CAD 101 part two

In part one of this article, Angela and Esther described CAD systems for the fashion industry, terminology and some assessments to consider if you’re thinking of acquiring a system. In this portion, Esther and Angela review seven CAD options.

If you’ve never used a CAD program before, your initial investigations into the various systems might be a little overwhelming. First off, all of the major systems can accomplish the same things at their basic levels, but they each do it differently. Using any of them, you can draw a pattern from scratch using only specs and sketch or start from a pre-made block. They’ll all grade that pattern and produce a marker for it as well. The difference lays in how fast and how efficiently they go about it. This factor is what you’ll need to balance against the present needs and potential growth of your company to help you make the right choice for you.

Below are reviews of some of the major CAD systems to help you understand the differences between the products and to give you information based on experience and interviews. We’re covering Gerber, Lectra, PAD, TukaTech, Wild Ginger, Auto Cad and TurboCad. Yes, there are other systems–any that were not mentioned are not disqualified in any way. The names listed are within the scope of our collective experience, and also they do cover a nice cross-section of the price spectrum.

Gerber and Lectra
The “big daddies” of the apparel CAD software companies are Gerber and Lectra. The two companies are separate and distinct and yet their product offerings are nearly identical. These companies primarily serve mid to large manufacturing operations located more often in foreign countries. Gerber Technology is based in the United States and Lectra in Europe.

Both of these companies offer basic pattern making, grading, marker, product data management, 3-D modeling, textile design and more. Gerber and Lectra have products for the automotive, upholstery, and even shoe industries! They further offer some of the best spreading and cutting machines available. If you are ever able to view a demonstration of their products, you will be blown away by the technology that is available.

Systems set-up by either company are highly customized to you and your intended product. They will put together whatever modules you need and provide the training to use them. The modules vary in ease of use and complexity. Basic patternmaking and grading are fairly intuitive and automated. For example, if you wanted to add length, it is a simple matter of selecting a line and moving it a specified distance. To grade, you can select a point and specify the x-y changes or assign a grade rule stored in a grade library. If you create a style (a collection of related pieces), changes are automatically applied to pattern pieces and markers. Menu toolbars will be either text-based or icons depending on what system you choose.

Prices for a system vary and depend on what you need. I have heard quotes for systems starting at $10,000, although I think you can get bare bones set-ups for less. One system I worked on cost about $40,000 for the software (for more than one workstation), drafting table, digitizer, plotter, and computers. A low-end cutting machine is around $75,000. If you anticipate needing technical support, you will have to pay for a monthly support fee before they will talk to you. Don’t despair at these prices though. Both Gerber and Lectra offer financing and lease options. If you truly want one of their systems, they will make it possible. Used systems are incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to find and will not be less expensive.

The only difficulty for a small DE, aside from money, is getting either company to talk to you -no small feat. Both companies focus on large accounts and tend to ignore small businesses. If you are a small company with large sales figures, make sure to leave that info in a phone message or you will be ignored. In other words, you will have to sell yourself and company to them. The best way to find out more information and see demonstrations is to attend a trade show. I have seen sale’s reps for both companies at fabric trade shows. Both companies have extensive web sites loaded with product information but sketchy contact information.

PAD System offers a modular approach to its array of CAD/CAM solutions for students, pattern makers and manufacturers of all sizes to build the system appropriate to their needs.

Master Digit was originally designed for graders but over time has grown to include most of PAD’s pattern making functions. It is an entry level/student program to get you off the ground and is easily upgraded to the full system as needed. This module ranges in price from $1250.00 – $2500.00.

Master Pattern Design is a full pattern making and grading module. PAD has a unique 2 view layout which consists of Plan view; where your initial patterns are created and graded, and Pieces view, where the patterns are finished and seam allowances are added by single seam or globally. Plan view allows you to create pieces very quickly using methods that are already familiar to manual pattern drafters. The tool box has a streamlined set of multi-functional tools to create and edit any shape on screen that you can make by hand. This system is very easy to grasp with about a 2 week-to-1 month learning curve.

