Drafting Patterns with Software

Pattern Drafting Software | Cloth Habit

If you’ve scooted around these parts for awhile you may have noticed that I like to make fancy-dancy illustrations for my tutorials. Most of the time, those illustrations are scaled down versions of actual patterns that I either drafted on my computer or scanned and then turned into a digital pattern.

Many readers have been interested in how I draft or what program I use to do those things, so I thought it’d be fun to open up the subject of pattern drafting software.

I use Adobe Illustrator, which is a vector program. I’ve been using Adobe software since the 90s and feel very comfortable with the tools in Illustrator so it was easy to teach myself how to draft in it.

Drafting in Illustrator | Cloth Habit

However, my ease with Illustrator did not make me a good patternmaker. Even if a computer or some online program automatically drafted a pattern after inputting your measurements, there is still the work of learning to to fit, learning what makes for a good pattern. Whether you like drafting old-school on a big piece of paper or in software, the end results can have the same greatness or the same mistakes depending on your skill or the method of drafting you use.

A pro for paper drafting: A drafter can view the pattern in “real life scale”.

Pros for computer drafting: The ability to copy, paste and repeat very quickly. (No more tracing pattern to make adjustments.) Lines and curves can be measured down to millimeters which makes tasks like walking a pattern and matches notches very quick and accurate.

So let’s talk about the types of software you can use for pattern drafting.

CAD VS. VECTOR

In the software industry, CAD is short for “computer aided design”. CAD is a type of modeling software that is used in many fields including architecture design, interior design, 3D modeling and pattern drafting.

Adobe Illustrator and other vector drawing programs are not technically “CAD”, although some like to call it that, short for “computer aided drawing”. If you have ever tried to import a CAD drawing into a vector program or vice versa, you know the chaos that ensues! They are two totally different languages with different purposes.

Three Types of Software Tools

Among options for pattern drafting software, I’d boil them down to three types:

1. CAD-based software for the fashion industry.
There are many different companies making professional pattern software. The biggies are Gerber, Lectra and Optitex. These are all based on CAD technology, very specialized, and cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.

2. Scaled down CAD software for home sewists or custom clothing makers.
Software of this nature is based on CAD technology but has less options in order to make it more affordable.

A few programs of this type:
Wild Ginger PatternMaster
PatternMaker
FashionCAD
Telestia Creator

Some of these programs work by measurement input. You put in measurements, it forms the pattern blocks for you. Others offer full-fledged tools to draft from the ground up. Some of them include additional “style libraries” to add on to your blocks. The market for these kind of programs varies from home sewists to custom apparel and smaller garment companies.

One very important caveat about all of the CAD-based programs: they are based on Windows and only run on a Mac when you own a copy of Windows and run it through Bootcamp or an emulator. (Both of which really slow down my computer…)

3. Vector drawing software.
While vector software is not created specifically for drafting, it is a wonderful tool that puts a highly accurate ruler and pen in your hand. With this kind of software, you draw the patterns as you wish. There are a lot of little tools within a vector program that speed up the process over paper drafting.

The main options:
Adobe Illustrator
CorelDraw
Inkscape (free)

Another option: Adobe just released Illustrator Draw, a free iPad version of Illustrator. It used to be called “Adobe Ideas”, which I used quite a bit last year. It’s actually pretty sweet and has all the important tools you need for drawing. I drafted a pair of pants on it!

Despite its cost I keep using Adobe Illustrator since I am so familiar with how it works and have collected a lot of plugins over the years that increase its functionality. I’ll admit that I was never attracted to the CAD-based programs because I’m such a Mac girl.

In my next patternmaking post, I’ll explore some different ways you can use Illustrator (or any vector program) to draft patterns, along with some of my favorite tricks.

Have you tried using a patternmaking program? And if so, do you feel comfortable working in it? I’d love to hear what others use.

50 comments

  1. Leila says:

    I use Inkscape to draft patterns and make tiled pdf patterns. It has a few quirks, but for free software, it really is pretty good. As a former CAD drafter, I picked it up fairly quickly, but I had to go through some tutorials to get it figured out, since it is quite different from AutoCAD.

    • Amy says:

      I imagine it’s totally different! Inkscape seems like a really great option. I’m just so used to the Adobe tools but I’m sure there are many similarities. Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Jessie says:

    I had never thought of using vector software for pattern drafting–my wife uses Adobe to make vector art all the time for graphic design, but I learned drafting from 50+-year-old books so I’ve always thought of the giant piece of paper method as the default. I would LOVE to do away with the constant tracing though. And it seems like a computer based method is ideal for lingerie drafting, where you’re dealing with very precise measurements on a fairly small scale.

