Why Would I Want My Board Game To Bleed? Printing Terms for the Board Game Designer

Why WOULD you want your board game to bleed? Because white edges are ugly. If you have already looked around at some self-publishing avenues, you have no doubt found printers that have templates for you to download and use.  Some commercial “final” game printers have some as well to help you along in the process.

Now you have a template and art. You open the template to prepare your files only to find 3 sets of lines, sometimes more!  What do you do with this? What do these lines mean?  If you’re lucky, they are even labeled – but what do the terms mean?  Check out the info graphic below.  (Bonus: Sneak Peak at Ventures in the Void Beta Ship Card Art!)

Printing Terms for Board Game Cards


Ok.  The first term and line you need to be concerned with is the trim area or actual size of your document.  It is, indeed, the ACTUAL SIZE of your finished piece.  So for a bridge card that is 2.25”w x 3.5”h.  For a 24×24 game board it’s 24”w x 24”h, a letter size document is 8.5”W x 11”h.  It is the literal size of the piece.  Remember to take rounded corners into account and do not design your cards with information that extends to these areas.

The next most important of these is the live area, safe zone, or DNE (do not exceed) area. Why?  This is the area that you need all your important bits to fit in.  No text should EVER exceed, or go beyond your specific printer’s “safe zone.”  What the printer is formally telling you is:  We can’t say for 100% certain that anything outside of this zone will be on the final card.  That sounds scary and a little crazy, I mean you’re paying them to print your stuff – shouldn’t they print it how you want it?  The short answer is: Sh*t happens, don’t go over that line.  Long Answer: In a perfect world every printing press and cutter is perfectly calibrated. In the real world, things shift and get “off.” The difference between the safe area and trim or actual size is a buffer to ensure everything important actually ends up on the finished piece. You will undoubtedly see requests from printers (usually on the template page) that says something to the effect of: please do not design your documents with thin lines along the outer edge.

Bleed is the same as the area between the “safe zone” and the trim line – except on the outside.  This prevents your cards from having an unprinted white edge if the cut is slightly off.  Industry standard is an eighth of an inch all the way around.  In the case of rounded corners, the bleed is still squared off.  Below is an example of an Adobe® program work space – the red line is the bleed, the black boarder on the white box is the actual/trim size.

Example Image Showing Bleed and Trim Lines

To recap – all your important stuff must be within the live area or safe zone.  Only backgrounds should be outside the safe zone and should extend PAST the trim line all the way to the bleed line.  Think of the area between the safe and trim lines as the danger zone (DANGER ZONE! – Archer) and the area between the trim line and the bleed line as your insurance zone.

Safe Insurance Danger Zones for Board Game Cards

I’ll cover rounded card corners in the next installment.  Do you have any particular questions about bleed area or printing? Let me know below!

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