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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  1. Superb.

    In the also-notice category –
    …how Kathleen is tagging her posts so the info is easy to find in the future. This one is going to get a lot of revisiting (or directing others to).

    Thanks, Kathleen!

  2. Kathleen says:

    I didnt “tag” this any differently than other posts (technically it isn’t tagged at all), is your browser or rss feed displaying something different I should know about?

  3. Sarah_H. says:

    Again I am sitting in the “Amen” corner. the excellence of the pattern has nothing to do with the tools used to make it and everything to do with the skill of the patternmaker. (This includes the skill of the pattermaker with the tools they are using. No one is going to make great patterns on CAD the first time they use it. It took me a week to make my first CAD pattern, and a day to make my second.) CAD is a tool; it is your scissors, notcher, pencil, ruler, etc. You learn to use your tool and if you are good, the pattern is good.

  4. rick says:

    “patterns created manually was better than those made using CAD”

    Its “sticky” marketing, because now you rely on a outside person to do manual stuff.
    I would say CAD is better, because it is repeatable and it scales. one click with a piece of software and it can resize a pattern.

    Why would you want to do that by hand? (you can tweak later)
    Also it sets you to scale and grow.

    Why do you want to cut by hand? automated laser cutting is where its at.

    Usually if you do get somewhat big, you want to plan to grow that means outsourcing production.

    Also who is telling you this? an older person? that cannot use CAD most likely.

    everyone uses CAD, just focus on the quality of production.

    Do architects draw by hand anymore? no. Does anyone care? no.

    just show a manual drawing if you are doing one of those videos on your company.

  5. hannah says:

    This reminds me a lot of the part of art community that is strongly against using Photoshop as a medium and mistakenly believes that it turns unskilled people into Picassos. In reality, they both have their challenges, and in most cases you find out that the anti Photoshop niche has no idea how artists really use it.

    It just seems strange to me that people would have this kind of opinion on something like pattern making. Pattern making, at least in terms of fit, is largely mathematical, so why wouldn’t you use a tool for that? It’s like insisting on drawing a circle freehand or refusing to use a calculator for simple arithmetic.

  6. Dana says:

    One of the downsides of software is that it can be easy for the uninitiated to confuse comfort with the skill of managing software (the science) with expertise of really knowing the task. Experience with the software doesn’t substitute for the years of exposure to garment types, fabric types, problems and solutions (the art) that turning patterns, regardless of how they were created, into real garments brings. Software, like any tool, doesn’t impart judgement. Just like knowing AutoCad won’t make me an architect.

  7. laurie montag says:

    Exactly! What bothers me are CAD patternmakers (usually just out of school) who may know how to run Gerber, but don’t know how to make a pattern. It’s just a tool, only as good as its user. If you don’t know how to make a pattern without a computer, you’re not a patternmaker.

  8. Avatar photo

    Rick: So by your account, no one ever scaled before CAD was invented? Ever heard of a brand called Levi’s? There are thousands more.

    Automated laser cutting? Are we talking about the same industry? We went to Texprocess in April, the only laser cutters there could only handle a maximum of 50″ wide goods and they didn’t manage rolled goods easily or quickly. Their cutter also doesn’t talk to apparel CAD software easily. Worst tho, there is a burnt smell with using lasers that makes it unworkable for many operations. Most of the automated systems aren’t using laser but it’s great that it works for you.

    I also don’t agree that if one grows, they must outsource production. Note I said “must”.

    Not everyone uses CAD. As recently as 5 years ago, only 15% of manufacturers had CAD. Of those with CAD, 85% only used it for grading and marking. People get the idea everyone uses CAD since companies that need CAD operators are the ones that advertise. By your way of thinking, people should never have a transition phase. They should go from starting a business one day, to being a huge brand, using CAD and outsourced production. I’ve never seen that happen. Most companies (99.9999%) start out small.

    Hannah: good points but naysayers will always be with us and in every industry. Remember the luddites? They weren’t happy about machine loomed goods.

  9. Brina says:


    I know it’s common to use the term Luddite to indicate a person opposed to machines and/or improvements in technology. But the original Luddites, skilled loom weavers, were opposed to their employer bringing in automatic looms because the new looms could be run by untrained and unskilled workers which would replace them. The Luddites were protesting loss of their livelihood as skilled workers. They did not oppose machines or technological improvement per se.

  10. Kathleen says:

    Yes, I’m familiar with the origination of the term but I thank you for dropping that as others may not.

    More to your point Brina, do you imply that the polemic debate today is an issue of newer technology vs older? I don’t see that. The debate has been differing opinions as to the quality of output. As has been repeatedly stated, poorly skilled and or poorly trained patternmakers use this “loom” to produce lower caliber products. I fail to see how this analogy is any different from the struggles of the Luddites. You’re welcome to disagree but I think my choice of words was apt.

  11. Brina says:

    The debate seems clear as you define it and I agree with your assessment: it’s not the tools, it’s the skill of the people using the tools.

  12. Dara says:

    Definitely the skill. Actually, many of the better patternmakers I know do not use CAD, but have an assistant to translate it at the end. Having 20-40 years experience seems to be more valuable than being able to digitize your designs. I’d take Kathleen’s skill over my operational abilities to run Gerber any DAY of the week. Please, do not trivialize a lifetime of learning.

  13. Mary says:

    I am a beginner, well sort of, have a lot to learn, going to college in september for Btec Level 2,
    but have learned a bit about pattern making, i am also a plus size woman, and it is difficult to both buy clothes and patterns. I was considering buying CAD to help me, could anyone recommend a software programme – a good one worth investing in.

  14. Kathleen says:

    Hi Mary, a CAD program is great for someone who has skills sufficient to take advantage of the software and I’m not certain where your skills lie but I’d also encourage you to pursue your vocation. I don’t think it would be bad to wait for a bit; it is possible that the college has a program that you can use. Fwiw, I use StyleCad and am very pleased with the program and support.

