Taking Print to the Edge: How to Do Full-Bleed Printing Using Word


blog53.full_bleed_printing.pngSince writing the original blog spot on full bleed printing, I can’t go more than a day without being asked about printing bleeds.

A full-bleed print has print (whether ink or toner) to at least one edge of the paper without a border. Most, if not all printers and copiers have a built-in border which gets in the way of automatically printing a document edge to edge. To achieve the edge-to look, an individual has to trim the paper down to ensure the print runs full to the edge of the paper and does not fall short. full_bleed_printing_understand_trim_and_bleed_marksTo know where to cut you will need to know the bleed information. Bleed information are the parts outside of the finished piece. This information will allow you to determine the measurements needed to cut the larger sheet down to the finished document size.

So what’s the right and (often) easiest answer to how to do full-bleed printing: Print your document on larger paper and then cut it down to size.

However, when I told someone this answer recently, the wounded puppy dog look in their eyes got me thinking (and it wasn’t the first time I’d gotten that look before or heard a “really, there isn’t a better way” tone in their voice). As I started thinking if there’s anything different I can share about full-bleed, I realized that there is. (For the answer, scroll down to PDF to the Rescue. If you’re interested in the journey to that answer, read on!)

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The Full-Bleed Questions Keep Coming

During a recent appointment I was again asked about printing full bleed. We went through the reasons why a toner-based printer/copier will not automatically print to the edge of the paper. They acknowledged the explanation made sense and it also explained why they could not do full bleed on any existing devices.

We then started talking about printing on large paper and creating a bleed with trim marks. At this point all of us at the table seemed to be on the same page. A few minutes later we wrapped up the conversation and were about to shake hands ending the meeting. While shaking the client’s hand they ask if I would be willing to show them how to do what we just spoke about. Naively I agreed: not knowing what I was about to encounter.

So off to their desk.

While the client explained the document in question, I saw that it was a Word document. In all of our conversation about document and its purpose, I had failed to ask about what program they were working in.

“Uh oh,” I thought, a bit uncertainly. Microsoft Word is, well, for word processing. It has some design elements, but is not heavy-duty design software like InDesign, Quark, or Acrobat. Determined to look anyway, in we dove. And the quickly ran into the first challenge: I couldn’t find anything to print the trim marks. I found a way to get them to show on the screen, but they would not show in my print preview or on the paper. Watch the video showing how to enable trim marks in Word 2013 below: 

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The Online Help Menu told me the same thing about showing and not being able to print trim marks. It also suggested opening our Word document in Microsoft Publisher. So we saved and then opened the document in Publisher.

Publisher converted the Word document and changed all of our formatting. The document didn’t look right. At this point, the client gave me a really strange look.

We had to dig more into how to open a Word file in Publisher. Watch a video on converting and adding an object in Publisherbelow:

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At this point the client was happy with the quality of the printed out document. They thanked me for my help and we ended with the handshake we had almost finished earlier.

I made my way to my car armed with the sample prints and a file on my USB stick. I put the three of them into my computer bag when I got into the car. As I started my car I pondered the quality difference between the two prints. I thought to myself, “The client is happy and it’s time to move on.” Still, I wasn’t satisfied we had found the best overall way to do this.


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Back to the Drawing Board

I tested the process in our offices and wasn’t happy with the print quality difference. Publisher made my fonts a little fuzzy and my pictures not as crisp. I realized this was because of the DPI (dot per inch) setting in the imported object (my Word file). Easy enough, I thought, I’ll just change the DPI setting of the object being imported. However, I couldn’t find a way to alter the DPI of the imported file in Publisher.

While editing the file in its original format is great; I didn’t like the resulting print quality. To preserve the quality of the original Word document, you need to open the file in Publisher and fix anything the conversion has altered. But, that seems like more work than anyone is going to want to do.

I did find that trim marks can easily be applied to a document created in Microsoft Publisher to make the cut down for a full-bleed effect easy. However, I kept thinking that there had to be an easier way to do this.

Back to the drawing board and the original Word document.

I decided to change my size in Word to 11”x17” and my margins to match up to the finished size of 8.5”x11”. First changed the page size to 11”x17” in Page Layout. Then I changed my margins to 3” on the top and bottom as well as the left and right to 1”. I kept the setting to see the trim marks. Some of them were covered by the graphics, but with a little tweaking I got everything lined back up just the way I wanted it and hit “Print”.

The print quality was as good as the original Word file. With four quick cuts on the cutter, I had a full-bleed sheet.

That worked, but still seemed like more work than necessary – and I still didn’t have trim marks. What next?

Back to the original Word document I went. This time I changed the page size to 8.75”and 11.5” to give space for my ¼” bleed. It moved my entire image over slightly and didn’t look right. I adjusted the margins next – the image moved even more. Changing the default printer setting was no help either.

By this point, I was admittedly frustrated. Then I thought about PDF.

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PDF to the Rescue

I saved the Word File as a PDF. The result was perfect – I could see a full-bleed document on my screen with correct formatting that looked great. Now, how would one of our clients print this full-bleed?

If you have Adobe Viewer, you can print full-bleed by following these steps:

  • Select “File” and in the next screen “Print.”
  • Under “Page Sizing and Handling” select “Actual Size” (This will be replicated in the picture of your output to the left.).
  • In “Page Setup,” select the larger size sheet to print on. I tested this with 11”x17” paper in the copier’s drawer. Once 11”x17” is selected your picture to the left will change again.
  • Click “Print”. You are now the proud owner of an 11”x17” sheet on the printer ready to cut.

blog53.second_image.jpgUnfortunately, I could find no way to set trim marks using Adobe Reader when printing. As an easy fix, measure 3” from the top and bottom and also 1.5” from each side.

Measure, cut, and you now have a full-bleed document.

Saving a file as a PDF document, then printing as outlined above is the most straight-forward way I could find to print full-bleed documents. And, almost all of clients have the software to do this.

Meet Mike to talk about how production print   -- and full bleed printing --   can take your customer communications to the next level.  Click here to schedule time with Mike.

Trim Marks With Acrobat Pro

I did try one last thing with Adobe Acrobat Pro, which not everyone will have access to. When you open a file in Adobe Pro, there are quite a few options for using and printing trim marks. The file printing using Adobe Pro was easier to cut the page printed using Adobe Reader.

If you are going to be tasked with or want to print full bleed document on a regular basis I would suggest investing in Adobe Pro or an equivalent software at a minimum.

If you want to take this a step further please look into the Adobe Suite. Adobe Suite will have more tools to help with you printing output. Our Company does not sell Adobe Suite, but it can be purchased from many online sources and from many local computer stores. Also, PDF is an open standard, and there are many non-Adobe options on the market for creating and manipulating PDF files.

Did I miss anything? Has anyone found other short cuts or work-arounds? If you have any questions on this Blog, the work that went into this trouble shooting, videos, general comments or suggestions on other ways do this please let me know in the comments below or email me.

As always if you found this information useful please share with others.

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About The Author

Mike is Advanced Systems' Print Production Specialist. He's been in the printing industry for over 18 years. His in-depth expertise in the production printing business has helped countless businesses discover the benefits of in-house production printing, and which system is right for each customer's unique business. He's also just a really great guy. New call-to-action