Illustration software

Boy, I am really piling it on today soliciting your opinions. I want your feedback on another software program I found that might be a solution for those of us who are illustration-impaired. Specifically, I think this program could be useful for people who need to do technical illustration, particularly those who need to illustrate pattern changes. The only programs on the market are Freeborders ($2,000 and hard to get a hold of) and Illustrator (not cheap and hard to learn). Now, this program isn’t designed for the application I’m espousing. It’s called Pre-Design and is intended for the home sewer, specifically embroidery design but it has an interesting function that could be useful with regard to pattern instruction and illustration. With it, apparently one can scan in quarter scale patterns, trace them and do whatever to them on screen. The unique selling proposition from the company’s perspective is that it will spit it out patterns at full scale for printing but I don’t care squat about that, I’m interested in the potential for technical pattern instruction illustration exclusively in quarter scale. You can see a demo of what I mean. It is easy, like it’d take all of four minutes to learn.

Being the butt that I am, my objection is buying the program for $124 because I won’t be buying it for its intended purpose but only a peripheral function within it. You know, off label use? Or, should I just give up and learn to use Illustrator instead (which I have and hate because it’s so hard to learn)? Look at the demo and let me know if you think it could have some potential for technical process illustration. In my perfect world of course, the software company would package up what I need and give me a discount. I am such a pig.

There’s a trial version if you’re interested for your own purposes but I rarely use those because of the investment of time in learning to use it and I only want to invest in learning something that I will buy. What is my problem? I am such a baby. I wrote the lady who owns the company. She’s Dutch, based in the Netherlands. Her English is exquisite and she responds very quickly to queries. I am trying -with all the subtlety of a dump truck at a NASCAR race- to get her to consider developing a entry level specs illustration program that would compete with Freeborders since she’s already halfway there. After all, Freeborders doesn’t answer their email or provide a working telephone number so that one could affect a purchase, assuming one had two thousand bucks with which to do it. So, I’m supposed to ask, how many would be interested in a basic technical specs illustration package?

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    I use Illustrator for flats and specs. There are only a few tools you need to learn for line drawing, which is what flats essentially are. I like the versatility of changing line thickness, color, simulating stitch lines, zippers, buttons, the ability to start from an existing style and change only the features you want, layers, exporting to Photoshop for color, prints, colorways etc, stylus/ tablet compatibility and pressure sensitivity to name a few.
    I can’t speak for the other programs.

  2. Amy says:

    Have you ever heard of Audaces? I am a pattern maker and illustrator fresh out of school, and I was already used to Illustrator and Photoshop, along with the Gerber programs. At my newfound job, however, they have purchased a program (actually 5 of them) called Audaces that allows you to digitize patterns (you only have to take a picture of your pattern pieces with a digital camera), create illustrations, spec sheets, grade, and create markers for a cutting machine in under 5 minutes. It is the easiest software EVER to use (but I do come from a computer background). They will send you a demo CD if you contact the company, and I believe you can watch demos online also. I recommend the software for anyone who who has a harder time with computers.

  3. Miracle says:

    Kathleen, as you know, I have the same issue that you do. Having said that, I’d vote for illustrator because it’s so universal. If you have trouble drawing from scratch (as I do), you can always scan and use the trace feature (sorry don’t know the name, but it used to be Adobe Streamline). More and more things are becoming available in Illustrator eps format, so you’d be able to build a collection. Plus, it’s universal. Did I mention that Adobe owns the universe? I mean, no obscure proprietary formats, just something that translates to nearly everyone that would need to use your files.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Katy, I’ve spent the last couple of hours going back and forth with the Snapfashun sales person via email (named Tara) and this is going to sound really ugly, but it has been a very very very long time since I’ve run into someone who is either this green, this misinformed or just plain ignorant*. She is trying to convince me that snapfashun is CAD software “for the garment industry” which I obviously know nothing about and worse, she’s treating *me* like the idiot. I’m sorry, if a company has sales help this bad, I can only expect similar representations to be equally flawed. I pass and I sure won’t be featuring their product anytime soon. Chalk it up as another black mark against this company (it’s not the first one). I’m not doing point and click design anyway. A poorly educated/trained sales rep is a lousy ambassador for your company. It can cost you sales, more than one would imagine (and as it happens in this case).

    *and there’s nothing wrong with ignorance, only if you stay that way. It’s a perplexing situation when you run into someone who is too ignorant to know that they don’t know. *That is not a crime*; the problem is, if you don’t know that you don’t know, a modicum of wisdom and restraint would indicate you shouldn’t treat someone who could potentially know more than you, like the idiot.

  5. Danielle says:

    Illustrator to draw technical drawings is not nearly as impossible to learn as you suggest.

