The short answer to your question is that a “bleed,” as it relates to advertising, is when an ad printed in a magazine, newspaper, etc., extends to the very edge of the page. Bleeds are normally used for image ads and not “copy” or editorial. The opposite of an ad that “bleeds” is a non-bleed ad; in the latter case the ad will have a white margin. The preference for one or the other is ultimately predicated upon the advertiser’s preference and the artistic design of the ad layout. If you want to learn more about the specific bleed or non-bleed dimensions of an ad for any given publication, it would behoove you to get a copy of the publication’s media kit. In the media kit there will be a section entitled “magazine specs” or magazine specifications. This section delineates the publication’s final trim size and precise dimensions that ads should adhere to per ad type; 1/4 page, 1/2 page, full page, spread, etc. and is designed for advertisers who intend to make media buys.
Whether an advertiser prefers to use a bleed or non-bleed for an ad has virtually nothing to do with “minor trimming errors” since the mechanical specs in a publication’s media kit take into account the dimensions for the “live area,” which is the boundary for text and images that cannot be exceeded if all the elements in an ad are to print out properly. In regard to the latter, most advertisers will also provide a color “proof,” either printed or in PDF, of the ad for proper ad placement.
It's worth mentioning that a “bleed” does not refer to too much ink going onto an image and, as a result, causing it to appear blurred.” The latter is in reference to “dot gain.” Dot gain is when the substrate, in this case the paper stock, absorbs too much ink and, as a result, the image blurs. If you take a pen and place a drop of ink on regular copy paper, you will notice that after a few minutes, the drop of ink will get larger. This is dot gain. The more the ink spreads on the paper stock, the higher degree of dot gain and the converse is also true. Different types of paper stock have various degrees of dot gain. Newsprint, which is commonly utilized for tabloids and newspapers (hence its name), is a thin uncoated paper stock which absorbs ink easily (high dot gain) whereas the glossy stock that is utilized for most consumer magazines is coated and has a very low dot gain. It is for this reason that images utilized for ads in newspapers are not as sharp and clear as those used in glossy consumer magazines. In essence, the DPI (Dots Per Inch) for ad images used in newspapers is much lower than in glossy consumer magazines and this, in conjunction with the usage of a lower line screen during the offset press process, helps to prevent color over saturation or blurred images.
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