    • Amy says:

      It is totally ideal for lingerie drafting, especially bras. Because the patterns piecesare so small, you can usually fit one onto one sheet of paper and don’t need to tile patterns as much. Perhaps your wife can teach you a few tricks?

  3. robin says:

    I use Wild Ginger/Pattern Master. I like it–there are a few limitations. It still requires that you have some creativity and drafting knowledge to be able to shift the pattern into what you want. Not bad though–right price and it works for me.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Robin! Thanks for chiming in. It sounds like a lot of people get enjoyment from this software. I like the idea that is requires drafting knowledge because I don’t want something to spit patterns out at me. If I’m going to draft instead of buying a pattern, I want to draft! Haha.

  4. Welmoed says:

    I’ve been an avid user of Wild Ginger’s products for more than ten years! I have sewn everything from bathing suits to ballgowns, coats to costumes. I even used it draft a knockoff of Yves Saint Laurent’s famous “Mondrian” dress. PatternMaster Boutique keeps getting more versatile with time, and easier to use. Their newest release, Version 6, just came out a few days ago and it’s fantastic. They have great customer support too, along with users’ groups nationwide.

    • Amy says:

      It’s great to hear they have users’ groups so people can learn from each other. I had no idea this software had been around that long. Making the Mondrian dress sounds like a cool project!

  5. Interesting! I’ve never tried drafting on a computer, and I’m really looking forward to reading your thoughts & tricks. Although in general I tend to gravitate towards doing things by hand if possible, I’m building up a library of me-drafted patterns that I love, and I’ve been thinking lately that I need to digitize them somehow. What if something happened to the paper copies?!

    • Amy says:

      There is definitely a feel difference between the two and I totally understand why people like using paper. Plus oak tag is just so awesome and I can’t print out on that! It’s totally possible to lose digital patterns; I back mine up in the cloud because I have crashed 3 hard drives and know the headache of losing computer files!

  6. LisaB says:

    As a hobbyist, any pattern making I do is done on paper and oaktag. However, I know that PAD is industry-level CAD software that runs on MAC. I see lots of discussion about it on the Fashion-Incubator forum. I had thought you were a member but just checked the list and didn’t see you there. Anyway, just mentioning this in case you ever decide that CAD would serve you better.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Lisa, I was a member at one point before I started the blog. I do miss those discussions. I didn’t realize PAD had a Mac version–great to know! Although I assume it has a hefty price. I’d love to learn CAD just because I love learning software but it doesn’t make cost sense for me at this point. For future sewing patterns I am looking to outsource with a professional because grading is total trudgery in Illustrator.

      • LisaB says:

        I think the entry level version is around $1500, so it’s nothing like Gerber or Lectra. My understanding is that the entry level version has all of the functionality of the full version but some limitations on exporting. Of course, you’d have to check into all of those details, but it certainly isn’t as cost prohibitive as the big guys.

        You’re right, though, about grading. Illustrator is definitely not the way to go for that!

  7. Jeanette says:

    I am a pen and paper person! I wish I had more technical ability to use software, I’m sure it would speed things up, but I do like the hands on real stuff too. In an ideal world, I’d be able to do both!

    • Amy says:

      I hear ya, Jeanette. I’m very quick with software learning and I use it because I genuinely enjoy it. But rolling out paper and rulers has its own pleasure! I love my rulers…

  8. I love love love CAD!! I work as a technical designer and use Gerber’s Pattern Design Software (PDS). I used to love draping, it was my preferred method. Until I started using PDS. It is so quick and easy to make a pattern and make changes. If I don’t like how I did something there is always the undo button and I can try it again. Currently I am looking into CAD options for the home sewist/pattern designer and Wild Ginger is at the top of several peoples lists I have read about.

    • Amy says:

      How great that you are familiar with complex systems because that’d make it easy to try some others! I’d so love to learn CAD but think the only way I’d get a good handle on it is through a job. I did download and try Cameo from Wild Ginger but I think I’d need a separate Windows computer. My laptop heats really fast every time I try to run Windows.

  9. Brigid says:

    Oh yay! I am SOOO happy that you are talking about drafting patterns with software, specifically Adobe Illustrator! I am just getting into drafting my own patterns on A.i. and I LOVE it, but I still have a ton to learn. I am really looking forward to the next post on this topic!