Patterns are graded primarily by developing grading rules in a library and then applying them to each piece. PAD also has an easy to use feature for pattern makers not accustomed to grading called Grading Arrows. This is a more visual approach, making use of directional “arrows” and increments to grade the pieces. Once a block is graded, any styles that are developed from it retain the grades; the grading also follows any pattern modifications to the style i.e., a plain bodice shape that is developed into princess line pieces, the grade is properly distributed across each piece.

Master Pattern is priced at $4500.00. Master Digit and Master Pattern are both stand alone modules which can easily be upgraded for greater functionality with the remaining modules below.

The Clone system automatically updates your production pieces as changes are made to the original by linking the two together. All related pieces (lining, self, fusibles facings etc.) are instantly updated as each change is made, saving many steps in the pattern modification stages.

The MTM (Made to Measure) module is useful for a variety of things. A developed pattern can be modified with a new set of measures by changing the dimensions on each frame; measurements from each piece can be generated and exported to Excel for specs; and you can import a set of specs and re size the pieces to reflect the fit of a client.

Master Marker is the basic, computerized manual marker making program with some automatic functionality. This module is suitable for quick material estimation and manufacturers that cut manually.

Opticut Auto Marker is a fully automated marker program, with many features such as plaid and stripe matching, some pattern modification while marking, a fabric simulation area for precise placement of patterns over complicated materials. PAD also offers a plug in program called Nester that is activated through Opitcut, which generates ultra tight markers for mass producers. It can generate hundreds of markers overnight or in the background while other work is going on. PAD’s Plot Network is used to order and manage plot files.

Haute Couture 3D is a garment simulator that allows the designer to “sew up” and check the fit, design and drape of her styles virtually, reducing the amount of time and material needed to make actual samples. PAD’s 3D model’s dimensions can be adjusted on screen for different sizing requirements. Colors, prints and textures can be added to the garment to simulate the look and feel of the finished product. The original pattern file and the 3D file are linked to allow automatic updating when the pattern file is modified.

PAD System is available in PC/MAC versions and comes with PDF manuals and pattern exercises on the CD for instructions and training. They also offer online and onsite training sessions. PAD is compatible with most hardware and can Import/Export AAMA/dxf, ANSI, or HPGL plot file formats. Imported data retains piece integrity, grading and internals.

Tuka Tech is a relative newcomer to the apparel CAD market, and yet they have a very strong product offering that is quickly being adopted by small design companies. They offer all of the same types of products as Gerber and Lectra, such as patternmaking (2D and 3D), grading, marker, and textile design. In addition, they offer a collection of dress forms that mimic natural skin. The products are competively priced; and aside from an outright purchase, parts of their system can be rented at student and professional rates on a monthly basis.

The foundation product,TUKAcad, is a pattern design, grading and marker making program. The design section makes use of many unique tools to draft patterns from scratch, or edit from blocks. Each of the tools have a built-in, contextual demonstration of its use when the cursor is hovered over it. This unique feature to the TUKA system speeds up the learning curve and provides easy access refresher courses to tools that you may not use as often as others.

You can grade patterns by developing grading tables or importing specs and applying either to your patterns. One grading feature allows the grader to globally grade pieces, by applying an existing set of grade rules to similar patterns with the same amount of grade points, in a few actions, instead of one click for each grade point per piece. Grading can be manipulated at each point by simply entering in the desired X.Y changes.

Markers can be made by manually placing your patterns in the marker area or allowing the system to automatically generate the marker for you. You can adjust the efficiency of Automark by selecting more time to generate the marker.

Each design, marker, grading library and spec sheet can be reported in a pre-formatted Excel spreadsheet for a quick reference of product data, and dissemination to all necessary departments.

TUKAdesign, TUKAgrade and TUKAmark make up the basic part of the system. There are many more features and functions for this part of the package than can be described here, so please see this for more details.