    (Whoops, cat’s out of the bag)

    Personally, I’d think you may find Illustrator a bit stim. Making parabolas, clicking lines into eachother, is a strangely satisfying excercise not unlike getting a good curve and a clean line in patternmaking.

    But to respond to your query, why not hire a real live illustrator ;)

    Then if you owned Adobe illustrator, you could take those files and use them as templates to adjust.

    So, for instance, if you are a designer, why not learn how to adjust a line drawing in Illustrator (easy easy) and get someone familiar with illustrating garments to make you some “blocks” (basic garment technicals) the way a patternmaker would?

  6. Esther says:

    Anyone can build their own library of basic CAD drawings. I used SnapFashun years ago but quickly learned I didn’t need it. Their drawings are just a combination of component pieces (simple closed objects). I have been using Inkscape for the last little while. It is a simple drawing program (open source) and it does everything I need it to do. I like Illustrator but the program is loaded with lots of features I would rarely use. Inkscape files are saved in the SVG format, which is universal for vector line drawings, and these can be ported to just about any other drawing program. For complex drawings I like to draw over a photo.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Danielle, I did. I hired you for the big stuff. I need on the fly illustrations for blog posts, instructions for pattern alterations etc. It doesn’t feel fair that I should have to hire someone to do simple illustrations for blog posts because few visitors donate to cover direct costs and I spend enough on the site as it is. So, I’d rather do the simple blog post type illustrations for pattern alterations in house. Besides, what I need just as much is the capacity to have it at a moment’s notice. For serious important stuff, you know me, I wouldn’t bother, that’s why I hire you. Illustrating has never interested me.

    Remember I was trying to explain to you a couple of weeks ago a sketch I wanted. I was going to have to draw something by hand, scan it, upload it, email to you, when if I knew illustrator, I could have done it in less time. And I get frustrated when I can’t describe pictures in my head. I never wrote the post, too much work (not your fault!) to get a down and dirty simple picture. I may end up taking a class at this rate. Something web-based.

  8. Oxanna says:

    Personally, I think Illustrator isn’t that hard to use just for flats. I learned how to use it pretty quickly. Plus, it’s pretty universal, and you can save the files as PDF’s as well.

    Speaking from a computer-savvy viewpoint: For anyone who is thinking of just starting out with something non-Illustrator and changing as they grow/hire an Illustrator person, this *could* be a good idea, but with one caveat. If those files are saved as anything other than JPEG’s or AI’s (or anything else universal, like a PDF), it’s a BEAR to convert them or open them on other computers. You’d have to install the old program just to read the files, your illustrator might have to re-sketch the thing, and your computer people will hate you. :) So make sure it saves in a universal format.

    Ohhh yeah…whatever you decide, if you want to use it for web purposes, make SURE you know how easily it converts to JPEG! I just had this problem with Illustrator. I was in a rush, and apparently a couple types of formats can’t be converted to JPEG. (Being desperate and out of time, I took a really roundabout method: print out the picture, scan it, and save the scanned image. Way to conserve paper, right?) Now, .ai files apparently *can* be saved as JPEG’s, but it was beyond me at that moment to figure out how.

    Oh, and if you’re a student or educator, Illustrator goes for $199.

  9. Oxanna says:

    Elizabeth – I tried that, after reading the help section, but my graphic must have been one of the non-permitted formats, because it didn’t give me the option. :(

  10. Ron Rod says:

    To save as a JPEG, you can (at least in Illustrator 10.0.3) go to File>Export. Then select JPEG from the many formats listed in the Save As Type field. I believe it is the same in Illustrator CS.

    Hope this helps!

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Oxanna, I don’t know what happened to the rest of my sentence- the end was File > Save for Web- it depends on the type of file you have- if it’s a native Illustrator file you shouldn’t have a problem; with imported ones it depends on the program that generated it. Some native files don’t do well in other programs. How did you import it?

  12. Danielle says:

    Why not learn how to adjust a line drawing in Illustrator (easy easy) and get someone familiar with illustrating garments to make you some “blocks” (basic garment technicals) so you have all the basic components to adjust?

    Quoted for emphasis.

    I used to think illustrator was hard until I took a class. I’m still getting better at organizing my illustrations. You need to get over the initial hump where you’re clicking all over the place saying “this is hard”! and start clicking with purpose, smart guides, and the right tools selected. =)

    If you’ve got any questions specific to drawing technicals you can ask me.

  13. KatyRenee says:

    Sorry to hear Snap Fashion was a bust. I think what she may have meant in terms of CAD is a lot of people fill the flats with textile designs–like those designed with the Fashion Studio suite from Nedgraphics. But, I make no excuses for poor customer service. Thanks for the update.