  15. angelo cordisco says:

    1st Example – Making on Cad
    A professional model comes in my office, I need to make one of a kind dress, she gives me the style she needs, I need to draft a pattern, using her style once the measurements are taken, I need to go on my cad system and start drafting the pattern. Once the pattern is drafted on the CAD system, I need to print out my first proto-type sample. I cut the first pro-type sample, I sew it up, and then I will try it on her to fix any measurements I need to fix. Once this is done, I go back to my cad system, enter the alternations I need to the pattern. This is a very good way of doing a pattern but it is a long process.

    2nd Example – hand- made process
    A professional model comes in my office, I need to make one of a kind dress, and she gives the style that she needs. I need to draft a pattern, using her style. Once the measurements are taken, I make sure that I fix all the errors on her before I start making my pattern. I then go on my working table and start drafting the pattern. Once I finished drafting the pattern, I will cut the sample and 99% of the time, the sample will fit perfectly. The truth to all this, is that we are all pattern-makers. I was once told by an old master it is not just drafting a pattern, whether you are using the Cad system or by the old traditional way by hand, it knows how to alter and fix the errors before you start drafting your pattern. Unfortunately today, the new generation pattern-makers are great on computers and soft-ware but they do not have the training or the knowledge that comes with fixing and adjusting the patter before they start drafting. This comes with time and experience in the trade. Understanding that every model comes in your office are difference in shapes and size. Even if carry the same size in mesurments

  16. Kathleen says:

    Here’s another example:
    I draft the pattern using CAD, fix all the errors before I finish the pattern and have it fit perfectly. I’ve never had a professional model walk in the door but I suppose it could happen.

    It’s not either or. A new generation pattern maker will make errors and require refinements regardless of the tool they use. A deadly combination is a highly experienced patternmaker who is fortunate enough to have superior tools at their disposal.

  17. angelo says:

    So from what i’m understanding of the reply you could drap and fix the error before you start your pattern with your CAD, or you make ORIGNAL BLOCK pattern using your CAD once that is done
    you print out copy of your pattern fix your errors then scan the pattern back into your CAD then you will have your perfect fit.Well thank you for making understand how your tools work..

    I was once told by an old master it is not just drafting a pattern, whether you are using the Cad system or by the old traditional way by hand, it’s knowing how to alter and fix the errors before you start drafting your pattern,and that is you need to make block pattern fix errors then Scan in your tool then finalize your production Pattern

  18. Avatar photo

    Angelo, there is no need to be snarky.

    You’re new here and you haven’t seen my work so you don’t know that I’m one of those people who does not need to drape to render quality results.

    I’m thinking that it might be helpful were you to watch an experienced pattern maker using a CAD system because your description does not describe the typical work flow process. It’s certainly not mine.

    If you are an adept patternmaker -and I have every reason to believe you are, I do not understand why CAD is such a threat to you. If you don’t like it, don’t use it but don’t knock something you haven’t tried. Using a poor example as the optimal or typical result is a disservice to yourself and everyone else.

  19. angelo says:

    Thank you for your reply, I am a 2D & 3D Artist which I do a lot of my work manually.
    I am not being Snaky or Knocking the CAD system, I am trying to understand the CAD sytem before I decide to take the course.

  20. Avatar photo

    Thank you for clarifying Angelo.

    I think that taking a CAD class would be a good investment. It’s a good way to try before you buy.

    The following is my personal opinion -not saying I’m right, it’s what I believe to be true.
    I think that old school patternmakers like us need to seriously consider CAD if we plan to stay in the game for at least ten years. There are changes afoot and we’re marginalizing ourselves. It makes me sad because the best and most experienced pattern makers are being left by the wayside, precisely at a time when we need them the most. I wrote a post about it today. Maybe it’ll help you.

    What I think would be cool, is if more old school pattern makers had CAD because it would be easier for us to share our work with each other, to get advice and suggestions. And also maybe, to show off a little. Judging from your site, your work is very clean, very professional but you know as well as I do, the proof is in the draft and very few people have the experience to appreciate the detail and precision in them.

  21. Mary says:

    Hi all, could you tell me if you are all commenting from America? I would also like to know how much CAD is in GBS pounds sterling?

    I am a newbie, have started a college course and learning pattern making, templates, gored skirt, bag making, batik, free hand embroidery, industrial sewing machine, overlocking

  22. Mary says:

    Do all of you have CAD? Do you have to have a large printer or plotter machine printer.
    I don’t have much space at home for large things. I have only a little ground floor flat/apt

  23. Aldo Sardone says:

    Nonsense, I’m a patternmaker for over 30 years. Both manual and CAD on 3 different platforms. My computer patternmaking teacher told us on the first day, if you don’t know how to make good patterns, the computer will not help you. She also said, “Garbage in, garbage out!” In other words, if you start with a poorly fitted pattern/sloper it only gets worse from there!

    The problem now is, you have to be a good patternmaker AND proficient at the computer! Patterns are lines and curves, basically. If you know how to make patterns, it doesn’t matter what you use to draw them. You can still drape and digitize, if need be. The issue is many patternmakers have forgotten how to draft and rely on draping and copying.

    I have used Gerber Accumark, PAD Systems, Lectra, AutoCAD and even Illustrator to make patterns. And you certainly can’t tell the difference how they were made by the way they fit!

    • mise.eire says:

      hi eric, hand made is better, because if the computers have no electricity we have to rely on the old fashion way ‘by hand’. I was told not to rely on computers. It think its more enjoyable when doing it by hand. I am enrolling on a level 2 pattern cutting course at my local adult education centre. I did the level 1 last term.


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