The PDF page boxes: MediaBox, CropBox, BleedBox, TrimBox & ArtBox

A PDF describes the content and appearance of one or more pages. It also contains a definition of the physical size of those pages. That page size definition is not as straightforward as you might think. There can in fact be up to 5 different definitions in a PDF that relate to the size of its pages. These are called the boundary boxes or page boxes:

  • The MediaBox is used to specify the width and height of the page. For the average user, this probably equals the actual page size. For prepress use, this is not the case as we prefer our pages to be defined slightly oversized so that we can see the bleed (Images or other elements touching an outer edge of a printed page need to extend beyond the edge of the paper to compensate for inaccuracies in trimming the page), the crop marks and useful information such as the file name or the date and time when the file was created. This means that PDF files used in graphic arts usually have a MediaBox which is larger then the trimmed page size.
  • The CropBox defines the region that the PDF viewer application is expected to display or print. So if a PDF contains a CropBox definition, Acrobat uses it for screen display and printing. For prepress use, the CropBox is pretty irrelevant. The GWG industry association recommends not to use it at all.
  • The TrimBox defines the intended dimensions of the finished page. Contrary to the CropBox, the TrimBox is very important because it defines the actual page size that gets printed. The imposition programs and workflows that I know all use the TrimBox as the basis for positioning pages on a press sheet. By default the TrimBox equals the CropBox.
  • The BleedBox determines the region to which the page contents needs to be clipped when output in a production environment. Usually the BleedBox is 3 to 5 millimeters larger than the TrimBox. It is nice to know the size of the BleedBox but it isn’t that important in graphic arts. Most prepress systems allow you to define the amount of bleed yourself and ignore the BleedBox. By default the BleedBox equals the CropBox.
  • The ArtBox is a bit of a special case. It was originally added to indicate the area covered by the artwork of the page. It is never used for that but can be handy in a few cases:
    • On a PDF page that contains an advertisement, the ArtBox can be used to define the location of that ad. This allows you to place that PDF on another page but only use the area covered by the advert.
    • A more common use of the ArtBox is as a means to indicate the safety zone. When creating a poster that will be placed in a lightbox, the designer must make sure text and logo’s aren’t positioned too close to the edge. If the poster is not mounted properly, this could cause that text or logo to disappear behind the frame of the lightbox. In book design, there is also a margin where you cannot put text because the binding might make it difficult to read text that is too close to the spine. The area where it is safe to place graphic elements is called the safety zone or text safe area. The ArtBox can be used to indicate the dimensions of this part of the page.

How to see the presence and size of the page boxes

The A4 page shown below was created in Indesign with 5 mm bleed and exported to a PDF/x-4 file using GWG 2015 settings. This PDF was then opened in Acrobat Pro DC, where I took a screen shot. It shows that in Acrobat the MediaBox is highlighted with a magenta rectangle, the BleedBox with a cyan one while dark blue is used for the TrimBox.

Using Adobe Acrobat Pro to see PDF page boxesAcrobat Pro can also show the actual dimensions in millimeters or inches. In Acrobat Pro DC select ‘Set Page Boxes’ in the ‘Print Production’ tools menu. You can also run one of the preflight checks and find the boundary boxes in Overview > Pages > Page: XX > Page information. This works for the Preflight function from Acrobat Professional version 6 onwards. The screen capture below shows the Acrobat Pro DC preflight summary.

boundary box information shown in Adobe Acrobat Professional DC

There are other tools like PitStop that can show page dimensions. I prefer the handy overview shown below, which was generated by the DocuBoxManager plug-in. It is part of the Agfa Graphics Apogee Prepress workflow.