  14. Diane says:

    My two cents- Go with Illustrator. For simple line drawings you only need to know how to work a few tools and then you can slowly add skills with use. I’d recommend taking a class to start with (it’s so popular that most local community education centers have them) and then I’m sure there’s plenty of users on the site that you can ask for help with specific problems. Personally, I’d be happy to answer any questions about it and help you set up templates to use.

    On a side note- once I took the time to truly understand the way the program operates, I had a much easier time figuring out how to do what I wanted to do.

    For saving JPEGS in Illustrator:

    File> Export. Choose jpeg from the “save as type” drop down menu. Works every time and then you can select size/quality and compression features.

    Save for web won’t always work depending on the file and it’s really just a work around.

  15. Sandra B says:

    I bought a book called Fashion Computing, Design Techniques and CAD, by Sandra Burke. The first half of the book covers drawing flats uing Illustrator, CorelDraw or Freehand. It goes step by step through the process with each program in a different colour so it’s easy to follow. I did some of the exersises to see what I thought, using Illustrator, and I felt that with a bit of practice I’d be fine. I’m not enormously computer savvy.

  16. Christy B. says:

    I’d say go with Illustrator as well. Once you master the pen tool it becomes second nature, and you can have templates as Danielle suggested and just copy parts to use for new drawings. I think you’d think it was fun once you get the hang of it!

  17. Kathleen says:

    Thanks Sandra for the book suggestion. I got a book by Barbara Sultan and I was dissatisfied because altho she explains how to use all the tools, she doesn’t explain what I’d consider to be the first thing which is, you need the croquis to draw it upon and she never explains how to load the (supplied) figure and draw upon it (and without printing out the figure, just the flat). I wrote the author to ask but she never responded. I guess I’m the only weirdo author who does.

    Regarding the suggestion of online classes, Humberto (patternworks inc) gave a big thumbs up to a company called New Horizons (site is down right now). They bought a license to teach their pattern makers the program. He says that it was so effective that in retrospect, they bought too many hours not realizing their staff would learn so quickly. I called new horizons and don’t know if I should print this, but the price they quoted me as an individual for a year’s worth of instruction in the whole gamut of adobe products (not just illustrator) was $700. I think I’m been properly chastised and will try (with trepidation) that approach. I still think the pre-design program will be useful for really small start ups who can’t afford to invest in illustrator and the training it requires and just need a few sketches.

    Katy mentions there’s another company doing training with illustrator and photoshop specific to the fashion industry. Unlike new horizons, it’s only for 17.5 hours but you can retake it free for three months. Also, it only covers the two programs (I need InDesign, Georgene also mentioned she has to have that). It’s also pricier ($875) but it is specific to fashion.

    An unrelated note about new horizons. If you go to their site, you can take “Brain Bench” tests for free. Click on assessments. Those tests are hard. I took three of them and did well but only took tests I thought I’d do well with. Maybe you won’t think the tests are hard. By now, some of you may think I’m a real dope since I have such a hard time learning things like illustrator but I have to work much harder to learn than most of you. With a learning disability, one has to have more raw brain power just to get to the same level of things you do easily. That’s why I say many people in this business may seem slow because many are learning disabled like me. I think that’s why so many of us get into manufacturing. We’re kinetic, doing-learners, it’s hard for us to learn in classroom situations.

  18. Stuart says:

    I use the CorelDRAW suite as an alternative to Illustrator. It will import and export Illustrator documents nicely, so if you want to try a full-featured illustration and paint suite for considerably less than what Adobe charges for Illustrator, there is a well-established alternative.

    Like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW is not in any way customized for fashion illustration and is not a true CAD program. CorelDRAW is a dominant tool in a couple of graphic arts markets: cut vinyl signage and conversion of vector graphics to embroidery patterns. It lost the race for general market domination years ago for business reasons, which is why everyone refers to Illustrator, but CD is fully as capable an illustration tool as Illustrator. Many of the tools in recent Illustrator releases were first made available in CD.

    CD supports graphic styles, so if you create a well-organized drawing, you can change the line and fill properties on many elements at once, without having to find and change them all. It also supports element search by property, in case you didn’t start with good organization.

  19. Oxanna says:

    (Sorry about the double post there – I think it froze up and I clicked twice!) Thanks to Elizabeth & Diane for the suggestions – I’ll have to try those. The experience definitely brought to mind how any alternative program would have to save in universal file formats.

    Sorry to hear that the SnapFashun experience was bad, Kathleen. The salesperson obviously doesn’t know her stuff. I had the ability a while back to sit in on a product informational demo, and it seemed perfectly fine to me. No silly CAD pattern statements, that I remember. :) Of course, it also dealt with their trend forecasting services too.

