November 25, 2007

ASK MORDY: Document Size and Bleed

My good friend Marco from asked me this question:

We used to work with Creative suite 1. Now we're happy CS3 users but the Illustrator art with bleed does not show up anymore when I place it in InDesign. Of course I could open all the files and make the document extra large to include the bleed, but for the designers it's faster to just see if and where the bleed is. Would you happen to know if there's a 'fast fix' for this?

This question actually opens up a rather large can of worms. The answer involves a bug that's currently in Illustrator.

As I always do when I teach, it helps to understand the underlying principles before trying to arrive at a solution. The journey is longer, but far more important as we pick up useful information along the way.

I'll start off first by pointing you to a rather famous post I wrote nearly two years ago entitled EPS is Dead to Me (or is it?)... which dealt with some of the important concepts you need to be familiar with when talking about this subject of document size and bleed.

To summarize:

- When you save a file out of Illustrator as a native .ai file (which is what the folks at Adobe tell you to do when you want to place files from Illustrator into InDesign), there's a checkbox called "Create PDF Compatible File" which is on by default. Basically, Illustrator creates a composite PDF of your document and includes it within your native Illustrator file. When you place your AI file into InDesign, InDesign reads and places the PDF file that's embedded within the AI file.

- A PDF file has five different "box" attributes that define the boundaries of any page. These boxes are:
ArtBox. Also called the bounding box, this area is defined by the art that appears in the document.
TrimBox. This area is defined by the Illustrator artboard and is the size you specify when creating a new document.
CropBox. This area is defined by using the Object > Crop Area > Make command in Illustrator.
BleedBox. This area is defined by the Bleed setting you define in the Save As PDF dialog and extends beyond the TrimBox area.
MediaBox. This area is defined by the size of the page on which you choose to print your file (is usually determined by the printer, not Illustrator).

If you want to view these boxes individually for any PDF file (although be aware that not all PDF files necessarily have all boxes defined), open the PDF in Acrobat Professional and choose Advanced > Print Production > Crop Pages. Then uncheck the Show All Boxes option, choose a Box from the popup menu and look at the preview.

You can also choose the Show Art, Trim, & Bleed Boxes option in the Page Display settings in Acrobat Preferences.

Now that we understand this, we can move on to the problem. Illustrator does a few things that make things difficult for us:

- Illustrator requires that objects be on the Illustrator Artboard (found in Document Setup or when you first create a file) in order for those objects to be visible on a printout or when placed into another application via the PDF format. This is not the case for files saved as EPS. If you understand the concept of what TrimBox is, this would seem to make sense. However, the ArtBox should reveal these objects -- at least according to my understanding of the setting.

- Illustrator will clip any object that falls outside the Artboard area. Meaning if an object is partially on the artboard and partially on the pasteboard, the result will be clipped so only the part that is on the artboard will be visible in the PDF. Again, this is not the case for EPS. Again, if you understand the concept of what TrimBox is, this would seem to make sense. However, the ArtBox should reveal these objects -- at least according to my understanding of the setting.

- Illustrator has no way to define a BleedBox for the PDF portion of a native Illustrator file. This means you can't properly define a TrimBox (or document size) and then allow for a bleed -- because you can't define a BleedBox. So you're forced to create your TrimBox (the Document Size) at your BLEED size. Otherwise, the bleed will ALWAYS be clipped. Until the folks at Adobe give us the ability to define a bleed area for the artboard WITHIN Illustrator (much like the way InDesign allows you to define a bleed area in Document Setup), you'll have to use the workaround you've already mentioned in your question -- which is to enlarge your artboard (effectively increasing the TrimBox size).

- Illustrator has a bug in that it incorrectly sets the ArtBox to match the artboard size -- in other words, the TrimBox. In reality, the ArtBox should be your savior here -- if you had a way to place the ArtBox into InDesign, you'd be able to see even the art that appears off the artboard. Instead, the bug clips the art at the artboard because it uses the TrimBox setting. This bug has been present in Illustrator CS2 and now in Illustrator CS3 as well.

Great, so now that we're aware of the problem, what's the solution?

