Margins, Bleeds, Crop Marks, Guidelines

I've had clients in the past that wish they could use me for every marketing piece their company puts out but sometimes that's just not practical. All companies, large and small have budgets and I know it's not always feasible to hire a professional to create it all. You might be the only one in your company that is creative and maybe you've been charged with making some simple marketing pieces for your company. If you're not a designer and are just starting out  (or need a refresher) I'll be diving into some basic layout terms and tools that you'll want to know about if you're creating that first flyer for your company.

Some of the big initial questions might be: What should the margins be? What program should I use? What is a bleed line anyway? The questions probably just keep coming. As a designer, I sometimes get caught up in "start-up stutter" too! I may not feel as though I have the appropriate inspiration, the right mind set or may not even know what program I want to use to create the piece. Believe me, this is all ok. Today, we’re going to chat about some important tools you need to understand before you start creating — margins, bleeds, crop marks, guidelines – what the heck are all these things?


Let's Start Here

First, let’s tackle the most important thing: to establish the need and use of the piece you’re trying to create. The reason why this is so important is because you need to know where and how you’ll produce the piece in order to know what program to use and how to finalize the art. Will it be printed, be posted to social media, go in a magazine, be enlarged for an event sign? Will it be a multiple of those things?

Sometimes, I start of with a simple flyer and then the client realizes that it also needs to be a website banner and an event sign too. Sometimes you don't know what the piece will turn into down the road. But, it's good to think that it could be more than what you were initially thinking.

In general, what I'm outlining today are more specific to print pieces but no matter what you're designing, you can adapt these principles to anything because they are the fundamentals in starting a design piece. 


Design Programs

If you are serious about learning and creating marketing pieces for your business, you may want to think about adding Adobe products to your software arsenal. Word or PowerPoint might be what you're currently using and they are fine for very simple communications but they have their limits, especially if you're looking to do more designing in the future.

Programs such as Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop will get your creative juices rolling and allow you to do everything and anything you've ever wanted to do. Depending on what you want to create, there can be a significant learning curve on these programs but places like and have excellent tutorials. If you're just looking to create some simple flyers and announcements, don't worry. These programs are more intuitive than you might think! Chin up! You can do it! You can also design a slew of things in Canva too, which might be more your speed, especially if you're just starting out.

I’ll have a more in-depth explanation on programs soon but for now, I'll recommend based on the Adobe programs. If you're final art is to be printed, I would recommend Illustrator or InDesign. If you're creating for social media or a website, I would go with Photoshop or Illustrator.

Once you’ve established the program in which you’ll produce your piece, many of the basic page layout rules will apply no matter if you’re creating for print, web or any other medium. Some are specifically for print production but no matter what you're designing, you should understand the basics. Ok, let's run through these 4 layout tools.


1. Margin Lines

These lines around the inside edges of your page (also called the artboard) tell you where NOT to put type or anything that you don't want cut off. The area inside these lines are referred to as the active or safe area. You can position any object right up to the lines but these are intended to outline your no-go zone. I like my margins at 0.25” in from all outside edges. So your layout should look something like this:


2. Bleed Lines

These are the lines outside your page. These lines represent what will be cut off when the layout is produced (or not shown at all for an online graphic). If you want an image or something to go off the page, you take it to these lines. Typically, professional printers like bleeds of about 0.125” from the outside edges of your layout. Your layout should now look something like this:


3. Crop marks

These marks are "L" shaped and are positioned at the top and bottom corners of your layout, outside your page edge but inside your bleed marks. These marks tell the printer where to cut your sheet. They are specifically related to print production. Crop marks can be added when you export the file for the printer. You won’t see the crop marks when you’re designing but if you specify crop marks, the layout will look something like this:


4. Guidelines

Yet another set of lines, these are within your layout and help you keep things aligned and in place. You can pull these in from your rulers and delete them as you need while you're creating your design. They are usually bright blue and look something like this:


One Last Thing...

If you're creating multiple pieces and often use the same margins, bleeds and guideline placements, you may want to think about creating a template. You can set all of the above up, create that template and then never have to worry about it again! I'll be back with a quick video tutorial on that one soon!

That's all I've got for this topic right now but I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback on what you'd like to learn! Feel free to comment below!