Using Adobe Illustrator for flat pattern drafting

I draft my own sewing patterns.  I had been doing this on paper, but got tired of having to copy, cut, tape, and recopy patterns every time I wanted to modify a design.  I also wanted to be able to save old versions of designs without drowning in a sea of paper.

I investigated professional pattern drafting software, but they typically cost about $5000, far out of my reach.  I tried pattern drafting software for the home sewer, but found their CAD programs to be frustratingly difficult and inefficient.  Then I remembered that I had Adobe Illustrator!  I had never used it, but decided to give it a go.

And it worked!

Here is a tutorial on (or maybe just some examples of) using Adobe Illustrator for flat pattern drafting.  It does assume that you know how to use Illustrator (and the Vector Scribe plugin that I added), but if you are clever enough to figure out flat pattern drafting, you are clever enough to figure out how to use the pen tool and dynamic measure tool, and that’s really all you need.

The first section discusses drafting a sloper – which contains all the concepts you need to draft any pattern.  The second section discusses moving dart, and the third section discusses using layers to reuse shared parts of the pattern, reducing drafting time and making changes far speedier.

Part I: Drafting a Sloper

I started by drafting a sloper from scratch.  I had previously installed the Vector Scribe Designer plugin for Illustrator, which contains a bazillion useful measurement tools, and started by using the Dynamic Measure Tool to lay out the pattern.  My pattern drafting book (Patternmaking for Fashion Design, by Helen Joseph-Armstrong) gives detailed instructions on lines, measurements, and angles, and fortunately Vector Scribe does all three.  Here is a picture of my screen partway through the measuring process:

Step 1 - Laying out initial measurements in Adobe Illustrator using the Vector Scribe plugin

Step 1 - Laying out initial measurements in Adobe Illustrator using the Vector Scribe plugin

Using the Dynamic Measure tool, I clicked on the first endpoint, then dragged the mouse out to create each of the red lines.  As I dragged, the tool displayed the length and angle of the segment, and when I clicked, it added a line with measurements printed next to the line.

Here is my screen after I had finished all the measurements and laid out all the points:

Step 2 - All measurements laid out

Step 2 - All measurements laid out

Next I took the Pen tool and created anchor points at each of the points indicated in the pattern:

Step 3 - Adding points using the pen tool

Step 3 - Adding points using the pen tool

And then I used the Convert Anchor Point tool and the Direct Selection tool to convert the neck and armhole angles into curves:

Step 4 - curves drawn using Anchor Point Conversion tool and Direct Selection Tool

Step 4 - curves drawn using Anchor Point Conversion tool and Direct Selection Tool

Finally, I opened the Dynamic Measuring tool window and deleted all the temporary lines created by the tool, leaving only the finished sloper:

Step 5 - finished sloper

Step 5 - finished sloper

Ta-daa!

Part 2: Moving a Dart

Moving a dart in Illustrator is easy!  Here’s how you do it.

First, draw a line where you want the new dart opening to be.  (You don’t actually have to do this, but it makes visualization easier.)  Then, use the Scissors tool to cut the path at the new dart edge and the tip of the old dart.  You can see in this photo that the selected path is only the section that will be rotated:

Step 1 - draw new dart line and cut path

Step 1 - draw new dart line and cut path

Next, select all the points that you want to rotate, using the Direct Selection Tool.  Use the Rotation Tool to put the rotation point at the end of the dart, then use it to rotate until the dart is closed.  It should look like this:

Step 2 - Place rotation point at bust point and rotate section

Step 2 - Place rotation point at bust point and rotate section

You’re almost done!  Redraw the dart line and delete the extraneous lines:

Step 3 - Draw new dart line and remove extra lines from closed dart

Step 3 - Draw new dart line and remove extra lines from closed dart

And, finally, measure 1/2 inch from the bust point using the Dynamic Measuring Tool, and move the dart point to the new spot using the Direct Selection Tool:

Step 4 - Move dart point using Dynamic Measurement and Direct Selection Tools

Step 4 - Move dart point using Dynamic Measurement and Direct Selection Tools

Ta-daa!  You’re done.

But wait!  There’s more…

Part Three: Using layers to reuse pattern pieces

Here is how I drafted four similar pattern pieces without having to redraft the shared portions.

