Handmade or CAD patterns: which are better?

Lately, I’m reading intimations around the web that handmade hard patterns are superior to CAD patterns which I suppose could be a backlash against the success of CAD. By way of example comes this comment (I had more, wish I could find those):

I was told by some industry professionals that patterns made by computer were of lower quality. I thought I’d ask someone who knows and isn’t trying to sell me something. [The person] I was talking to is in LA and she said specifically that the fit of patterns created manually was better than those made using CAD. She said she could tell, just by looking at a garment which method was used. I know she was probably trying to set her company apart from the other manufacturers at the trade show.

The truth is that the tool is getting the credit (or discredit) when it is the tool user who should be held accountable. Here is how I explained it on the forum:

Me and my buddy Eric Clapton are clowning around one day with two guitars. I have literally the best guitar in the world while Eric has the cheapest Wal-Mart starter. Now, considering that I couldn’t find a chord if my life depended on it, who is going to sound better in our little set? Me on the bestest guitar ever or Eric on the Wal-Mart cheapie?

People are losing sight of the difference between preferences, available tools and skills. If you prefer to make patterns by hand, I completely understand having made them exclusively by hand for most of my career. That I make them with CAD now doesn’t mean they’re worse. I think you should use what you’re more comfortable with. CAD has definite advantages but making patterns manually is great too. What you shouldn’t do is blame the tool because you can’t afford to buy a CAD system, don’t know how to use one or even, don’t care to learn or use one.  However, just as a customer shows poor manners in deprecating a practitioner who can’t afford the tools, it strikes me as disingenuous for hand pattern makers to deprecate CAD users because they have made financial commitments to acquire CAD. For what it’s worth, the latter strikes me as the timbre of posturing I’ve heard or read lately.

At the same time, there are also people who think that patterns made with CAD are superior to those made by hand but this is likewise untrue. A site called Your Camera Doesn’t Matter says much the same. I also found a link to a man in NC who caught a record catfish using his grand daughter’s hot pink Barbie Doll fishing rod. Need I say more?

This comment from someone else could stand a bit of parsing:

Computerized pattern making has destroyed this industry it camouflaged the skill but only to the untrained eye.

Ignoring the inflammatory rhetoric, it could be said that skills have decreased but its connection to CAD is not causal. It is more a case that manufacturers who need CAD operators tend to cull from the youngest in the field for two reasons. First is that young pattern makers tend to be more comfortable with computing and many learned CAD in school. I would daresay that if those of us with 30 years experience had also learned it in school, we probably wouldn’t even be having this debate; CAD would be a divine right. But anyway, the second reason is budgetary; younger (and yes, less skilled) pattern makers cost less. I wouldn’t agree CAD has destroyed the industry but it certainly has facilitated the ease of offshoring product development which has been to our long term detriment if we expect to retain an experienced industry knowledge base.

Still, having patterns made with CAD doesn’t mean they’re better or even, that they take less time. For some things the time is less; adding seam allowances and minor changes really speeds the work along if only because one doesn’t need to spend three hours cutting out a 50 piece pattern out of tag board. On the other hand, CAD can sometimes take longer if only because perfection is possible. There is a temptation in making sure every seam line is exact down to 1/64th or less. I’m tempted every day. Okay, “tempted” isn’t the right word. I do it as a matter of course. For me, CAD doesn’t shorten the time needed to make a pattern by much if at all. However, CAD can dramatically reduce the time needed to minor corrections or styling adjustments.

So what choice should you make? Should you hire a hand pattern maker or a CAD pattern maker? Without a doubt, you should hire the best pattern maker for your product regardless of the tools they use. The final form you need patterns to be in is really a separate issue (see links at close). If you need your handmade patterns in CAD format, you can always go to another party to have the patterns digitized (and graded, I will insist no matter how unpopular it makes me, that CAD grading is the best way to go). If you need hard copy patterns but have hired a CAD pattern maker, you will have to cut them out of oaktag yourself or pay to have it done. However, be aware that most but not all CAD providers will print out separate pieces by size but this should be made clear to you when interviewing a provider.

Must also read:
Paper patterns, soft or hard?
How to know if you need digital or paper patterns
Why pattern makers resist learning CAD
CAD software compatibility in marker making

CAD collar drafting videos
Piece naming in CAD
Is a CAD rental and training business viable?
CAD 101 part one
CAD 101 part two

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