This Apogee Prepress plugin for Acrobat shows page box dimensions

General rules regarding page boxes

  • Each page in a PDF can have different sizes for the various page boxes.
  • The page boxes are always rectangular. That may seem logical but artwork is not always rectangular: a PDF can represent an oval label or the foldout of a cardboard box.
  • A PDF always has a MediaBox definition. All the other page boxes do not necessarily have to be present in regular PDF files.
  • The above rule is not true for the PDF/X file formats:
    • PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3 compliant files need to include the MediaBox, TrimBox, and BleedBox.
    • PDF/X-4 files need, next to the MediaBox, a TrimBox or an ArtBox, but not both. The ArtBox or TrimBox cannot be larger that the BleedBox. If a CropBox is present, the ArtBox,  TrimBox, and BleedBox need to extend beyond its boundaries.
  • The MediaBox is the largest page box in a PDF. The other page boxes can equal the size of the MediaBox but they are not expected to be larger (The latter is explicitly required in the PDF/X-4 requirements). If they are larger, the PDF viewer will use the values of the MediaBox.

How to change page boxes

You can use the Crop Pages tool in Acrobat Professional to change the page boxes.

A number of plug-ins offer more sophisticated controls to change bounding boxes. Enfocus PitStop isn’t too bad but again I prefer the Agfa DocuBoxManager plug-in. If you know about other interesting plug-ins or tools, add a comment to this page.

What you should not do is rescale a PDF by placing it on a page in a layout or drawing application like InDesign or Corel Draw and then rescale it. This is called ‘PDF refrying‘ and while it may work, there are disadvantages making it a procedure that many frown upon.

Do I even need to worry about all these boxes?

Nowadays applications are PDF-aware enough that they get things right from the start. Take Adobe InDesign for example:

  • BleedBox information is sourced from the bleed settings in the marks & bleeds section of the print dialog box.
  • The TrimBox is taken from the document setup.
  • The MediaBox size is defined by the media size to which you print. If the “paper”-size width and height are set to automatic, the MediaBox size will be equal to the BleedBox size.
  • The CropBox size is set to be the same as the Media size.

In the past you had to pay attention a lot more. Older applications did not define the trim box properly, forcing most prepress operators to center pages and hope everything worked out fine (which it usually did, by the way).

I want to see the finished trim size of a PDF

To view a PDF at it’s finished (trim) size, set the CropBox to match the TrimBox. Some systems do this by default. This has users who are not familiar with PDF worry if there is any bleed in the document. They do not realize that there may be information available which simply isn’t visible on-screen. Acrobat plug-ins such as Enfocus PitStop allow you to alternate the PDF view between TrimBox and MediaBox.

Errors referring to the BBox

Within PDF files there is another box, the bounding box or BBox, that is used. The bounding box is a rectangular frame that determines the dimensions of an object (such as a graphic, font or pattern) that is placed inside a PDF document. As such, this box has nothing to do with the page boxes. Due to bugs in PDF creation or viewing tools,  errors that refer to a BBox may pop up when an application processes a PDF. A typical example is ‘The Font “ArialMT” contains a bad /BBox’.

6 November 2016

48 responses to “The PDF page boxes: MediaBox, CropBox, BleedBox, TrimBox & ArtBox”

  1. Brendan says:

    Readers here may be interested in a pdf positioning, imposing and numbering application called PyxisImposed (pyxis.ie). Only metric measurements available, but may be able to solve some of the issues referred to above.

  2. Waz says:

    Calling on your wisdom. At the moment I have to check that any artwork (jpg or pdf) I get has a 3mm bleed and a 3mm safety margin and so the easy thing to do is open up a new page in Adobe Illustrator at the required page size (say A5) with the 3mm bleed setting and paste the artwork into it and check visually using rulers.

    Can you think of a way to do that online or on android (ie without illustrator) so I can check whilst on the move?

    Long shot but thought I’d ask in case you can think of anything.

  3. lulajean says:

    HI,
    Just looking for some help or a point in the right direction.
    I have a file w/dieline that is on a page with crop marks, but it is not centered.
    What I really want to do is center the art. I’d like to make the document size the size of the die plus .5 inch all the way around it. I was told that I need to use the enfocus crop tool to make it permanent. I click on that tool and am lost. Can anyone help?
    Thanks

  4. Many thanks for this very clear and informative website!

  5. chars says:

    Lil, Thanks for the info. I have been stumped for weeks on this. Help much appreciated.