  10. Ana says:

    Your post is very useful. I use PatternMaker. What I like about it, is that it comes with MacroGen – a program in which you design the template of a pattern from scratch. In this template you set what measurements are needed. So that later, you can use your design but with clients measurements.
    I would also add to your list of CAD’s this one: http://www.geminicad.com/.
    The drawing mechanism, and macro drawing is one of the best, in my opinion, since it is similar to drawing on paper with a pencil, compass, special rulers.

  11. Amy says:

    Hi Ana, I would love to hear more about PatternMaker experience. Years ago, long before sewing blogs, the only patternmaking tutorials I could find on the internet were by the creator of PatternMaker. I think I tried the sleeve draft.

    Do you work professionally in Gemini? There are others I didn’t mention since I was giving examples of CAD that might be used in a business.

  12. Kwana says:

    I’ve used illustrator before for pattern making but terms to prefer the specialised software, particularly as they have the added functionality and I can always import into illustrator later.
    I’ve used Gerber but I dislike it. It just feels clunky and dated. StyleCAD is an improvement and it is intuitive and fun to use but I’ve recently started training in Grafis. It comes loaded with brilliant blocks (including lingerie blocks) and these can be quickly modified using sliders to manipulate seams, angles, darts and ease withing minutes before beginning the pattern making work. Development pieces can be traced off but the best thing is that if you go back and manipulate the blocks, these changes are applied to your pattern as well. There are many other awesome features that I’m discovering but it really does feel fresh.

    • Amy says:

      Do you work as a tech designer or patternmaker for a company? I’m curious how some of my readers are using these more robust CAD programs.

  13. Linda says:

    I am looking forward to your next posts. Really wondering how patern making works in Illustrator.

    I am using this program a lot to make working drawings.

  14. GarmentDesigner, from http://cochenille.com/garm.html, is available for both Macs and PC, and AFAIK is developed on a Mac. The software designer is Susan Lazear, Professor of Fashion at Mesa College in San Diego. I’ve seen lots of demos for this and for the wildGinger products (great folks all:), but Illustrator is just such a part of my body, it’s hard to imagine using something else. I do more fiddling with scanned and traced outlines than drafting, though, and tend to often just grab scanned drafts and stretch ’em to fit over my own blocks, since I’m working only on personal projects. But Illustrator (AND a cheap ledger-sized—11×17-in.—Epson office printer/scanner) are basic to every thing I do with patterns. Looking forward to more on this topic! Oh, yes, TOTAL fan-person for Astute Graphics plugins esp. VectorScribe and SubScribe (the free one!); transformative, to say the least! More please…:)

    • Amy says:

      Hi David, thanks for sharing more software ideas. I’ve never heard of AFAIK, but am glad to hear there are more Mac options. It’s been 18 years since I had a Windows-based computer and I don’t know the shortcuts and navigation anymore, so that’s what has kept me from really thinking about CAD.

      I don’t do any scanning/digitizing, because I drafted all my blocks in Illustrator, but I know a lot of people want to know how to do this! I’m a total fangirl of VectorScribe, too. Don’t know what I’d do without it.

      And you’re all making me rethink the size of my printer, ha!

      • I figured anyone who even mentions Illustrator plugins these days is onto VectorScribe, but PLEASE tell me you’ve got or will GO GET SubScribe, too! My most used functions within all these tools are:

        Bending lines with VS’s PathScribe tool (altho every time I use it I feel sad for my little neglected pen tool, like an out-grown teddy bear:(

        Extending lines and checking line lengths with VS’s Extend Path tool

        Setting some line or other in an object (along with the whole object) to horizontal or vertical, to get access to or simplify some other IL function, with the Orient tool in SubScribe.

        I’m surprised I don’t use MirrorMe as much as I thought I would, since I was ALWAYS using Stephen Vincent’s wonderful Mirror function in his Kimbo plug-in suite. OH! how I wish Astute would buy Vincent’s entire collection and update/improve it for CC! http://members.shaw.ca/spvincent/plugins/

        Mirror was WAY more efficient and useful than MirrorMe, for my IL work anyway—which is more how-to diagram-making than pattern drafting, truth be told. And Vincent’s many tools still contain functions I’ve never seen elsewhere…

        Last thing: Pretty much everything I have to share about using IL for sewing/patterns/drafting is linked to in my Pinterest board on the topic, here:
        http://www.pinterest.com/shirtmakingwith/digital-patterns/

        And PS:
        (AFAIK=”as far as I know”; sorry to be confusing!)

  15. Rebecca Pressley says:

    Wild Ginger Software also has another product, Cameo. It is a more professional CAD program. It can be bought in modules depending on what you need. I use it and my husband bought me a 24inch wide printer for my birthday a couple of years ago. I love it!