First, I drafted the basic garment.  This was the first layer:

The basic pattern for the coat front

The basic pattern for the coat front

Then I added seam allowances using the Dynamic Measuring tool, the Pen tool, and the Direct Selection tool.  I put those on a separate layer, so I could toggle it on and off if I wanted to.  (For example, if I wanted 5/8″ seam allowances instead of 1/2″, I could just make the layer invisible and draw a new set of seam allowances.)

Seam allowances added on a separate layer

Seam allowances added on a separate layer

Then, on yet another layer, I drafted the right collar, right up against the body of the garment.

Another layer with the right collar pattern drafted onto it. This can be toggled on and off by changing the visibility of the layer.

Another layer with the right collar pattern drafted onto it. This can be toggled on and off by changing the visibility of the layer.

I’m drawing the collar on a separate layer so I can toggle visibility on or off; this allows me to try many collar options with the same front panel, and just make the ones I like visible.

Next, I added the seam allowances for the collar and added a description of the pattern piece:

Adding the final layer - the cutting line for the completed right front. Notice that the label for the right front is included in this layer, to ensure that the piece is marked correctly.

Adding the final layer - the cutting line for the completed right front. Notice that the label for the right front is included in this layer, to ensure that the piece is marked correctly.

Now, I needed a right facing piece.  The collar portion of the facing, which makes the upper collar, needs to be 1/8″ larger than the undercollar.  Piece of cake.  I used the Dynamic Measuring Tool to establish points 1/8″ away from the collar cutting lines, then created a new layer and drew the cutting line for the facing onto it.  I then made the collar invisible, leaving only the facing.

Here the cutting lines for the collar have been made invisible, and the cut lines for the facing have been made visible. Also a new cutting line has been made visible, the facing cut line running down the length of the panel.

Here the cutting lines for the collar have been made invisible, and the cut lines for the facing have been made visible. Also a new cutting line has been made visible, the facing cut line running down the length of the panel.

And, finally, I made the entire right collar/facing invisible, and drew the left collar in its place.  (The right collar is still there, just invisible!)  This allowed me to “reuse” the body of the panel, so that if I later needed to adjust the body, I could do it just once, instead of having to change it twice, once on the right and once on the left side.

Here is the completed left front panel:

And here the body of the garment and the left collar section are visible, giving the left front of the garment.

And here the body of the garment and the left collar section are visible, giving the left front of the garment.

I hope this tutorial has given you some idea of how to use Adobe Illustrator for flat pattern drafting!  It’s an incredibly powerful tool, and I really like it.

30 Comments

  1. Beth Parks
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Tien, a totally brilliant idea! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Beth

  2. Kathryn Podschwit
    Posted March 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    WOW! I am a fashion design student currently and have learned Illustrator and patterning… They are a natural fit! I can’t wait to try this… Thanks!

  3. Jennifer Gesche
    Posted May 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    How do you print out your patterns?

  4. Tien Chiu
    Posted May 13, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I have a large-format printer (that I bought used for $15 on eBay) that prints 13″ wide and arbitrarily long. Since printer paper on a roll is prohibitively expensive, I bought a 1000-foot roll of white butcher paper (the kind without the plastic backing) at uline.com and have been printing on that. The print definition isn’t as good as on “real” printer paper, but since I am printing line drawings, it isn’t an issue. I then tape together the 12″ strips (after printing) to make the full pattern. To allow for more accurate placement, I put text or else hash marks across the pieces in one or more places where they overlap – that makes lining them up easy.

  5. Gloria
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I am delighted i found your blog, thanks for sharing. Do you know of any books that have this kind of instructions but in full detail on using Adobe illustrator for pattern making.

    Looking forward to your response.

  6. Tien Chiu
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gloria,

    Unfortunately, as far as I know, I’m the only person who’s written anything about using Adobe Illustrator for pattern drafting. I’d recommend getting yourself a book on Illustrator and studying just the section on drawing with the pen tool – that’s pretty much all you need to know, and from there you can improvise. If you need a reference for pattern drafting, I’m using Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Patternmaking for Fashion Design and really like it.

  7. heather
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    hi, i work for a leather company and we are trying to make handbag patterns in illustrator now. do you know of anyway to make notches? thanks H

  8. Tien Chiu
    Posted August 8, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Hi,

    I just draw a short line across the pattern line where the notches are. To figure out where the line should be, I use the Astute Graphics Vector Scribe measuring tool to measure along the curves until I arrive at the right spot. Then I draw the short line and group it together with the main pattern line so I can move them together without losing my place!