  6. chars says:

    Hello,

    I have a PDF that I need to fix the page size so a special watermarking a vendor applies on the bottom of it will display. Page size = 9.333 x 11.708 inches. It has been cropped to 8.500 x 10.875 inches. For some reason the cropped page is not being recognized. How do I get the page to be 8.500 x 10.875 and get rid of the larger setting? Thanks.

    • Lilia says:

      When you use the Crop tool in Acrobat to resize a page it displays correctly in Acrobat, however when you place it into another application (eg InDesign) it loads the pdf displaying the original size.

      When you use the Crop tool and then save the PDF, the cropping is applied like a mask… the dimension can be restored at any time.

      To make the cropped size permanent… you need to save the page as am EPS file and redistill it.

      Hope this is what you were looking for.

      🙂 lil

  7. Santhosh says:

    How to convert type3 font to type 1 or true type font? Is there is possible to change?

  8. golden says:

    hi,nice work!i have a question about draw informations from a pdf.i want to crop key words and paragraph of the pdf to form a new pdf,this work is to substitute the job of paper cut by hand.would you tell me some tips to do this work?thank you very much!

    • Lilia says:

      @ golden.

      It seems to me like you want to redact information.
      > View > Toolbars > Redaction
      Mark for redaction – draws a box around selection.
      Apply redaction – makes the box permanent deleting any information it covers.

      Check out Acrobat help for more info.

  9. divxdevil says:

    Is there any plugin for Acrobat Reader for showing trimbox values? Or is there any standalone application for getting trimbox size out from PDF?

    • Laurens says:

      To my knowledge Adobe Reader does not support plug-ins. Given that you are refering to this applicatio,n which can be downloaded for free, I assume you also don’t want to spend (much) money on an alternative solution.

      • I gave the above mentioned Enfocus browser, which is also available as a free standalone app, a try. It can display the dimensions of all of the boxes but it takes some work to find them. In the browser hierarchy I had to use the path Root>Pages>Kids>[0]>Kids>[0]>Kids>[0]>TrimBox to get to the 4 coordinates defining the two opposite corners of that box. Keep in mind that in a multi-page PDF each page can have a different TrimBox definition.
      • If you are comfortable with command line tools on a Windows or Linux system, you can download the Xpdf tools from http://www.foolabs.com/xpdf/download.html. One of those tools has a really nice function to display all of the boxes. From a command prompt run ‘pdfinfo -box filename.pdf’ to get a list of the PDF properties and the offsets and dimensions of the MediaBox, CropBox, BleedBox, TrimBox and ArtBox.

      There may be easier solutions to see all the boxes with free software but I haven’t found them yet.

    • Oceanview says:

      There is a new standalone tool “PdfBoxEditor” available on the mac AppStore. Exactly what i’ve been looking for. And at a really fair price.

  10. Arun says:

    hi,
    Where i can download Apogee docubox manager

  11. Steve says:

    Lauren,

    Great article. I keep trying to explain the use of these boxes to others, but after a couple of minutes I just watch their eyes roll to the back of their head. Now I can send them this link so they can understand why it is important to use software to properly set these boxes.

    Regards,
    Steve

  12. steve says:

    if you are on using linux you can install the xpdf program which installs a utility called pdfinfo… you can run pdfinfo -box filename.pdf from console and it prints out the box info for the pdf.

  13. Mirsad says:

    For displaying the crop, media, trim, bleed boxes use… page geometry tool… its free and simple!

    If you can not find it.. let me know! i can send it 2u

  14. Dave says:

    Great article and website.
    Anybody know if it is possible to display the boxes in Reader or Acrobat Standard?
    Acrobat Standard 6 that is. My company probably won’t upgrade to a newer version anytime soon ;P

    • Laurens says:

      I don’t know of any way of displaying the boxes in Acrobat 6 (which I admittedly used that long ago that I forgot everything about it).
      There might be some fairly cheap tools that can do this. One solution that I gave a brief try is the Enfocus Browser, a free plug-in that is compatible with Acrobat 6 and later. It can be found here: http://www.enfocus.com/product.php?id=4530. After you install this, open a document and click the ‘Browse Current Page’ icon. The window that pops up lists the boxes and displays their 0,0 coordinates and height and width. It is not as visual as showing the boxes onscreen, but hey: it is free and comes from a trusted source.

