Tip #1: Bleed & Trim

What is bleed and trim, and why is it important?
(If you want to skip all the words to the end for the actual tip, that's just fine too!)

One of the biggest issues I have run into over the past 2 years of having my Etsy Shop, is not knowing before I start designing what the print guidelines will be. It can be pretty frustrating on both ends to go and upload to the digital file to the printer, only to learn that they require bleed, or some other special guideline!

Now you may hear this often, but not know what it is. In fact, I didn't know what it was for a long time. So here is a good definition of what it is:
Bleed is the industry term for any color or image that goes right to the edge of the paper. What actually happens is that the picture or other graphic extends 1/8" (.125") beyond the edge of the page and that excess image or color is then cut off as a part of the bindery or finishing process.
Is your head spinning? Simply put, if you want a 5x7 card, but your printer requires 1/8" bleed, I would add 1/8" to each side, extend the main background to cover it, and send you a file that is actually 5.25x7.25.

Most place also have a "safety", which means any text or image needs to be another 1/8"-1/4" inside the original size. This will ensure that no important information will get cut off.

Still not sure what I'm talking about? Let's take the file below. The dark grey is just the background of my workspace and is irrelevant here. The RED line shows the size that the file will be cut to. If this is for a regular 5x7 file, the space inside the RED will be 5x7.

You can see that the white extends a little beyond the RED. That is the bleed. Again, no important information will be in that section. Additionally, everything inside the BLUE line is in the Safety zone. If something happens to get between the BLUE and RED line, there is a chance that it could be trimmed off. So keep it safe inside the blue.

Now, you may be thinking, "Why don't you always include bleed in the file?" Well, the reason I don't is because not all printers have the same bleed guidelines. Some places will take a regular 5x7 just fine, while others, like Costco, want it to be 5.25x7.25, white VistaPrint wants it to be 185mm X 120mm, or 7.28x4.72.

But they are close enough, right?

Mmm, well if you want some of your holiday card to be cut off, then yes. Take a look at this next image. The holiday card is a regular 5x7. I placed it behind the guides shown above (which is actually the VistaPrint 5x7 card)

You can see that first, my design does not fill the width of the canvas, and second, the white border is right on the edge of the safety zone. It may seem like a simple thing to fix it at this point, and I could easily shrink the main design and just add more of the background color to fill the edges, but that would leave a good inch or so of just background on each side. To make it look good, I would stretch the design, which results in having to re-do the type. Not always an easy task!

So why do you need to remember all this? Well, you don't need to remember all the details, just remember this...
Tip #1:
It is VERY important to let your designer know if where you are printing will require bleed. If you aren't sure, that's okay, but still tell your designer where you are planning on printing so that we can search their website and see. For some reason, it can be really hard to find sometimes, but as long as I know WHERE you are printing, I'm more than happy to research it. It's easier for me to do that before the design has been customized, than to change it after to fit the guidelines.