There are a few misunderstandings on this subject which beg addressing. I’ll open with a basic review and include links to the other pertinent entries at close.
Having patterns in CAD (computer aided drafting) format is great but it is not necessarily required that they be made this way at the outset. It’s better to hire based on pattern making skills. Some or maybe even most patterns can be made faster with CAD but if their maker is a poor pattern maker, CAD will only get you to a bad solution faster.
Having patterns made by hand doesn’t restrict your decisions down the road. For example, having your first patterns made by hand do not preclude you from having them digitized later. On the other hand, having patterns made by CAD isn’t necessarily a slam dunk either if you have to worry about file format compatibility. There’s pluses and minuses but I think all of my colleagues would agree that the determining criteria should be the pattern maker’s skill rather than the tools they use. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s use Olga’s email in which to frame this discussion. She writes:
I don’t know whether I need paper or digital patterns. Personally I believe digital would be better as it seems that alterations and modifications can be done faster. My only concern is whether it can be exported in some common format (such as pdf for example), so that I could print a draft and glue pieces together for a trial without having the pattern mailed (don’t know if that’s even an option). Or do i have to have that software in order to be able to use the patterns?
Let’s tease this out. Yes alterations and modifications can be done faster with CAD and in some ways, CAD is hard to beat such as with shrinkage allowances. In the latter case, it would be a matter of loading your patterns, applying the different shrinkage formula and voila. It’s essentially a 10 minute job. However, you’d likely be on the hook for a one hour charge (everyone has a minimum) but it would still be much less than applying a fabric shrinkage change to hand patterns which would entail cutting every single piece anew. That is not a fun job.
It is well to be concerned about file export, some of which was discussed in software compatibility in marker making (below) because they are proprietary. If you wanted to be able to use the patterns (manipulate them) you would need a copy of the software. Printing them out is another story. Most but not all CAD programs will export to dxf format natively. Then you’d need a program that opens dxf files. Another alternative is to have the files converted from one format to another. Your pattern maker might be able to do that or you can go to another firm. Example: I have StyleCAD but exporting to other formats (Lectra, Gerber etc) is a separate add on module. I don’t have enough calling for it to justify buying it and StyleCAD will convert for me for nothing (they will convert files for anyone migrating to their program at no cost). A company like Patternworks does a lot of file conversion, I can’t think of a filter they don’t have. You wouldn’t have to have your patterns made by them for this service. I don’t know what the cost is, again it’s probably a minimum charge.
Exporting to PDF is another option. Whether the given CAD software facilitates it or not, it can be done albeit circuitously with Adobe Acrobat Pro or a free program like Cute PDF. In the print dialog, the pattern maker would select the appropriate PDF making program to print to which then opens another dialog box to save the file. Of course beforehand, they have to set that “printer” up with the right page size. More on that is here. I suppose that if you were a whiz with Illustrator, you could make minimal changes to the pattern within that program but I strongly discourage that unless you’re a pro at pattern making too.
Returning to whether you should have patterns made by CAD or hand, it’s important to take stock in how you intend to use the patterns. If you are hiring a sewing contractor who wants markers made, you need markers printed (see links at close). If you’re doing small runs in house and making your own markers, hand patterns might be the better option. There is very detailed information on how to make your own markers on pages 114-120 of The Entrepreneur’s Guide.
Many DEs haven’t approached a contractor yet because they’re still in the exploratory phase and doing much of the design iteration and sampling themselves. In this case, I don’t know which is the better option although I’m weighing in on the side of hard patterns. The reason being, if one is still in the R&D cycle, you probably don’t have a plotter to print soft patterns and taping innumerable sheets of paper together is annoying and inaccurate. Having hard patterns lets you trace as needed to cut styles or even make new patterns. If you don’t have much industrial experience, hopefully the hard patterns would be marked with standard labeling conventions that would help you model and refine the pattern work you do for yourself.
Once you’ve completed your prototypes and have nailed down your final collection, you might revisit the digital versus paper patterns decision. [But again, if you’ll be doing your own production, you might want to make your own markers and not need the CAD option.] Don’t feel you must go digital to be taken seriously. No one is going to laugh if you only have hard paper patterns. The truth is, only 15% of manufacturers even have a CAD system and of those that do, 85% only use the CAD system for grading and marking -not pattern making per se.
Either way, you don’t want to overlook CAD as a grading solution but again, the output is variable so it’s not an inflexible situation. You can have the layout set up to facilitate the making of hard pattern sets or as markers. One further alternative is to have hard patterns cut by computer but those cutters aren’t as common as plotters. I only know of two providers that have those. I wish I had one.