I’m pleased to present part one of a two part series on CAD -computer aided drafting/design written by two regular visitors to our site, Esther and Angela. By the way, if you have ideas for an article and want to write one, be sure to let me know.
Esther has worked as a designer of children’s clothing (sold in big box retail and specialty boutique stores), a technical designer, and a pattern maker for the last ten years. Her latest venture is TinyPackages an online retail boutique featuring baby gifts, clothing, and accessories. Esther continues to work as a contract pattern maker, part-time librarian and squeezes in regular updates to her blog Design Loft.
Angela has worked in the garment industry for 25 years, including pattern making, grading, and cutting for the bridal and junior markets. When her children were young, she started doing freelance pattern making and grading from home, expanding to the design of custom bridal attire including costumes for the film industry. She and her family manufacture made to order special occasion children’s clothing through their website Eve and Ellie.
Computer technology has invaded nearly every aspect of our lives. Surprisingly, computer aided drafting for apparel has existed in one form or another since the 1970’s. It has only been recently that computer technology has become affordable for the average person. Many new design entrepreneurs look to computers to relieve some of the work required to develop a new style. Even though computers have become more affordable, pattern making and grading software is still a very expensive investment for a new company. In part one of this article, we will review basic terminology, discuss required skills, and basic costs. In part two, we will review the most common and well known drafting programs.
Before we can begin our discussion about CAD systems and small DEs, we need to define a few terms. CAD is an acronym for computer aided design. Strictly speaking, CAD refers to any type of design work created by using a computer. This could include graphic design, animation, digital photography, drafting, etc. In this article, we will use the term CAD to refer to 2-D or flat pattern making done on a computer. There is such a thing as 3-D modeling/draping on a computer, but for now we will focus on the basics.
The next key terms to define are hard patterns versus soft patterns. A hard pattern is made from a pencil and paper (or tag board). It is very tangible – meaning you can cut and slash a pattern directly with physical scissors or draw a line with a pencil. A soft pattern is a digital version of a hard pattern. Nearly everything you can do with a hard pattern can be done to a soft pattern. The difference is the media and tools that are used. To simplify our discussion we will refer to a soft pattern simply as a pattern and a paper pattern as a hard pattern.
Some other important terms:
- Digitize – the process required to put a pattern into the computer from a hard pattern using a stylus and tablet.
- Digitizer or Puck -a mouselike input device with buttons (to input grade rules) and cross hairs for exact placement in digitizing hard patterns into a CAD system.
- Stylus – this is like a computer mouse but in the shape of a pen. Some pattern makers prefer this over a traditional mouse.
- Tablet – a flat electronic board (used with a stylus, puck or digitizer) that allows for digitizing hard patterns into the system.
- Plotter – a wide carriage printer. Plotters range in width of 24″, 36″, to 72″ wide. They hold a large roll of paper and stand on legs. These plotters have ink pens or wells to print and knives (certain models) to cut the pieces out.
Is a CAD system appropriate for a small DE?
This is not an easy question to answer. So much depends on individual skill levels, desire, and need. A CAD system may or may not make your business run more efficiently. If you can justify the cost, have the basic skills, and desire to do things yourself, then go for it.
Many manufacturers even today, do not have CAD systems themselves. This is not to say they don’t need or don’t use CAD. These manufacturers outsource this function to companies that provide CAD services, most notably for grading and marking. While the majority of companies may not have CAD systems, the majority do use CAD for grading and marking.
There are some features to consider when deciding whether a CAD system is right for your venture. Once you’ve become proficient with a system, CAD drafting is much faster than hand drawing. If you are a mid size to large company you can see the obvious benefit here. If you are a small, one or two person company the time saved with even a basic system can be allotted to your gazillion other duties. Mundane tasks like truing seams, naming pieces, and adding seam allowances are much faster, not to mention the speed and precision of computer grading. Once your grading libraries are developed (which takes very little time) applying grading to a pattern takes minutes instead of the hours it can take if done manually. Full systems allow you to adjust a graded and marked pattern with a few clicks on the base size; and have the changes update through all sizes and the marker—another major time saver.
You’ll see a decrease in the need for hard patterns (less storage space needed) and you’ll save time costing your garments with computerized layouts and quick spec exporting to spreadsheet software for tabulating yardages and components. For companies working with overseas contractors, file (pattern) transfers can be sent over the Internet in minutes at very low cost saving time and money on expedited delivery of hard patterns.
You can realize faster speed to market depending on the package you choose. Some systems offer full integration with every aspect of your production. This can include design, story boards, fabric and print design, pattern making, fitting with virtual fit models, grading, costing, marking, cutting, tracking through production, accounting, and more.
It is true that you will likely receive training from whomever you purchase your system. The training does not include pattern making, grading or pattern making skills, except at a basic level. The training will help you set up your system to work most efficiently with your goals and product. You will likely receive an overview of the tools and how to use them. You must already possess basic pattern making skills to make the most use of a CAD system. Even though some CAD packages will draft patterns for you (through made-to-measure modules), you still need to fine tune and clean-up the patterns manually. Here is a simple break down of skills you should already possess:
- Pattern making and draping by hand. You must already know how to make patterns.