The price for the basic program is $7500.00 which includes installation, the first year of upgrades, training (videos and at TUKA locations) and technical support. TUKA’s full system includes several other programs and services. For large operations the basic program can be expanded with the offerings below. Pricing is based on individual packages designed for each companies needs.

Smartmark is a much more sophisticated and powerful marker program than the basic TUKAmark. It is engineered for mass producers, utilizing automatic features and nesting algorithms to increase material efficiency and fabric utilization.

TUKAstudio is a comprehensive textile design suite for creating weaves (like plaids and patterned effects) knits and jacquard fabrics. You can also design prints/color ways and create storyboards using your created textile designs as the fill pattern for your imported, sketched silhouettes.

e-fit Simulator is a virtual fitting tool. After your patterns are drafted, the fit and drape can be tested on a digital replica of you company’s fit model. They are then rendered in fabrics that mimic the weight, color, texture/print and drape of the materials that the garments will ultimately be made from; providing realistic first samples quicker than the traditional cut and sew method. Animation can be added to the model so that the garment may be observed in the motions of its intended use. Still shots and video clips can be generated from the simulation and be sent via email to various contractors and design team members for faster approval of designs, and material/component requisition.

Custom fit forms, TUKAforms, are made from a full body scan of your company’s fit model. The same electronic data is used to make the actual form and the 3D model to insure “same fit” throughout the design and fitting stages of development. The forms are made from a solid base that serves as the skeleton and is then covered with a firm, yet pliable, rubbery material. This surface is available in several levels of firmness, including a very squishy type that replicates the weight, feel and qualities of human flesh for fitting bras, tight jeans and other form fitting clothing.

TUKAtrack compiles all of the information for your production operations along with historical data for each operator, and calculates in real time, forecasts for daily production schedules. The tracking is done through keypads on each work station. All the pads are connected to a central management system. The data collected is compiled into reports for instant tracking and assessment.

TUKAplan is a collection of all of the above applications, unified by a central database. It also includes PDM, MRP, ERP, sourcing, accounting and manufacturing controls. All of your styles, specs, grading libraries and markers are stored in one centralized location. When ever a change is made to your files, such as a marker or pattern, the spec sheet or marker information is automatically updated in the database. It provides seamless integration from product development to distribution.

TUKAweb is a service oriented web site. The site offers most of the services and outputs of its software by subscription. Whether or not your company owns any CAD system you can take advantage of services like data conversion, pattern making, grading, markers; textile design, virtual fitting and world wide plotting. TUKAcad offers data conversion to and from other CAD programs in AAMA/dxf, HPGL and other standard formats. The data is imported with all attributes like grading, drill holes, piece definition etc. TUKA is compatible with most hardware, and they also offer their own brand of plotters, spreaders and cutters.

Wild Ginger
A company geared toward home sewers, custom clothiers and start ups, Wild Ginger has a suite of modules for pattern making. While the company has several kinds of products, most of them are pattern printing programs designed for enthusiasts rather than pattern making programs.

Cameo is their suite of pattern making software consisting of 5 modules. Pattern Design; for creating your patterns from specs or modifying internal blocks. The grading module can be used in Coordinate Grading mode for experienced pattern graders, or Measurement Grading mode can be used by a person without grading skills with an existing size chart or one developed by the module once you input your base size. A set of company specs could also be used to grade patterns for clients. Cameo also offers a made to measure module; a manual, marker layout module and tech/drawing and specs module. Available also, are library modules of pre-drafted patterns for most categories of clothing that can edited into your own styles, so one does not always have to start from scratch for every new design. You can get into a system for under $4,000.

Wild Ginger offers free and unlimited technical support. Cameo ships with a full set of tutorials, movies, and projects that teach the customer how to use all parts of the program. The system is compatible with Windows printers and plotters, and has ASTM/DXF import/export capability.

AutoCAD & TurboCAD
Nearly all CAD programs use AutoCAD as a base for their software. AutoCAD pioneered a lot of the technology used in nearly all drafting programs available today. In fact apparel specific CAD programs will export drafts in an AutoCAD format making it possible to share information between different companies or to send plots to copy/print houses.