The solution is to save your file as a PDF file, not as an .ai file. Because when you save your file as a PDF, you have the ability to define a BleedBox. Choose File > Save As and choose Adobe PDF as the File Format. Then, in the PDF Options dialog, go to the Marks and Bleeds panel and define a Bleed area. In this way, your PDF file will contain a TrimBox (granted, the ArtBox will be the same size as the TrimBox due to the bug), but it will also include a BleedBox which will include objects that appear outside the artboard area granted those objects are at least partially on the artboard. If you keep the option "Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities" on when saving the PDF, you'll get a full native AI file within the PDF, allowing you reopen and fully edit the PDF in AI when necessary (it's basically the exact same thing as a native .ai file, but in reverse). The downside is that should you use Edit Original from InDesign to edit the file, the file will open in Acrobat, not Illustrator. So you'll need to manually open the file in AI to edit it.

When placing your Illustrator files into InDesign, check Show Import Options when placing your file (or better, just hold the Shift key while clicking the Place button in the Place dialog). You can then choose exactly WHICH PDF Box you want InDesign to use when placing your file. The preview can help you make sure you choose the right one. But obviously, in our case, you want to choose the Bleed option.

Moving forward, for all new files, I'm finding myself more and more moving away from the artboard size as being anything meaningful at all. Kind of the way Illustrator now creates a single huge artboard for Web documents (see this post for details), I do the same for print documents by creating an extremely large artboard, and I then use Crop Areas to define my document. In this way, I can toggle between the CropBox and BoundingBox place settings in InDesign to get what I want.

Naturally, I hope that Adobe realizes what a problem this is and that they fix all the bounding box issues with Illustrator and add a true bleed setting for CS4. If you think this issue is important to you and you share my concerns and hopes for this to be addressed in CS4, please sound off in the comments -- let this serve as a powerful petition to Adobe to fix this. Heck, fixing the ArtBox bug with a dot release in CS3 would be TOTALLY awesome as well.

Woz, I apologize for the long post, but I hope this gives you your answer (maybe not the one you were hoping for, but an answer nonetheless).


Bad said...

this bug is really makes me disturbed. i'm ready to sign up such a petition

mikeacoyle said...

Very useful post. This has cleared up a few things for me and will be useful for the future.

Anonymous said...

count me in for the petition signing as well. this is a major pain.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Mordy. Now I finally now what the problem is (and better yet, what the solution is).

"Heck, fixing the ArtBox bug with a dot release in CS3 would be TOTALLY awesome as well."

Couldn't agree with you more! I'll direct the Dutch graphic designers your way!

Bytheway, I love your long articles!

Just thought of something: have not tested this, but would it help to save the .ai as a CS1?

Unknown said...

I don't think it will help any to save the file as a CS file (rather than CS3). There's nothing wrong with the format. The problem is what CS3 is writing TO the format... SIGH.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mordy. Have placed a link on B4Print forums for the members/visitors there to read if they want. Had an incoming .eps with a missing font the other day. After fixing it I exported a PDF, 3mm bleed checked. It was "instinctive" then. Hopefully now it will be "informed" after this article.

Gary S said...

Thanks for the explanation...I had kinda figured out the workaround but couldn't understand the underlying problem. Now I can explain to the coworkers. Yipee!

Anonymous said...

So why not just save as an EPS. When saved as EPS, you don't have the problem of have the file clipped (as you stated) and it imports into InDesign and prints just fine. I haven't understood why Adobe incourages saving in .ai when it has problems and .eps has been around for years and works fine.

Unknown said...

vicf, the EPS format doesn't support transparency, which greatly limits your options. Rather than settle for yesterday's technology, I want Adobe to give me what they promise to offer today, and without problems... :)

Anonymous said...

One thing: Transparancy. .AI leafes transparancy intact and allows for INDD to flatten it later on. .EPS flattens it up front. Did you check your flattening settings in Illustrator?

Anonymous said...

Fix it in CS4???? No way! Fix it now. This seems like a perfect dot release bug fix -- none of us paid out the money we paid to get this kind of hassle.

Anonymous said...

Here is something that may help for Imposing an illustrator eps file in InDesign with bleed.