    • Amy says:

      Lucky you, great birthday present! I’d so love to have a wider printer and not just for patterns. I tried the Cameo demo for a few days and ran it off of Windows on my Mac. Seems like a great mid-range CAD alternative!

  16. Naomi says:

    I will be saving this discussion for future reference! I am a self employed engineer by day and have a wonderful selection of tools to support my sewing hobby including a large format scanner, a large format plotter, and AutoCAD software. I scan my patterns for archiving and cataloging, then can modify them, plot them…plot different sizes. Totally spoiled but would like to someday use more advanced CAD-like tools designed more towards fashion use.

  17. Gabriella says:

    I’m an Garment Technician (well, my exam is in two weeks) and been trained in Lectra Modaris. Though I started with pen and paper and it will probably always be my favourite method. I tend to think better with a pen in my hand 🙂 Lectra is an overly complicated program, not very user-friendly or intuitive. I’ve tried Gerber and I like it! But I love Illustrator and would love to learn how to use it for drafting! Looking forward to upcoming posts!

  18. Grace says:

    I am a technical designer and I have personally used Gerber PDS. I like it pretty well although it has a bit of a learning curve if you are used to Adobe software (which I am ). I love illustrator, but I’ve never used it to draft patterns. At my current job, our pattern department uses Tuka Tech which is a CAD program.

  19. Amanda says:

    I am a technical designer and am using Gerber at my work. But question for you all. When you do home patterns how do you digitize your patterns into your computer. or do these softwares come with basic blocks, or are you drafting them from scratch. I would like to start using a software at home , but still trying to decide which one is best for me.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Amanda, I draft all my patterns in Illustrator and I manipulate them in Illustrator, too. Others may draft with paper and then scan them into an image file, but then you’d still have to do the work of drawing over the scan with the pen and line tools. That would be an extra step for me, personally, as I find it faster to just draft in Illustrator. I know that with professional CAD you can use digital pucks to scan in the paper patterns but that requires a special digitizing table and those aren’t cheap!

      Vector programs like Illustrator don’t have pre-made blocks. If you are wanting to design home patterns to sell, I would think you’d want to draft your own blocks to work with the sizing and fit you want your patterns to have. If you’re just making stuff for yourself I can see why pre-made blocks would be helpful…. but you probably already know that they’re not that hard to draft!

      I hope that helps!

      • Regina says:

        Hi Amy! really interesting post! thanks for posting it! I have looking for a software to start to make patterns on pdf format. Is ti possible to imput our own measures on Ilustrator and make our own blocks?
        Thanks in advance!
        Regards,

        Regina @Brazil

      • Amy says:

        Hi Regina, Illustrator does not construct blocks for you. It is a drawing program so you have to use your own pattern method. instead of drawing with a pencil and a ruler, you draw with line tools and pen tools. I wrote a post with tips for Illustrator, if you’re interested.

  20. Jen says:

    Hi Amy!

    I know this is a couple of months later, but I know these sorts of discussions always draw people for years to come, so I figured I’d ask away anyway! 🙂

    I am starting my own business. It is a slow, SLOW process because I am working on it in bits and pieces, on the weekends and in the evenings when my kiddos are asleep and the regular daily grind is done.

    I’ve always hand drafted BUT I will need drafting software- mainly for grading. I hate grading.

    Anyway, cost isn’t completely limiting. I know I have to budget for a decent amount, but ‘tens of thousands’ is also out of the question.

    I have some basic CAD experience from my former life as a mapping tech, but I’m not sure it’d be the same.

    So, this long winded comment is all to ask- Do you, or any of your dear readers who might happen back to a months old post- have any advice on this specific use? It seems that most pattern drafters are either home sewists who are using their creations for their size exclusively, or big time corporate drafters. It’s tough to know what the best option is for a small business.

    Also, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever commented on your blog, but I love it. 🙂

    • You need to check out the Cameo modules from Wild Ginger! Sounds like just what you need. They’re geared towards professional pattern drafters. If you’re familiar with HotPatterns, it’s what they use to make their patterns. http://www.wildginger.com (NAYY, just a user of their consumer products).

      • Jen says:

        Awesome!

        I’d checked them out before, but I don’t remember this product. For some reason, I thought they only had the Pattern Master, which isn’t for commercial use.

        This does look PERFECT for me. Thank you so much. 🙂 I appreciate it.

        (And I’m amazed that you responded so quickly!)