Desperate, budget-conscious DE’s may consider AutoCAD, or the budget TurboCAD, products for patternmaking. The price is certainly right if you need very basic drafting. In fact, there is a book available to teach you how to use AutoCAD for patternmaking titled AutoCAD for the Apparel Industry by Phyllis Bell Miller. The book is dated 1994, but it will give you an overview of what it would take to get set-up in AutoCAD. You can perform all basic drafting and marker making with AutoCAD. Grading is possible, but difficult.

TurboCAD is a budget drafting program available for about $100. It works in much the same way as AutoCAD, except the tool bars and icons may be a little different. You can find TurboCAD at office supply stores.

Before you rush out to try this software, there are a few things you should know. Apparel specific systems have automated a lot of steps into one. In AutoCAD, the process required to pick a point and move it or to draft a simple line will take four, five or more separate steps. In addition, concepts will be termed differently. If you want to add seam allowances you will have to use the offset-copy functions for each line followed by the close-corner function for each corner. In Gerber/Lectra, you select the add-seam tool and select the lines and it automatically adds the seams, perfecting the corners in one step. The drafting process will not be much faster than taking a pencil and paper and doing it manually.

One thing that should give DE’s some hope is AutoCAD is making a portion of their source code available as open source. Perhaps some enterprising individual will create an apparel specific CAD program available either for significantly less money or even free. The large apparel CAD software companies probably are not concerned about this, but they should be. Who knows what the future holds?

A few final words
We hope this has given you a pretty good overview of what is available. To get a true feel for each CAD program, it is best to meet with a sales rep for each respective company, either at a showroom or trade show. Besides evaluating the software, check out their customer service and the attitudes of each company. Buying software of this nature is also about starting a long-term business relationship.

We will try to answer any questions you may have based on our collective experience. Angela has experience with PAD System and has interviewed Wild Ginger and TukaTech. Esther has experience with Gerber, TukaTech, and AutoCAD.

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  1. M-A says:

    My company does 100% of patternmaking in the computer and it is the most efficient way to go. When we bought the PAD system 5 or 6 years ago, we rented the digitizer for a month, digitized all basic styles & blocks, and never looked back. Not all companies will even suggest this avenue, because they want to sell all the equipment with the software. It helps to have a patternmaker who is not afraid of the computer; ours was a wiz and I truly grateful. I have recently lost my patternmaker (she has become her own boss) so I have taken on the challenge of learning the program (instead of just directing) and I must say that it gets easier every day. I much prefer it to manually pattern drafting.
    The plotter is the thing that gives me the most grief. Ours is very temperamental and needs to be babied. (it may be a lemon) I wouldn’t ever buy used, because the parts & labor are expensive.
    If you are looking to go the CAD route, and you need to do it on the cheap, I recommend that you try to make do without a plotter. Re-think having a digitizer, unless you do a lot of draping. Look for a CAD pattern service provider in your area and get quotes on their services for plotting, digitizing & what programs they are compatible with. Then you can make a more informed decision of what program to buy.

  2. Esther says:

    I am sure I am adding to the rumor mill, but I have reason to believe there was some connection between TukaTech and Optitex in the past. This led me to assume that Optitex was the software and TukaTech as the company. Gerber (and other CAD companies) have similarly marketed their products. I used the Accumark system which is owned by Gerber. In any event, I went on record as “endorsing” TukaTech. The truth is, I have been using Optitex for the last 6 years and I have really liked it. I only recently discovered that Tukatech and Optitex were two different companies and two separate products. So please forgive me as I now must set the record straight.

    The review of TukaTech in the CAD 101 article was written by Angela, my co-writer. She actually toured the TukaTech facilities and saw demonstrations of the product herself. Her review is still of value. I am sure that the Tukatech product is an excellent CAD product and will perform any necessary patternmaking, grading, or marking function just fine. On the other hand, Optitex is a product worthy of consideration.