  15. Katie says:

    I was able to manipulate the image by using Crop and Trim both on just the odd pages. The Even page still shows .623 crop but it does not show up when I view the pages.

  16. Katie says:

    Is it possible to use the crop controls to adjust registration for back to front printing? Our printer is slightly off, so I’m trying to use the crop Odd pages to shift the image slightly on the paper to compensate. What puzzles me is that if I set the crop/trim to .0623 and then set to zero, when I open the Crop Pages again, it has reverted back to .0623.

    • Steve says:

      Katie,

      Typically your printer will allow adjustments for registration front to back. We use an EFI rip in front of our printer and have defined Hot Folders to allow for a shift front to back to help with registration.

      In reality, we need to establish a “Paper Catalog” as each paper type will effect page registration. Once we have the paper catalog established, every normal run job should shift according to paper type, thus we no longer have to do any shift on the rip.

  17. Tim says:

    Netz, Laurens: MediaBox is indeed required. However contrary to this article, I have found a PDF with a cropbox larger than the mediabox:

    /CropBox[0 0 595 842]
    /MediaBox[82.5 90 512.5 750]
    /TrimBox[82.5 90 512.5 750]

    I guess this means it has no effect.

    My question is: Which box does Adobe reader use to decide how much of the page to display. My guess would have been TrimBox, which defaults to the value of CropBox, which defaults to the value of MediaBox, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

  18. Mikhail Kirsanov says:

    If you have PDF with prepress cropmarks and want to get rid of it:
    1. Open PDF in Acrobat Professional
    2. Open Document -> Crop pages dialog
    3. Select TrimBox from dropdown
    4. Write down margin values in “Margin Controls”
    5. Select CropBox from dropdown
    6. Enter margin values in “Margin Controls”
    7. Select “All” in page range
    8. Click OK

    Thanks for the article!

  19. Netz says:

    Hi,
    I loaded a PDF file using Apache PDFbox jar. this PDF exists without any boxes defined (media, crop, etc). How can I tell the page dimensions?
    Thanks a lot.

    • Laurens says:

      Every PDF I have ever seen had a Media Box. I haven’t checked the PDF spec from Adobe to see if this is actually mandatory. It might be a good idea if you look at those specifications (a free download from Adobe). Maybe you’re getting PDF files that are not up to spec.

  20. Frank Tol says:

    As a bookprinter, we regularly receive updates of a PDF. Very often the trimbox of the one page that is new has a very different size. Are there ways to get a warning in the creation process or a tool that will automatically adjust the one page trimbox in line with the other pages?

    • Laurens says:

      Some prepress workflow systems can point out inconsistencies in the page boxes of all the PDF files of a job.
      I am not aware of any tools that can do this in the PDF creation phase. It also seems difficult to do since an application cannot know that for instance those 4 InDesign PDF exports created by 2 different designers are actually part of the same publication. Nothing stops a publisher from preflighting all their outgoing PDF files agains a fixed page size.
      Maybe other visitors to this page can point to possible solutions.

  21. Lorraine says:

    There does not appear to be a way to set the art box when exporting a pdf from InDesign. In a pure pdf workflow, our equipment acknowledges trim box & crop box for easy bleed setup, but the art box is also recognized and clips the image to trim size. No options in Preferences that I can see to set the art box for all documents.

  22. Jim says:

    Thanks for this great article.

    I’m searching for a Unix utility to list PDF box sizes. Any recommedations?

    Can the Art Box be printed from Acrobat or another utility or plugin?

  23. Rajesh Kumaran says:

    Hi, when I visit this web last year thing are not clear. Now it seem ok to understand preepress guys. Now I’m using docubox manager properly.