I will use a business card as an example.

Set document size to actual size = 55mm x 90mm Business card.

Set up the document trim marks and bleed as usual with bleed extending past actual document size (it does not matter if the bleed is not even all the way around).

Draw a box 55mm x 90mm to the document size and use the transform pallet to increase the size an extra 5mm bigger on each side (65mm x 100mm) The box must be center aligned with document size.

With the box selected use the crop area tool to create a 'Bleed Crop Area'

Save document as an eps.

Place the file in the top corner of an Indesign document with a 5mm bleed setting.

The file will be placed correctly and crop to include the 5mm bleed.

Hope this helps

Anonymous said...

so frustrating. freehand has had the option to easily define a bleed area for many many versions now. Why does illustrator not have this very simple but extremeley useful feature.

It's easy to live without it, but easier to live with it. I send proofs to customers and output print ready files from the same piece of artwork. Most customers dont understand bleed. So when I send them a pdf the bleed is cut off the pdf (pdf reader shows only the artboard, but when opened into an editing prog like ai the hidden bleed is visable again). then when i export the file to eps for print the bleed is included in the file. I dont have to re define artboard areas for each different type of output, or set any special options.

Illustrator should deffinately have the option to display a variable bleed indicator around the artboard.

frailer said...

Your explanation and tip saved my delicate derriere last week. Am in prepress and GD sent in a 2 sided invite as a 2 layer .ai file. After fixing the dud links, I saved a PDF, making sure to check "trim marks", and "Preserve Illy Editing....".
Voila! A perfect PDF for each side, trims and bleed present, ready for DynaStrip. Had to switch alternate layers off and save separately, but that's another discussion...
A great tool in the box!

frailer said...

Your explanation and tip saved my delicate derriere last week. Am in prepress and GD sent in a 2 sided invite as a 2 layer .ai file. After fixing the dud links, I saved a PDF, making sure to check "trim marks", and "Preserve Illy Editing....".
Voila! A perfect PDF for each side, trims and bleed present, ready for DynaStrip. Had to switch alternate layers off and save separately, but that's another discussion...
A great tool in the box!

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for this writeup - I'm still struggling to understand why Illustrator does some things the way it does. I'm actually glad to find that the problem is actually a bug and not me going crazy, though.

The more I use Illustrator, the more I miss Freehand. While FH had its warts, to be sure, Adobe seems to have gone out of its way to make simple design efforts like identity kits more complex in the name of selling a Suite. I don't really need an industrial strength layout program to crank out a set of business cards for ten people or a combo document with first and second page letterhead designs.

I was hoping that I'd start seeing my favorite FH features (multiple pages, bleed specification, etc.) work their way into Illustrator, and maybe that will happen down the road, but I'm not holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on pdf bleeds and cropping. I have been battling this issue for two days now. I hate it when software gets in the way of production... so irritating.

Unknown said...

here here add a bleed feature. a lot of my files require showing tick marks for folds and the likes in the bleed area, but getting them to show on a pdf without showing up in the final trimmed product is (was) the challenge. Freehands bleed feature was nice, InDesigns is acceptible, come on Illustrator catch up.

Unknown said...

Illustrator CS4 features the ability to specify a bleed for an artboard, so with CS4, all of these problems go away.

Anonymous said...

extremely useful post, i can definitely say that i've always had a problem with correct saving methods in illustrator. you can definitely count me in on the petition.

Anonymous said...

now, what i had noticed is that in CS3, some of the bleeds worked and some of them didn't.

i'm amending some stationary for a client, letterhead = sweet, comp.slips = sweet and then = all the information from the article seems to be very relevant.

i was wondering why the bleeds and marks only seem to be missing on the business cards.thakn fully i'd already workout to save to PDF before this article but however, the bug still exists even if you save to PDF rather than .ai.

i'm glad to have read this article cause i wouldn't of thought of using acrobat to save the bleeds and crop's into the document so its ready for print. cheers.

Anonymous said...

pretty cool stuff here thank you!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This issue has been driving me nuts for awhile. Thank you for spelling out the problem AND the solution