If you’ve dealt with printing images before, you might be familiar with bleed. A lot less gruesome than it sounds, bleed is the area outside of a printed image that is left empty so that it can be trimmed off after printing. Similarly, crop marks (also known as stroke marks) are the areas around an image that help show the printers where to trim. Adding bleed and crop marks in Photoshop is a surprisingly quick process.
To easily add bleed to an image in Photoshop, first, open your photo into the program, then go to Image > Canvas Size. Now set your unit of measurement to Inches, and adjust the dimensions to add your bleed. For example, changing an 8×10 canvas to 9×11 would add a 0.5″ bleed around the entire image.
You won’t have to worry about these for sharing or digital purposes. However, crop marks and bleed are useful to add before an image file is saved and sent to print. Otherwise, you may have some surprises once your images are put on paper.
Let’s take a closer look at the different ways to add bleed and crop marks in the program.
What Is Bleed For?
Bleed is the area around an image meant to be cut off after the file is printed. It is the white space around the photo once it’s on paper.
Bleed is essential when printing images as most printers won’t be able to print to the edge of the page — and even if they could, this is risky as you could lose part of your image if it doesn’t fit the paper perfectly or if the printer prints the image slightly skewed. If you don’t specify the bleed around an image, you will ultimately have less control over how your picture ends up once printed.
Therefore, adding bleed is essential to define how your photo will look after printing. The right amount of bleed will allow your image to fit the page as best as possible while maintaining the correct image size and quality and also preventing random cropping once you’ve printed your image.
With that said, it is worth noting that many online and local printing shops do not require bleed for printing. Instead, your image is automatically cropped to fit the paper or canvas to your desired print size. Adding bleed could help prevent your images from being cropped unnecessarily in these situations, but is often not 100% required with many run-of-the-mill printing services today. It’s ultimately up to you.
Choosing Your Canvas Size & Adding Bleed In Photoshop
Naturally, canvas size is essential when setting your bleed. To specify your canvas, you’ll need to know what size you want the printed image. For example, let’s say I’m trying to print a 24×18-inch image after the printers trimmed the bleed.
So, open a new document in Photoshop by clicking the New File button at the start page or heading to File > New.
The New Document window will open.
On the right, you can specify the document size to match the exact size you’d like your final print to be — so the image size plus the amount of bleed you’d like. If you need to change the unit of measurement, click the drop-down menu and select the unit you’d like to use.
From there, you can click the Width and Height boxes and enter values that match the size you’d like your image to print plus the amount of bleed. For my example, I’d like the image to be 24×18 inches with a 0.5-inch bleed which means that each edge will have a bleed of 0.25 inches. Next to the width and height areas, you can select the Orientation.
Then, you can add the image by dragging it over to the canvas from your files or by heading to File > Open and selecting the image to open in the document.
Sometimes, your image might open in a new Photoshop tab. No worries — just head to the Layers panel in the tab with the image, click the image layer, and drag it over to the tab with your canvas until the tab opens.
Drop the image directly onto the canvas or the Layers panel. The image will appear sitting on the canvas and as a new layer in the layers panel.
The image might not be the right fit for the canvas, so you can move it around using the Move Tool (V).
Click and drag to move your image until it fits the way you’d like on the canvas. If you are doing drastic scaling to make your image fit on the canvas, be sure to first convert your layer to a smart object.
Now your image fits the dimension you need for print, with an area of bleed around it.
How To Add Bleed To An Existing Document
You can still add bleed to the document if you’ve already started a project. Make sure your image on the document is the size you’d like to print, and then head to Image > Canvas Size.
In the Canvas Size window, you can enter a new size for the canvas. Remember that if you want a half-inch bleed on all sides, you’ll have to add one inch to the width and height. For instance, if the image we’re using is set to print at 8×10 inches, and we want a 0.5-inch bleed on all sides, we will increase the canvas size by 1 inch all around to 9×11 inches.
Click OK when you’re done.
Your image will now be surrounded by the white border at 0.5 inches on each side.
How To Add Crop Marks In Photoshop
Crop marks are a valuable addition to your canvas to show the printers where you want the image cut after printing. Adding these marks is especially useful when there are white areas on the edges of the image or design.
You can add crop marks to your image by adding guides around the image and then stroking the corners of the guides. To do this, add guides to your image by heading to View > Guides > New Guide Layout.
In the window that appears, ensure both columns and rows are checked and set 2 Columns and 2 Rows. Set the Gutter to 0. Click OK when you’re done.
You also want to ensure Snap is enabled for the most accurate placement of the selections by clicking View > Snap. Snap is enabled when there is a checkmark next to it.
Set the rulers so that they sit along the border of your image by clicking and dragging them. They will snap in place along the borders of your image.
Head to the Layers panel and make sure the image layer is selected. Then, click the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and create rectangular selections in each corner within the guides. The selection should snap to the edges of the guides.
Finally, stroke the selections by heading to Edit > Stroke.
In the Stroke Settings window, set the stroke Width to 1px and the Fill Color to black. Click the color swatch and select black to change the fill color.
Delete or move the guides by clicking and dragging them, and you’ll see the crop mark has appeared in the corner.
Repeat this process for the other three corners, and then head to View > Guides > Clear Guides to turn off the guides.
Your image will have four crop marks around the corners of the image. You can export the project as it is with the crop marks intact.
Adding Temporary Crop Marks For Direct Printing From Photoshop
In the last method, you learned how to add crop marks directly to the image. This is useful if you are sending away the image to be printed elsewhere. However, if you have access to a printer at home and are printing directly from your computer, use the following method instead.
First, head to File > Print.
The Photoshop Print Settings Window will open. The automatic layout, position, and size settings may be set differently than you need, so ensure your image appears in the preview the same way it appears on the canvas. First, make sure the Layout is set with the correct orientation.
Then, head to the Position and Size area. If the image is already centered, the Center checkbox will be grayed out; otherwise, you can check this to center your image.
Next, make sure it is scaled correctly by checking Scale To Fit Media.
Scroll to the bottom until you see the Functions area. Click Bleed.
In the window that appears, you can add the amount of bleed you added to the canvas. This will ensure the crop marks are placed in line with the bleed rather than the edge of the canvas.
Finally, you can set the crop marks in the Printing Marks area. You can check the boxes for Corner Crop Marks and Center Crop Marks, and you’ll see the marks appear in the preview. The Center Crop Marks won’t appear on all images.
Click Print, and the printed image will print with the marks set around the image. Or, you can click Done, and the print settings with the crop marks will save for when you’d like to print the file in the future.
If you run into problems with quality when scaling your image to a certain canvas size, see my guide on resizing images without losing quality here.