Trim Area vs. Live Area in Page Layout

Learn the Difference Between Trim Area and Live Area

When you design a file destined to be printed, keep the live area of your job firmly in mind. The live area is the area where all the important text and images appear. The trim size in the actual cut size of the final printed piece. 

Trim Area vs. Live Area Example

For example, if you are designing a standard size business card, the trim size of the card is 3.5 by 2 inches. You don't want any of the important information, such as the text or company logo running right up to the very edge of the card, so you establish a margin around the edges of the card.

If you choose a 1/8 inch margin, the live area on the card is 3.25 by 1.75 inches. In most page-layout software, you can place non-printing guide lines in the file around the live area to visualize the space. Position all the important elements of the business card in the live area. When it is trimmed, the card has a safe 1/8 inch space between any type or logo and the edge of the card. On larger projects, you may need a larger margin to give you a live area that looks right on the finished piece.

What About Bleed?

Design elements that intentionally run off the edge of the paper, such as a background tint, a straight line or photos are exempt from concerns about the live area. Instead, these elements that bleed should extend 1/8 inch outside the trim size of the printed piece, so when the piece is trimmed out, no unprinted area shows.

In the business card example, the document size is still 3.5 by 2 inches, but add non-printing guides that are 1/8 inch outside this dimension.

Extend any non-critical elements that bleed to that outside margin. When the card is trimmed, those elements will run off the edges of the card.

When It Gets Complicated

When you are working on a pamphlet or book, the live area may become harder to estimate depending on how the product will be bound.

If the pamphlet is saddle-stitched, the thickness of the paper causes the inner pages to move further out than the outer pages when they are folded, assembled and trimmed. Commercial printers refer to this as creep. Ring or comb binding may require a large margin on the binding edge, causing the live area to shift toward the non-binding edge. Perfect binding does not usually require any adjustment to the live area.  Usually, a commercial printer handles any adjustments necessary for creep, but the printer may want you to set up your files with a larger margin on one side for ring or comb binding. Get any binding requirements from your printer before you begin your project.

Topics and Terminology Relevant to Trim and Live Area

  • Bleed Allowance - how much room to allow for bleeds
  • Margins - empty area within the trim size of a document
  • Crop Marks - indicate the trim size 
  • Creep - folded sheets create creep, which can affect margins and the live area after trimming
  • Binding - methods of binding pages together that can affect the live area of a document