How to Create Crop Marks

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How to add crop marks to a Word document

Users occasionally ask how to create crop marks in Word. If you don’t know what crop marks are or what they are used for, you probably don’t need to be reading this article, but I'll begin with a brief explanation, anyway. Note that this article combines instructions for both toolbar and Ribbon versions. Specific instructions for Word 2007 and above are in a different color.

What they’re for

Crop marks are a pattern of lines indicating where to trim (crop) paper to a smaller document size. There are several reasons for using them.

  1. Perhaps you want to create a card, brochure, or other item with a color background that extends to the edge of the paper. This is called “printing full bleed.” Although there are some photo printers that can make borderless prints, most desktop printers cannot print all the way to the edge, so you have no choice but to do what commercial printers do: print the document on oversized paper and trim the edges.1

  2. Another reason for using crop marks is to indicate the page size for printing a book. If you want to create “camera-ready copy” for an octavo-sized book (say 6" × 9"), the easiest way to do this (and the method your printer may prefer) is to print it on standard Letter-sized paper (8½" × 11") and use crop marks to indicate where the corners of the finished pages should be.

Two things should be noted about crop marks:

  1. If you have Microsoft Publisher or another graphics or desktop publishing application capable of printing crop marks automatically, use that application to create your document unless it is something that requires Word features unavailable in the other application. This will save you a lot of work.

  2. If you have opted to show “text boundaries” at Tools | Options | View in Word 2003 and earlier, or if you have enabled support for an Asian language, you may already be seeing right-angle brackets at the corners of your document (see Figure 1). Although many users refer to these as crop marks (as does the author of the Microsoft Knowledge Base article “Margin marks or crop marks appear on each corner of the page when you open a document in Word 2002 or in Word 2003”), they are not true crop marks, and they do not (ordinarily) print.

Important Note: In Word 2007 and above, there are separate settings for “crop marks” and “text boundaries” These are found at Office Button | Word Options | Advanced: Show document content in Word 2007 and at File | Options | Advanced: Show document content in Word 2010/2013. Despite the name, they are still not true crop marks.

Overview of the process

The following instructions for creating crop marks are quite detailed. The process is really very simple but not always easy, so I’ve tried to warn you about the places where things can go wrong. If you have to do this often, you will probably become quite proficient. And if you need to use crop marks for the same size document often, you will be able to save your creation as an AutoText entry so that you never have to go through the process again.

Here, in brief, is what you are going to be doing:

  1. You will create a single crop mark (two drawing lines grouped into a right angle).

  2. You will duplicate that object and flip it to appear at the opposite corner at the top of the page.

  3. You will group the two objects, duplicate the resulting object, and flip it to appear at the bottom of the page.

  4. You will group those two objects (top and bottom pairs) and save them as an AutoText entry.

Let’s get started!

Instructions

The following instructions tell you how to create crop marks for a 6" × 9" book on 8½" × 11" paper. I chose this size because this is something I do often (that is a common size for trade paperback books). To create crop marks for a different size document and/or paper, you will need to change the measurements given. Although it will be helpful to work out ahead of time where the crop marks should print, it may be easier to visualize this if you outline your document on the paper, so that’s what we’ll do first.

Create guidelines

  1. Create a new Blank Document (based on the Normal template). If you have changed Word’s default margins (that is, the margins of the Normal template, Normal.dot or, in Word 2007 and above, Normal.dotm), set the margins of this document to 1.25" Left and Right and 1" Top and Bottom.

  2. On the View tab of Tools | Options, check the box for “Text boundaries,” then click OK (in Word 2007, find this setting at Office Button | Word Options | Advanced | Show document content; in Word 2010, it's at File | Options | Advanced | Show document content). This gives you a dotted outline representing the document margins (which just happen to be 6" × 9") so that you can see the corners where you need to position your crop marks (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Document in Print Layout view showing text boundaries

Important Note: In Word 2013, “text boundaries” are displayed differently (drawn around existing text rather than around the text area within the margins), so they will be of no use to you in that version.

Create the first crop mark

  1. Select Header and Footer on the View menu to open the header pane. Because you want the crop marks to repeat on each page, they must be anchored to the header. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, you can open the header by just double-clicking in it or by right-clicking and choosing Edit Header.)

  2. Click on the Line tool on the Drawing toolbar and draw a short vertical line. Press Shift while you draw it so that it will be a true vertical. The exact length is not critical, and it doesn’t really matter where you draw it, but make it pretty close to the top left corner of the text boundaries. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, select the Insert tab on the Ribbon. In the Illustrations group, click on Shapes, which will display a gallery of shapes, including lines. Select the plain Line from the Lines palette and draw the line as previously described.)