  3. Carmen Foster says:

    I’m looking to discuss the Gerber Training offered by GT. I’m one of the “lucky” DE’s who successfully aquired a Gerber Bundle recently. I’d like to hear from other Gerber user’s who have experienced the training offered at the Gerber site in NY, or LA. I can’t get any info on the class curriculum from GT, I get dates and prices and “you’ll learn what you need”. I’m willing to sign up and pay the fees, but it is a week out of my schedule w/ travel expenses on top of that. I”d like to know if user’s come away from the training feeling like it was a well spent week in most aspects.

  4. Raquel fortuna says:

    Hi, I was just wondering how to go about finding a trade show/fair here in New York, are…I am interested in doing my homework but would prefer to do so under one roof….thanks!

  5. sherry says:


    My pattern maker created our bags using the GERBER system. Since then, we have sent our pattern to 2 design firms, and both told me they were unable to open the file and were not familiar with the Gerber system. If I recall, they mentioned working in adobe illustrator.

    This sounded so odd to me, as they have been in the business for a while and do a fair amount of business. Could you advise?



  6. Kathleen says:

    Raquel: There is no tradeshow in NY for (presumably) CAD systems. You have to go to the TexProcess show in Atlanta. Unfortunately, it is only held once every two years and it was held this past May.

    Designers use CAD- a drawing program (Illustrator etc)
    Pattern makers use CAD- a drafting program (Gerber etc)
    [Some people use the terms “drawing” and “drafting” interchangeably but they are not the same thing.]

    This blog post will explain the difference: CAD vs CAD. I neglected to mention therein that if patternmakers could use illustrator to make patterns, we would because Illustrator is 1/10th the price. CAD (drafting) also requires significantly more costly, hardware.

    I don’t understand why you’re handing off the patterns to design since the patterns are already made; it’s nearly always the opposite. I could imagine limited circumstances in which you’d need to so I’m guessing it is one of those. The caveat being that you may need to have the patterns adjusted by the patternmaker afterward (the designers CANNOT do this in illustrator).

    There is a whole thread in the forum about exporting CAD (drafting) files to Illustrator.

  7. Sherry says:

    Thank you SO much for this very clear clarification, as I am new.

    I handed off the existing pattern file to a new designer for her to take the pattern and create a new bag design on it. I now understand WHY she cannot open the file. And that the design needs to be created in Illustrator and then handed off to a pattern maker to take existing pattern and add new design.

    Many thanks!

    PS. I bought your book and it is AMAZINGLY insightful and practical.


  8. Sherry says:

    I have tried finding the thread in the search box above about exporting CAD files to illustrator.
    Can you advise?

    Thank you,


  9. Kathleen says:

    Hi Sherry, the box above is to search the blog itself; the forum is separate -you have to search there.

    I had to poke around to find it but the forum thread is here: Using CAD to produce commercial home sewing patterns*. You won’t be able to access it until you become a member.

    You do qualify for membership and have not yet claimed your first year’s free (for having bought a new copy of the book) membership. Do sign up when it is convenient to do so (instructions).
    *I still have not resolved formatting a pattern in Illustrator to be able to print out on letter size paper. There are tons of patterns I created for tutorials on this site, that I am unable to update into a useable (printing) format.

  10. GB says:

    Dear people,

    I am a garment manufacturer, making ladies clothing since many decades. We have been manually making patterns, manually cutting layers of fabrics using these hand made patters. Now, we want to switch from manual process to CAD softwares for making patterns on computer. Can someone please help advise what software we should get? Or tell me what all I need (software, plotter, etc). I want to also find out how much investment I would be looking at?
    If there is another thread/blog on this topic, can you please help direct me to it.

    Thanks & Regards,

  11. Craig Spring says:

    I am wondering if anyone has worked with Yin software for pattern making. They are a China based company with a sales office out if Dallas. I was not impressed with their presentation and am suspicious of this company altogether.

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