- Familiarity with grading and marker making.
- Computer literacy. You should know how to use a computer and do basic troubleshooting (or know someone who can). Most CAD providers have technical support, but it is at an additional cost. Also, protect your computer with the usual virus and spy ware protection software packages.
- Enjoy using a computer for long periods of time. CAD programs have made pattern making more efficient and easier, but it still takes time and patience.
- Sew. You have to plot out your patterns and test them in fabric.
- Attention to detail.
- Basic math skills.
General description of software packages.
A basic package consists of pattern drafting, grading and some marker capabilities. Training varies per company. Most will have you purchase training that includes initial on-your-site training for you or your pattern maker and maybe a yearly technical support contract. Some companies also offer CDs and/or on-line training. As your budget and needs allow, you can add features like advanced marker capabilities, 3D designing, made-to-measure, product data management, and textile design modules. Each of these modules can increase your work efficiency in various ways. Here is a brief description of optional modules available for additional cost.
3D design visualization modules allows the designer to preview a design on a virtual model to check fit, design and fabric behavior. Some systems will calibrate your virtual model with the identical shape and specs of your live fit model through the use of body scanning technology. 3D samples cut down the approval process of a design and save time and material allowing you to view a garment without cutting and sewing first. You can create libraries of scanned fabric swatches for your designs that can be applied to your 3D model so you can “sew up” a garment in the actual fabric. Prints and patterns can be scaled to reflect their actual size in a given garment. Some systems allow you to add animation to your model so that you can see the garment in action. Animated models accurately portray the garment in its intended use; you can observe points of stress, poor fit or unappealing style line placement, and make these primary corrections before the final test in fabric. Advanced systems simulate the actual fabric of the garment, from the softest chiffon to leather and denim. Another advantage of the 3D model is the ability to send snapshots or videos of the design to other members of the design/approval process, quickly over the Internet for immediate feedback.
Made to Measure functions work for both mass customization, like Lands End which offers on-line custom sized clothing, or for a smaller custom clothier. A bridal designer, for example, may offer custom sizing of static seasonal designs for a size varied clientele.
Product data management (PDM) software offers sophisticated tracking/planning systems for all stages of production with the ability to evaluate each operator’s efficiency and quality of work. The computerized work flow increases productivity and automates many labour/skill intensive functions systematically such as; generating work/cutting tickets, pre-planning of resources and line-allocation. PDM systems can store all necessary data for each style in one location, which can be disseminated to various contractors efficiently.
Some systems offer fabric related modules that allow you to design fabrics such as plaids, special weaves, knits and Jacquards. Print design modules for designing printed designs and patterns for your unique look. Some systems offer drawing features for producing story boards and catalogs with realistic texturing of fabrics. Some of these tasks can also be accomplished with graphic design software such as Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.
Packages designed for mid to large sized companies with in-house cutting facilities will include plotting and cutting abilities for manual or fully automated environments.
You will need a dedicated work space for a CAD system. The amount of space actually required will vary on your system set-up. A basic system will require a desktop computer with the usual peripherals – printer, mouse (or stylus), and speakers. A 19″ monitor is ideal, although you can use smaller. Most systems can be installed on any computer and operating system – you won’t necessarily need the latest or greatest computer. I used one CAD system installed on an inexpensive eMachine available from Wal-Mart. Some CAD providers will try to sell you a computer for thousands of dollars, but in reality those computers are not much different from inexpensive models available from other suppliers.
Your computer should be set-up close to a drafting table. Even though you will do most of your drafting on the computer, you will still need the space to accomplish many tasks. This includes digitizing a pattern, verifying pattern plots, checking measurements against a hard pattern, and many other uses. Many CAD systems have optional drafting tables, but feel free to shop around. Some systems can be configured around a drafting table instead of a traditional desk. The computer tower sits underneath and the monitor floats above the drafting table.
If you do not use a printing/plotting service, you will need space for a plotter and/or cutting machine. The most common plotter (a stand up plotter) does not take up much space and they are relatively inexpensive. Some plotters are equipped with a knife blade that will cut out your paper patterns for you. Another option is to cut sewing samples (in fabric) directly from your CAD system on a small cutting machine, a huge time saver. A cutting machine is an extremely expensive piece of equipment, so many DEs will not be able to purchase this right away.
A CAD system is most efficiently set-up near the same area where samples are sewn. This will allow a pattern maker to work closely with sample sewers and make quick modifications to a pattern.
The most important piece of your CAD system is a dongle or hardware key. This is a small device that is placed on the back of a computer onto a parallel port. A dongle unlocks your CAD system and allows you to use it. It would be a good idea to insure this piece of hardware, you will be stuck without it. A replacement dongle is the price of a new system. Only authorized individuals should be allowed to touch it. Don’t make the mistake of buying a used CAD system unless it includes the dongle. Without the dongle, the program cannot be used.
In part two, we will discuss the attributes of various CAD programs on the market today.