    • Amy says:

      Hi Jen, actually there is a big middle ground of small pattern companies or one-person businesses that sell patterns and have need for a less expensive software. As I mentioned in the post there are several CAD programs that are in that middle ground (not 10s of thousands of dollars) and will do what you want, Cameo being one of them. Quite a few (including me) use Illustrator to draft and grade. It’s less expensive than CAD and works a bit differently. I wrote a follow-up post about the various tools I use in Illustrator and also linked to a few related courses, one of which will take you from sketch to product using Illustrator.

      As far as grading… CAD programs will have modules that allow you to define grading points and then automate grades. In Illustrator you still have to grade out each piece separately, but it’s definitely faster than by hand because duplicating is instantaneous.

  21. Amy says:

    Just to throw in a suggestion for any readers that are considering starting a pattern business: It is perfectly legitimate to outsource grading! (And pattern drafting, for that matter.) There is a unspoken belief among indie start-ups that to be “legit” you must do it all–be the designer, drafter, grader, samplemaker, etc. If you’re new to pattern drafting, using a professional service to do some of the work will make a better product. Professional grading is actually very inexpensive and quite cost-effective. Some patternmakers will even digitize patterns for you.

    These posts are a bit older but still good advice from Fashion Incubator:
    http://www.fashion-incubator.com/archive/how_to_hire_a_pattern_grading_service/
    http://www.fashion-incubator.com/archive/starting_a_home_sewing_pattern_company_pt2/

  22. Anna Ciampa says:

    Hi, I am just starting to draft dress patterns for a hobby and personal use to make my own clothes. Can you please suggest me what type of software would be more appropriate for me.
    Regards
    Anna

  23. Edith says:

    Thank you for all the posts and information. I am currently deciding which software to buy in order to draft and grade patterns.
    Has anyone heard of FashionCAD (Australian software?) I would appreciate any comments. Thank you!

    • Amy says:

      I don’t know how many people are still using CorelDraw now that Inkscape has become so popular as the Illustrator alternative.

      On a sidenote, I wish Stuart still published this site as it was incredibly educational about stretch patternmaking and concepts in stretch. A real patternmaker’s patternmaker! If someone buys his original domain the archive may disappear. My only hope is that he turns his information into a proper book on stretch patterns.

  24. I’m looking forward to reading your post on using Illustrator, I’ll give it a shot. As a freelance patternmaker, I’ve worked on Lectra, PAD, Gerber and my favorite, TukaTech.

    PAD is like drafting with crayons compared to the others. I haven’t used Lectra since 2001, and just remember it being way too complicated. You had to switch back and forth between multiple pages of functions while altering a pattern. Gerber is the scourge of my existence because it’s the dominant software in LA. I finally have a client that’s willing to let me learn it on the job, and I’m picking it up. PAD was the easiest to learn, Lectra’s “trainer” in NYC had never actually made a pattern, so I learned more from my boss at one of my clients.

    Tukatech is my favorite because it’s easy to use, the functions make sense and pattern changes are easy. Best feature of it is that you can show (or hide) a “ghost line” (I forget what they call it) that helps you see what changes you’ve made. Tuka is $200/month to rent plus $100 for the key, but that doesn’t include training. They provide 2 days free training to full time patternmakers, so I got trained while at a company.

    Now that I’m using Gerber, it kills me how much longer it takes to do anything, and I seriously don’t know why they’re getting away with charging $10k per key these days. I read an article about how Lectra is killing it because the Euro is so weak they can sell at a discount in foreign countries. The thing is, it’s all software. The company who makes it cheap & easy enough for the masses could make a killing.

    I don’t mind working on PC, these days there’s not much difference between Mac & PC, especially with Apple being so lame since Jobs died.

  25. I use Wild Ginger’s Cameo which is the pro version of their software pattern master (plus others added in) While I still have to do a few work arounds, it’s what I am used to. I chose not to upgrade because their newer versions do not interface with a digitizer, and I prefer to hand draft my patterns, input it into Cameo and do the grading from there. Without a way to get my hand drawn patterns into the new Cameo versions, I feel like it wasn’t worth the added money to upgrade.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Beverly!

      How strange that new versions of Cameo do not interface with a digitizer. I would think this is a huge need for their clients. That initial learning curve of any software is hard enough, so when a company phases out some important feature it’s a hard pill to swallow. Adobe has made huge changes several times but I have been using it for one profession or another for 20 years so I just keep forking over my money!

      Amy

  26. (Just a ‘drive-by FYI’.)

    There is a new kid in town! A small group of developers is working on a FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) pattern-making program for Windows/MacOS/Linux called Valentina. While still in fairly early development, it has enough features to be *very* usable. Check it out! https://valentina-project.org/

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