    Thanks

    Rajesh Kumaran

  24. Igor Oleynik says:

    Dear Colleagues:

    Please help to resolve the prepress issue. I need to prodice all book files with a PDF/X-1a 2001 setting. When I placing this setting in Acrobat 9 befor distilling or re distilling a word or pdf file I very often receive an error message [Violation] Both TrimBoxes and ArtBoxes were found on the following
    > pages:
    and there is usually 1 problem for each page.

    Please adivise is it possible to get rid of this problem changing the setting in Acrobat 9 or I need to run these files throung a PitStop to resolve this problems

    Igor Oleynik
    Washington DC

    • Tom Benjey says:

      I am getting the same mesages and don’t have a clue what they mean. Have you found out what the problem is yet?

  25. DingoDog says:

    a pdf having these box sizes:

    Page size: 420 x 595 pts
    MediaBox: 0.00 0.00 420.00 595.00
    CropBox: 0.00 0.00 420.00 595.00
    BleedBox: 0.00 0.00 420.00 595.00
    TrimBox: 0.00 0.00 420.00 595.00
    ArtBox: 0.00 0.00 420.00 595.00

    is wrong regard to trimbox? it needs to be corrected? defining the trimbox is possible in Linux? how?

    • Laurens says:

      It is perfectly normal that the trimbox has the same size as the page size. Usually the mediabox and bleedbox are bigger than the page size but if you are creating PDF files from a wordprocessor or other office application, it is normal that these applications aren’t aware of the concept of bleed.
      Qoppa PDF Studio runs on Linux and allows you to change the page boxes. I have never used the application myself and don’t know how good it is.

  26. Rajesh Kumaran says:

    Hi, I have apogeex docubox manager.
    Can I create trim marks and bleeds with apogeex docubox in apdf file.
    Please tell me how?
    Regards
    Rajesh

    • Laurens says:

      about ApogeeX Docubox: I am also running it on my system and it is a great tool but you cannot use it to add trim marks. ApogeeX itself is capable of doing that, using for instance the border marks.

  27. Claire says:

    Is there any way to print a PDF from Acrobat Professional or Pitstop that shows all the boxes. I want to have a hard copy proof that shows the bleed box and Trim box so I can make sure all my bleeds are accounted for. Yes you can see all of it on screen but if you want to pass it around the office to get sign off, the screen doesn’t always work. Is there another plug in that can do this if the above can’t?

  28. NicholasPaul says:

    The only way to get Staples/Business Depot to print your job correctly, is to take is elsewhere.
    I have ‘never’ had a good experience at Staples. Each time I vowed to never return, then I needed a job done quickly and they were the only option. And every time they took that new job as another opportunity to wreck their own reputation.
    If it’s worth printing, it’s worth finding a real printer.

  29. Mike says:

    Thanks for the info. Let’s see if the Trimbox, plus specific instructions will allow Staples / Business Depot to print / trim my job correctly for me!

  30. Grateful user says:

    Thanks for this very clear, informative article!

  31. Frusterated User says:

    Why the fucking hell can’t I permanently and completely remove everything that lies outside one of these boxes?????? Is there any other way to arrive at the same result??????

    • Laurens says:

      You can do this with an Enfocus PitStop action list. Using this Acrobat Professional plug-in you can select all objects that are outside a selected page box and have them deleted. There may be other plug-ins that offer the same function but I only have PitStop at my disposal.

    • Nazikus says:

      After you’ve cropped the document (via CrobBox), Docoment->Examine Document, check “Deleted or Cropped content”, press remove

    • found it says:

      Making Crops Perment in Adobe Acrobat Pro
      1.) Document – Crop – fix each page the way you want
      2.) Document – Examine Documents – if you do not want to remove all items uncheck them – remove
      3.) Save file
      4.) Document – Crop – check all (on the right and then set to zero (on the left) in that order – ok
      5.) Save file
      6.) Document –OCR Document
      7.) Save file

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