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Archives for : Graphic Design

Don’t Cut Me Off

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Have you ever created the perfect image, just to submit it to a printing company and lettering got cut off, images skewed, or it not turn out the way you expected? This is possibly due to not accounting for the bleed and cut/trim size of the design/image you are having printed. Every company does their bleed printing differently, and understanding the terms, the company’s bleed and trim sizes and how to design for these elements is very important.

What is a bleed?

In printing terminology, “bleed” refers to printing outside the trim size/cut size in order to ensure no white, unprinted line remains on the sheet when the final print is out. The cut size or trim size is where the image will be cut and no important text or images should be beyond this point. All important items should be within the margin zone by at least 0.25” to avoid any risk of trimming important text and designs. For example, if a document is of 10”x14”, it should be setup to print on an area of 10.25”x14.25”. Safety margin zones usually range from 0.1625″ (1/16″) up to 0.25″ (1/4″), all depending on the size of the printer. As a designer, using a wider safety margin of 0.25″ will allow you to accommodate more printers across the board while conserving the beauty of your design.

What is full bleed?

A “full bleed” print is when a page is printed completely from one edge to the other with not even a hairline of unprinted area. Full bleed printing does not actually require any specials tools or equipment. All you need to do is to enlarge the picture a bit and then cut it down to regular size to ensure no margin is left unprinted. However, full bleed printing is still not something that is recommended to be done at home because you will need a bigger printer and you might not have the perfect tools for cutting that the print shops do – like the guillotine cutter which quickly and consistently cuts down your document to the right size.

What is the purpose of having a bleed?

The “bleed” part is usually left out for the printer to allow some space for the movement of the paper while printing. And adding a bleed is usually helpful for printing brochures, posters or other advertisement materials. If a bleed of 1/8 of an inch is not made, any misalignment in the paper can lead to having a white edge on your document which does not give off a professional look.

How do you add bleed?

You can add bleed in almost design and illustration software by setting the dimensions in the settings tab. Although the exact instructions vary according to the software you are using, you can easily get help from online sources.

As you set up your documents and files for printing, be well aware of where your trim edges are, and also keep in mind that there is always a mechanical margin of error when the job is printed and trimmed. To be on the safe side, always keep the important content within safety margins.

What Happened to Red, Blue, Yellow?

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So we have discussed selection and use of color with regards to paint; however, it is clearly evident when creating graphic design images, that the color system is a whole new beast. Well let’s take a closer look at that.

In our previous article Compliments, Contrasts and Hues, Oh My! We discussed the color wheel in its more traditional form, one that you were likely taught in elementary school. However, when looking at color selectors in the digital world, the primary and secondary colors are no longer based off the red, blue, yellow system. Why is that?

Colors themselves are just a fragment of light, and when a pure white light is shone through a prism we are able to see the full spectrum of color. At quick glance, one can easily see why a blue, red, yellow primary color wheel would be created as these colors seem most vibrant and easily seen.


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However, if we take a look at the actual full spectrum of color, we notice that green actually consumes more of the spectrum than yellow, hence a varied version of the color wheel in which red, green, and blue (indigo) are primary colors.

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Now having said this, when you go to your color selector in your preferred graphic design program, you will understand the varying levels of RGB (red, green, blue.)

You can also note that in the same way that the traditional color wheel has secondary colors, so does the RGB color wheel. These secondary colors are named cyan (a light blue color), magenta (a pink color), and yellow.

You may be now asking, well why is my graphic design program in RGB but my printer toner is CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black), and that is a great question. Red, green and blue, as you remember make up a majority of the full color spectrum, so when added together they create colors that are closer to white, as if pushing the rainbow back through the prism. This is why they are termed additive colors, and also why when mixing just two colors together you get their secondary colors that are lighter and closer to white. Remember all colors equal white and no color equals black. This additive property makes this color system the best for use on light-emitting devices, such as computers, TVs, phones, etc.

So then, when something does not have light emitting, such as a printed object, we must use pigments to create color. This is called subtractive colors. In printed objects, what we are seeing is the reflection of light off the surface (rather than light coming from behind the color as with a TV or computer screen), so in order to create colors the pigments must allow only certain portions of the full color spectrum to reflect. So a pure red pigment would absorb all green and blue, blue all green and red, and green all blue and red, resulting in dark muddy colors. So by printing in secondary colors we are able to absorb the visual spectrum more precisely (cyan is the secondary color of blue and green and it would therefore only absorb red, yellow the secondary of green and red would absorb blue, and magenta the secondary of red and blue would absorb green.)

Now, it is also important to keep in mind that other factors effect color in digital media just as much as they do your paint samples. Saturation, as with paint, refers to how much of the color is present, the less saturated the more muted or dull, or the greater amount of grey is added. The shade or tint value that I spoke of with paint can be modified as well by understanding a few different terms in graphic design programs, value, brightness or lightness. HSV and HSB (hue, saturation, value and hue saturation, brightness) are essentially interchangeable, where with hue you are selecting your color from the spectrum, saturation you are determining how much grey to add, and value and brightness you are determining how light or dark a color is). HSL (hue, saturation, lightness) is calculated differently by the design programs but also provides you with these same three variances in color modification.

Now that you have an understanding of the different color theories that are used in graphic design (over the traditional color wheel generally referred to when choosing colors outside of graphic design) the choice of colors that you use have a pretty similar effect. Choosing contrasting colors (across from each other on the color wheel) or complimentary colors (next to each other on the color wheel) so long as a similar saturation and value/brightness are used, generally are very appealing. For more in-depth theory on graphic design color choices, be on the lookout for future blog posts with more detailed information.