  9. Posted August 9, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I often use illustrator for poster signage and some of my large door designs. You can print out your pattern or large art in segments using standard copy paper 8.5 x 11. Lets say your overall art board is 20″ wide x 40 ” high (perhaps a pants pattern). Go to the top Menu select File>Document Set Up>Select Landscape or Portrait Layout>Select Tile Full Pages. Voila! You will see how Illustrator dissects your design into 8.5×11″ segments. (You may want to move your design around so important areas are not dissected.) Next select Print Set Up to make sure your printer is in Portrait or Landscape Mode. Hit OK. Then go to the Top Menu and select Print. It will bring up your Printer’s menu where you can specify the range of pages to print. (My printer takes a little longer to process these larger Illustrator dissected designs, so be patient you may have to wait a minute before your printer prints.) Once the pages are printed you will have to trim and tape them together.

    Another way is to email your Illustrator file to a sign shop where they will print it full size for you. If you save it as a .PDF you can email it to your local Blueprinter and they can also print it out full size for you. I work big so I’ve learned a few short cuts. Hope these help.

  10. Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Yes! goodbye paper and scissors, hello laser cutter. 

  11. lushani
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Hi…. this is fantastic.
    im a srilankan. Do u know is anybody working with this. i like to learn. Im a pattern maker. Tnks, Lushani

  12. Dancebefree
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Yay!

  13. Richard Cole
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Are you adding seam allowances manually for each line segment, or using a built brush technique like other Illustrator tutorials show?

  14. Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I’m adding seam allowances manually, via Object –> Path –> Offset path. But I will have to look into the built brush technique! Thanks for suggesting it.

  15. chharles
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    omg. rock. my. world.

  16. Posted June 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Seriously…this is amazing. Truly. I’m a seamstress and struggle with neck problems, mainly from having to work on patterns constantly hanging over the table! This makes life *so* much easier! Thank you so much :) I’d tried many times before but didn’t know there was the Vectorscribe addons to make the measurements happen. <3

  17. Posted June 12, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks! I’m glad this was useful to you.

  18. Posted July 18, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Hello, I am anxious to try, please what version of adobe illustrator you used? Thank you!

  19. Posted July 20, 2013 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Hi Daniela,

    I used Adobe Illustrator CS5, but the Illustrator tools required are fairly basic, so I imagine it would work in most versions.

    Tien

  20. Rachel
    Posted September 8, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    What if u don’t have the special printer

  21. Posted September 9, 2013 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    You can print on regular paper using the same technique, but you’ll want to draw a grid (or some other kind of registration mark) to make sure you can line up the pattern pieces accurately. I did this once and it worked, but was so tedious that I bought the printer. It was an old printer and cost me $10 on eBay.

  22. sonia Elek
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    so clever.. thank you for sharing

  23. Posted November 28, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    You’re AMAZING!!! Can’t thank you enough!! My parents are not computer literate but know how to sew and thanks to you it’ll be easier for me to help them out with patterns. A MILLION THANKS for sharing!!! :-)

  24. Munna
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    hi tien,

    million of thanks to you to find out easy solution for the peoples who are unable to buy costly CAD software. is there any way to learn from you how you are working to make patterns or whether you are having any video of your working so that we can learn to use.

    will be oblige if you kindly make an video & we poor people cab learn to work.

    Best & Warmest Regards

    munna
    syed.munna@gmail.com

  25. Posted December 6, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Hi Munna,

    Unfortunately I’m not set up to do videos! I wish I were…

  26. Munna
    Posted December 6, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    hi tien, thanks for the reply & pls let me know how we could have a training from you using adobe illustrator ? will be obliged if you kindly help us in this regard.

    with warmest regards.

    munna

  27. Posted December 8, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Hi Munna,

    Unfortunately, I do not teach this particular technique. I’d suggest getting someone who is familiar with Illustrator to teach you how to use the various tools – then the tutorial should cover the rest. Best wishes!

  28. Munna
    Posted December 8, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    hi tien,

    i’m organizing a seminar using Illustrator in alternative of costly CAD software & would like to know whether it is possible for you to come here in Bangladesh & show people how this can be used as distinguished speaker.

    waiting for your soonest reply.

    thanks & regards.

    munna .

  29. Posted December 11, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Hi Munna,

    Just wanted to check that you got my email?

  30. Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    http://youtu.be/D_KNokVZNqQ
    http://youtu.be/2DqEBDeWOxc
    http://youtu.be/xsDEn_-oZEU

    this guy has a few web tutorials on his attempts at doing patterns on Illustrator.

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