  3. Click on the Line tool again and draw a short horizontal line, again pressing Shift to constrain it to the horizontal. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, drawing the first line will have activated the contextual Drawing Tools | Format tab, which contains an Insert Shapes group from which you can select the Line tool.)

Figure 2. Horizontal line drawn and selected

  1. Double-click on the vertical line to open the Format AutoShape dialog. Select the Size tab and set the height to 0.5". (In Word 2007/2010/2013, you can set the size of the line in the Size group on the Drawing Tools | Format tab.)

Figure 3. Size tab of Format AutoShape dialog

  1. Now select the Layout tab and click on Advanced… In the Advanced Layout dialog, select the Picture Position tab. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, Drawing Tools | Format | Arrange | Position | More Layout Options will open this same dialog.)

  2. Both horizontal and vertical position will probably be set to “Absolute position.” If they are not, select those radio buttons.

  3. Set the horizontal position as 1.25" to the right of Page and the vertical position as 0.25" below Page. Click OK twice.

Figure 4. Picture Position tab of Advanced Layout dialog

  1. Double-click on the horizontal line and repeat steps 4–7, but set the horizontal position to 0.5" to the right of Page and the vertical position to 1" below Page. Click OK twice.

  2. With the horizontal line still selected, press Shift and click on the vertical line. On the Draw menu, select Group. (You may find it useful to add the Group and Ungroup buttons to your Drawing toolbar to save on mouse clicks. In Word 2007/2010/2013, these functions are on the Drawing Tools | Format tab, in the Arrange group.)

Create the second crop mark

Tip: Up to this point you have been double-clicking on an object to open the Format AutoShape dialog. Once the objects are grouped, it gets a bit tricky to do this. If you don’t click in just the right place, Word will think you want to format just one of the grouped objects rather than the whole group, and your options will be limited. For that reason the remainder of the procedure will be easier if you display the Picture toolbar (right-click on any toolbar and select Picture from the list). In Word 2007/2010/2013 this is not necessary, as the required tools are on the Drawing Tools Format tab.

Figure 5. The Picture toolbar

  1. With your grouped object still selected, press Ctrl+D to create a duplicate. (If this doesn’t work—I sometimes find it quirky—you can use Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V to Copy and Paste, but you must remember to deselect the original before pasting or you’ll just replace it with the copy.)

  2. Select the copy and drag it toward the top right corner of the text boundaries. Placement doesn’t have to be precise because you’re going to fine-tune it in the Format AutoShape dialog.

  3. If your selected object looks like Figure 6, you have just a single line selected. Click on one of the other edges of the square until it looks like Figure 7.

Figure 6. Grouped objects with individual object selected

Figure 7. Grouped objects with group selected

  1. On the Draw menu, select Rotate or Flip, then Flip Horizontal. This will make your angle face the other direction. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, the Flip Horizontal command is under Rotate in the Arrange group on the Drawing Tools Format tab. You may have some difficulty making this work. I believe it is necessary to deselect the duplicate you just created and then reselect it before trying to flip it.)

  2. With the object still selected, select Format Object from the Picture toolbar. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, use Drawing Tools | Format | Arrange | Position | More Layout Options to get to the dialog described in the next step.)

Figure 8. Picture toolbar showing Format Object button

  1. Go to Layout | Advanced | Picture Position and set the absolute position (relative to Page) to 7.25" horizontal and 0.25" vertical. Click OK twice.

  2. With the right crop mark still selected, press Shift and click on the left crop mark, then select Draw | Group from the Drawing toolbar. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, use the Group control on the Drawing Tools | Format tab.)

Create the bottom crop marks

  1. With the two grouped crop marks selected, press Ctrl+D to create a duplicate. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, for the following steps, use the appropriate tools on the Drawing Tools | Format tab.)

  2. With the duplicate selected, choose Draw | Rotate or Flip | Flip Vertical.

  3. On the Picture toolbar, select Format Object and go to Layout | Advanced | Picture Position.

  4. Set the absolute position (relative to Page) to 0.5" horizontal and 10" vertical. This will put them at the bottom of the page, in the footer area, but still anchored to the header.

Group the crop marks and create an AutoText entry

  1. Use View | Zoom (or the Zoom dropdown on the Standard toolbar) to select Whole Page. (In Word 2007/20102013, use the Zoom slider on the status bar or choose View | Zoom | One Page.)

