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Selecting Borders or Adding Your Own Margins
By James M. Theopistos

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Occasionally there is some confusion on borders and margins. Unlike a standard photo lab in which prints are usually borderless, FinerWorks offers the option to have a plain white border or borderless for giclee prints on paper.  Because many of our customers like to include white space within their image we like to differentiate between the two by defining borders as anything outside of the printed image and embedded margins as any space within the printed image.

When we talk about print size to our customers we usually just refer to the actual dimensions being ordered. On our online ordering system this is considered the width and height of the print. It is also referred to as “print size”. But in the fine art publishing industry there is also another term sometimes used which refers to the actual overall cut size of the paper once everything is printed.

As a little background to understand this better our printers produce prints on large rolls of paper (or canvas). When the image is completed we cut the printed image from the roll. The actual cut size is called the “sheet size”. If a person orders a borderless print the sheet and print size will be the same. If the customer selects one of our bordered print options (1/2 or 1 inch border) then the sheet size will actually be larger than the print size since it will be including the borders we add to the outside of the print.  For instance, if you order a 20x16 print with a 1/2 inch border around the print, the print will still be 20x16 but the cut sheet of paper it is printed on will be 21x17 inches.

To help illustrate this we will use Monica, a customer of ours who, who ordered a series of prints of a painting showing her baby daughter. She wanted to try different display options so overtime ordered three different styles of the print.

For the first print she wanted it to be borderless which means the artwork would go all the way to the edge of the sheet size. She wanted the cut print to be exactly 20x16. In that scenario I told her simply submit the image file and choose the borderless option when ordering a 20x16 inch print. The result was both the cut sheet size and the print size both as 20x16 inches. See Fig 1 below:


Fig1. This 20x16" print has no borders. When ordering a print on canvas or art paper you would select the borderless option.

Monica contacted a few weeks later and said she wanted another print measuring like the first print but this time she wanted to include a 1 ¾ inch margin  she had created as part of the image.  Based on that scenario I told her to send her new image and  order it the same way as she ordered the first print. When she did this and ordered, the end result was again a cut sheet size and print size of 20x16 inches. The reason she did not have to select a bordered option is because here margins were part of the image she submitted.  By selecting the borderless option it does not mean we cut away the margins she added. Instead it means we cut the print the same way we did the first print she ordered. See Fig 2 below:


Fig 2. This 20x16" print  also has no borders. Instead the customer embedded margins within her image which the printer sees as part of the image. When ordering a print on canvas or art paper like this you can select the borderless option and any margins you have in the image will be treated as part of the image and not trimmed away.

Soon after she contacted us again but this time she wanted a 1 inch border. She wanted the image to still be 20x16 but she wanted the border to be outside of that 20x16 inch range. In that case I told her to submit the first version of the image she had sent but this time choose the 1 inch border option. This gave her a 20x16 inch print with a cut sheet size of 22x18. See Fig 3 below:


Fig 3. This 20x16" print  has a 1 inch border. The customer submitted an image without any embedded margins and chose the 1 inch border option when ordering. The border is added to the outside of the print. This makes the print size 20x16 but the cut sheet size 22x18.

Two areas of importance which should be noted if you order borderless prints with embedded margins: bleed and size.

For all borderless prints, regardless if it has embedded margins or not, we must enlarge the image a small fraction of an inch larger than the intended cut sheet size.  This allows us to cut borderless prints so no white of the paper is showing on the edges. This works out exactly as intended  when  you have not added your own margins embedded in the image but if you have then it may mean trimming away a tiny fraction of your embedded margins. It’s hard to tell exactly how much since all prints are hand cut but it may be anywhere from 1/8 to 1/10 of an inch depending on the size.  

So what if I include both a embedded margin and choose a border when ordering?

A solution to the issue of bleed is to go ahead and order a bordered print which will be added in addition to the margins you embed. Bordered prints do not require or have any bleed added to them. The end result would be a cut sheet in which your margins are preserved exactly as intended but you would also have additional white space in the form of a border going around the print. See Fig 4 below:

Fig 4. This is what would happen if the customer had included an embedded margin in her image and selected a 1 inch border. Just as in Fig 3, the border is added to the outside of the print no matter if it has embedd margins or not. (The red dashed line is just to illustrate where her margins end. and the border begins)

Any finally it is very important to accurately set the size of your image file before uploading it for ordering. If you have embedded margins in your image and your document is not sized exactly at the same size you select with the order form, you will likely have some of your image cropped. This will mean any margins you add will be cropped. So if in the second scenario Monica had submitted a file measuring 20x16 but ordered it printed at a different size, some of the margins would have been cropped.

Updated on 2/25/2013: We have had a few people recently ask if we can add text to prints withing borders they order. For that we recommend creating the embedded margins yourself since our printing process is somewhat automated. A number ofartists do this already and include things such as copyright notices, title of the work and name of the artist/photographer in the embedded margins in small print.. When doing so just make sure you don't select a print size which crops your embedded margins. 

Category: An Artist's Guide to Digital Printing
Created: Sunday, November 18, 2012, Last Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013

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About James Theopistos Aside from being an enthusaistic promoter of the visual arts field as it relates to individual artists' success, he also serves as the acting Chief Development Officer for, an online color print lab for artists and photographers.
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