Let me preface this entry by saying that no one I’m working with should feel this is directed at them. It’s not. Really. This is an ongoing source of confusion that seems to be rampant lately in other forums and those of you who have participated in those other communities know exactly what I’m talking about.

So let’s get to the heart of it, what is CAD?

  • CAD is Computer Aided Design
  • CAD is Computer Aided Drafting

At least in our industry, these are not the same thing and while I can’t say they are never interchangeable because I can’t know all import specs on every CAD drafting program, let’s just say they rarely are. The problem is that many people think CAD design and CAD drafting are interchangeable and this gives rise to a whole host of communication problems and excessive costs that could have been avoided. Even Mr. Fashion-Incubator (an electrical engineer) complains about Illustrator files he gets that are claimed to be drafted blueprints.

  • CAD Design is done with programs like Illustrator. There’s some other ones too.
  • CAD Drafting is done with programs like Gerber, Lectra, and StyleCAD.

Now, I will not deny that there are people who can draft in Illustrator, I’m sure there are. The issue is, how useful is it? Does this represent the best expenditure of your dollars? I would say probably not. The reason is your pattern -in effect, an illustration- can’t be exported into a computer aided drafting program for the purposes of grading and making markers. So like it or not, you will have to have the work redone in a drafting program.

Here’s two examples of what I mean of an illustrated pattern from someone who used Illustrator.

Okay, I realize some of you are falling over yourselves laughing but you would not believe how many “patterns” I have gotten that are just like this. The client assures me over and over that the pattern is ready to go and just needs to be made into a marker. The person who hired the job out considers them to be patterns (I’m guessing) because the illustration is full scale and according to specified dimensions that are usually labeled neatly off to one side. That’s really nice and it’s not that these aren’t useful, but these are technical illustrations, not blueprints. I don’t know of a miracle worker on the planet who can pull in one of these “patterns” and make a marker from it. Besides, if your CAD designer is using Illustrator to draft, that should raise several red flags right there. First it is very likely they are not specialized in the apparel industry because they’d know our marker making software won’t talk to these files so they wouldn’t be using Illustrator to begin with. If they don’t know enough to know Illustrator won’t work, how will they know the seam allowances or construction? Is your designer/drafter an expert seamstress? As I’ve said ad nauseum, patterns are tools. How can one design tools unless they know how to use them?

There was one really infuriating example with this guy who wanted his patterns graded in Illustrator because that’s the program he uses to render the artwork designs (tee shirts of course). Nothing we said held any sway. You can’t grade in Illustrator. The only way you can grade in Illustrator is to give it an “F”. Regardless of whether he’s found someone to do it, there is no doubt he’ll need to hire someone else with a CAD drafting program to do it all over again. And sure, you’re the boss but boss or not, it doesn’t mean we can work in your preferred software program. Unfortunately, you’ll have to bend on this one.

From a production standpoint, below is the most basic rendering of what a pattern looks like.

I’ve gotten patterns similar to this too. But again, because the designer is not an authority in the apparel industry, they don’t know this is nowhere near what we need. I realize this may sound trivial and nit picky but we need to know several things such as fabrication, piece names, size and how many of each piece to cut. As such, we’re more accustomed to something like this below.

Now this still isn’t enough, sad but true. Your illustrator may have spec’ed out your product to scale but they didn’t know about all the internals that go into making the product; this is a function of computer aided drafting, not design. A complete pattern will look more like this (below).

This still isn’t enough to make a marker from. Minimally, you will also need a direction card, aka face card, aka pattern card (page 79 of my book). Making this is the responsibility of whoever makes the pattern. Actually for a marker you really need a cutter’s must but anyone could get the needed information off of a properly made pattern card. To have a marker made, you will also need to design a cut order plan. This can be found on pages 116-118 of my book (see “marker planning”) but more broadly, that whole section spanning pgs 114-120 is pertinent. It seems many designers skip that section being production related and technical but really, you can absorb enough of the material to get the desired result from a service provider.

What many also don’t realize is that they need more than one marker made. The example I’ve shown here actually needs three. One for shell,

another for lining (left) and another for interfacing (right)

because these are the material groupings of all the inputs that go into it. The problem with many of the (pretty) Illustrator files I’ve seen are that pattern pieces representing different materials are laid on top of one another (like a technical sketch) rather than separating them out by pieces.

In the end, illustrators are great at making pretty and tidy illustrations, but these do not patterns make. Better to know that now than to find out with your back up against a wall with a production deadline.

Now, if it is true that your illustrator has spec’ed the design out properly to scale, your best option is to have it printed out and sent off for digitizing. Contrary to prices I’ve seen around, this isn’t an expensive job. I don’t know what other people charge but a design like this, such that I’ve shown here with 20 pieces would take an hour and a half at most. I would think the highest hourly rate you could expect to pay would be $50-$95 an hour. This is because some pattern makers don’t have an assistant or intern and have to charge their regular pattern making rate.

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