What is Full-Bleed, and Why Does It Matter to Your Print Book?

What is Full Bleed, and How Does it Affect Self-Publishers?

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Hearing that word "bleed" and starting to wonder if your nose is
doing something it shouldn't? Fear not--we'll get you sorted!

One of the things that we are seeing a lot lately are self-publishers running afoul of a term known as "full-bleed." Publishers with graphic, comic, and coffee-table books; publishers trying to create print books with wraparound covers. All are forging ahead, having survived the perils of publishing, only to fall at that last fence--the Fence of Full Bleed.

Basically, full-bleed is a printer's term. It means to make something a small bit larger than it is--let's say, instead of a 6x9" trim sized book page, a 6.125 x 9.250" page. A book like that has images that "bleed" off the edge--in other words, the image goes right to the edge of the page, not inside the page with a margin around it. This image, below, is a full-bleed page in a book:

An image of Jeremiah Tower's book, "Flavors of Taste," showing two pages in spread mode. One of the two pages shows a full-bleed image (an image that does not have margin around it, but goes all the way to the edges of the printed page).

This spread of pages from Jeremiah Tower's Flavors of Taste demonstrates a "full bleed image" on the left. (Used with permission from Jeremiah Tower and Kit Wohl).

 
As you see, there's no margin around the picture of Jeremiah, himself--his image goes to the very edge of the page, on three sides. To ensure that the cropping of the printed pages looks nice, come printing, cropping and binding time, the printers want you to make both the image a bit larger as well as the layout page too, typically 0.125" on each side (other than the gutter side, of course). That gives them a bit of "slush," so that if they make a teeny-weeny mistake when cropping (cutting) the printed page, it won't mean that hundreds or even thousands of sheets have been wasted. That's all that full-bleed means, and is, but if you do not use it, your print book cover designs might be useless.
We've had a lot of customers lately show up with interiors for kids books or with covers that are already made, for print. Aside from the obvious problem that they can't know, in advance, what size spine they're going to need for these finished covers (spines are designed in width based on final page count and paper type used for printing), a bigger, more difficult issue is that the cover or book interior is laid out for the final trim size--not for the final trim size, plus bleed. So, suddenly, they have a file that they can't use, at the KDP Print, for their book. Not for the interior, or in the case of the covers, the exterior. No bleed, no printing, no kidding.
What this means is simply that, when you tell a Fiverr or some other inexperienced designer that you need XXX for print, remember--if it's a book interior, where the images or illustrations or images go all the way to the edge, like a typical kids' book, or a book cover for any print book--you must have full-bleed settings. Each and every distributor like Ingram, KDP, Lightning Source has their own full-bleed settings, so you need to look them up and make sure that your "finished" products have bleed--or you might as well take your hard-earned dollars, crumble them up, toss 'em in the fireplace or BBQ Grill, and set them alight.
Yes, that's what I said--if you spend money to make a full-sized print cover, and neglect bleed, there's a chance that you won't be able to salvage that cover and use it. Unless you're a billionaire, and don't care about wasting money (for what it's worth, I'm pretty sure wasting money isn't how billionaires get to be billionaires in the first place...), then keep your powder dry and make sure that your cover is done right, in the first place--with full-bleed.
 

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