  20. LD says:

    Sorry, I’ve got a pretty dumb question.

    For Pattern drafting, is Pre-design only able to trace scanned quarter-sized paper pattern, in order to print out full-scale pattern? Can I manipulate the pattern in the program?

    I like the prospects of working in quarter-scale and printing out paper patterns (so i can reuse those one-sided print that I always save)

  21. Loes says:


    Pre-Design can do part of what you want really nicely and easily: it’s a vector drawing program, only has a ten minutes learning curve and is affordable. But when you want to add text blocks, then you need a program like Illustrator.

    To learn Illustrator, take a look at
    You can take a one month subscription and watch each and every movie on their website (all of the Adobe Creative suites programs and an incredible lot more). No affiliation, just a happy customer, well that is of of course. I do have an affiliation with my Pre-Design program :)


  22. Angela says:

    I’m sorry to say this but you have to use Illustrator. I know it’s expensive but…it is just the best illustration software available. And it would be unlikely that you could ever get a job with a company doing design or technical design if you don’t know it. I actually have to know and use it daily for my patterning job too. It is actually so intuitive that I didn’t find it difficult to learn. Plus it is great for creating merch boards and color-ups. Learn it, love it.

  23. Mina W says:

    If you’re buying Illustrator & InDesign, do take a class! The student discount on the programs will more than repay your tuition. Try the local community college. All our teachers are great, because they’re working professionals who only teach part-time.

    Something cool you can do in InDesign, that doesn’t work the same in Photoshop & Illustrator, is draw a dress-shaped picture box with the pen tool, then place a photo into it. When I figured out how to do that with photos of fabric, for a class assignment, I was so pleased I had to post about it.

  24. Jennifer says:

    Another program I used in my former life at a manufacturer was called Canvas, the company brought it when the started the import department because someone needed to quickly handle line drawings and other image manipulation, plus all the correspondence etc….
    t can hand vector and as well as jpeg ect… but after some posted about Inkscape on your site (which as Esther mentioned about) I took a look at it.
    I found both Canvas and Inkscape very similar and both quicker for me to get up and running with flats than with illustrator.

  25. Stuart says:

    The capability of filling line drawings with pictures that Mina W found in inDesign is available in CorelDRAW as the “PowerClip” feature. I’m surprised it’s not available in Illustrator as well.

  26. Danielle says:

    Flats can be filled in illustrator. Make sure that your outline is a single object. Copy the outline on its own layer, underneath the finished flat. Place the photo or image you want to fill the flat with on top of the outline (works best if image is not much larger than the flat). Select both objects with the black arrow.

    Object>Clipping Mask>Make

  27. Fashionista says:

    I saw a demo of a software specially developed for a garment illustrator or designer during one of my recent visits to Bangalore in India.

    It was the best software I have come across so far. I do not remember the name of the software, but this software is based on the corel draw graphics suite and has been specially tuned to be easy for a designer. The package contains two parts – one deals with the vector part ( line drawing tools similar to illustrator ) and the other part with images or bitmaps and images.

    The software also has a huge library of vector images containing all kinds of garments, silhouettes, trims like buttons, zippers and wash care instructions, bar code software etc-almost everything that a professional designer might need to communicate their design ideas. You could also give wash effects and use it for designing window displays / visual merchandising. The site seems to be down for maintainence right now, but you can check it out later when it comes online.

  28. Wow!
    I just read some words about SnapFashun and feel that I need to come to it’s rescue. I have been with SnapFashun since 1990 working with educational programs and the California Board of Education to help develop a program for future fashion industry professionals. I work closely with Lectra, Wild Ginger, FBI, Design Options and 340 schools internationally. I pride myself on working hand-and-hand with new designers helping them prepare for a world in the fashion industry. Let’s face it guys it is a HARD world out there right now and I am doing my best to help all.

    Please feel free to contact me with any concerns about our program because I truly pride myself Kathleen and spreading the knowledge of fashion design on the computer with everyone.

    One last bit of info I would like to spread is that SnapFashun was created by Report West (RW) which is a fashion forecasting casting company who’s job is to track fashion trends on the runway, street, and retail. RW would then take the images and sketch them out and save them in a program called SuperPaint (1981). Yes, in the 80’s is when we started this whole idea. We really were one of the first to get the word out to designers. Now every season we load these sketches into SnapFashun. ReportWest has now tracks trends on the web called

    If you have any questions and keep up all your amazing work!!!
    Wendy Bendoni
    Director, SnapFashun

  29. Alison says:

    I am looking for a CADD library of handbag designs and accessories. I’ve seen catalogs like this before and wanted to know where I can find the library. This would streamline our design process. Thanks!

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