred prints of this particular card being printed, the printing plate decides to slide. If we’re talking millimetres we won’t fret too much but anything more and we can see the obvious problem. Can you see that not only part of your original image (that you wanted kept) is going to be trimmed off on the left, but you are left with an unflattering white area on the right and bottom (assuming of course that the plate slides a little to the top left, but it can go anywhere). This illustration is a bit on the extreme side as most printing machines, that i am aware of, won’t make such a jump, but we want to make sure that even if it did, there wouldn’t be much of a problem.
And finally we see to the left what your finished card might look like if it were trimmed according to the bleed lines. I’ve put it on a black background so that you can see the white lines. Imagine this, along with the rest of your 77 other cards in the deck going out to your customers. Depending on whether you post your Tarots directly to your customers or whether you have them in hand first (we’ve now taken to having our printer post directly to our customers to cut down on customer costs), ideally you do not want any returns on your Tarots due to printing errors that could be avoided on your end. Some customers may overlook a slight error or two but naturally you’ll want to give them your very best.
Hopefully if you were not aware of the importance of creating a bleed in your artworks before you will be now. It involves some planning and understanding that everything drawn outside of the bleed area will be lost. With this in mind you’ll want to concentrate on the imagery inside the bleed area with some slight details of the image on the part that will be cut off. In other words, objects, for example book cabinets, skyscrapers, walls etc that will cut off at the trim line will only slightly be detailed. The important thing is the colour as a white background, as seen in our examples here, just throws the image off.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that it has helped you.