  2. With the bottom set of crop marks still selected, press Shift and click on the top set.

  3. Group the two objects.

  4. With the group selected, click on the Text Wrapping button on the Picture toolbar and choose Behind Text from the menu. (In Word 2007, use Drawing Tools | Format | Arrange | Text Wrapping: Behind Text. The wording is slightly different in Word 2010/2013: Drawing Tools | Format | Arrange | Wrap Text: Behind Text.)

Figure 9. Picture toolbar showing Text Wrapping menu

Tip: If, like me, you usually work with text boundaries displayed (see above), you may be alarmed by seeing the text area of your document appear to shrink (as seen in Figures 6 and 7). The reason for this is that the AutoShapes you insert are formatted as Square rather than Behind Text, and the text is prepared to wrap around them. You might be tempted to format each object as Behind Text after inserting it. Don’t bother. This is a complete waste of time because as soon as you group two Behind Text lines or objects, the resulting object is Square again. So just grit your teeth and wait till you have the entire object created, then change the wrapping once.

  1. With the group still selected, press Alt+F3 and type a name for your AutoText entry (such as “6 x 9 crop marks”), then click OK.

This AutoText entry will be saved in the Normal (global) template and will be available to all documents. Because you have created it in the Header style, it will be listed on the AutoText menu on the Header and Footer toolbar (see Figure 10). If you want to save your AutoText entry in a specific document template, instead of pressing Alt+F3, use Insert | AutoText | AutoText, select your template in the “Look in” box, and then type a name for your entry and click Add.

Figure 10. Header and Footer toolbar showing crop marks entry on AutoText menu

You can easily create AutoText entries in  Word 2007/2010/2013 using the same method (Alt+F3). Alternatively, you can click on the Header & Footer Tools Design tab, click on Quick Parts in the Insert group, and choose "Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery." Alternatively, click on Header in the Header & Footer group and choose "Add to Header Gallery," which will save your crop marks as a Header building block. You will probably not want to do the latter if you intend to have another header in the documents in which you will use these crop marks.

Tidy up

  1. Click the Close button on the Header and Footer toolbar to return to your document (you can also close the header by double-clicking in the document body). In Word 2007/2010/2013, you can click Close Header and Footer on the Header & Footer Tools | Design tab or double-click in the document body.

  2. If you are going to use the present document to create your book, you will need to change the margins to the ones you will actually use. Otherwise you can just close the document without saving.

Another useful technique

Even with crop marks, I find it difficult to visualize the size of the finished page. To help me, I draw a rectangle anchored to the header so it will repeat on every page. This makes it easier to set the correct header, footer, top, and bottom margins for a small document, and the printed pages give an indication of the finished size. When I get ready to print the final copy, I delete the rectangle border and substitute my crop marks. If you would like to try this, here’s how:

  1. View | Header and Footer to open the header pane. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, double-click in the header area or right-click and choose Edit Header.)

  2. Display the Drawing toolbar. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, Insert | Illustrations | Shapes.)

  3. Click on the Rectangle tool and draw a rectangle roughly 6" × 9". It doesn’t have to be exact. (In Word 2007/2010/2013, this is in the Basic Shapes section of the Shapes palette.)

  4. Double-click on the rectangle to open the Format AutoShape dialog. On the Size tab, set the height to 9" and the width to 6". (In Word 2007/2010/2013, the contextual Drawing Tools | Format tab will be displayed; the Size group is at the right end.)

  5. On the Layout tab, set the wrapping style to “Behind text,” then click Advanced… (In Word 2007/2010/2013, use Drawing Tools Format | Arrange | Position | More Layout Options...)

  6. On the Picture Position tab of the Advanced Layout dialog, select the “Alignment” radio buttons for both horizontal and vertical position and select Centered Relative to Page for both.

Tip: If you have your window color set to something other than white (I use a restful ivory), then you are used to viewing pages in Word in that color. You will note that the rectangle you have inserted will have a white fill. If you think this fill would help you better visualize the page, you can leave it. If you would find it distracting or hard on your eyes, select the rectangle and use the Fill Color button on the Drawing toolbar to give it No Fill (if you already have the Format AutoShape dialog open, you can do this on the Colors and Lines tab). (In Word 2007/2010/2013, use Drawing Tools Format | Shape Styles | Shape Fill.)

  1. Close the header pane.

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1Note that this is a different situation from the one in which you merely pretend to print a smaller document on larger paper. In cases where your printer is not accommodating about printing custom sizes, it is sometimes necessary to create your document using a standard paper size (such as A4 or U.S. Letter) and adjust the margins as required to place the text so that it will print on the smaller paper.

This article copyright © 2005, 2008, 2011, 2013 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.