Review: Digital Textile Design

cover_digital_textile_designToday we have a guest entry written by textile artist Kelly Cobb, who is an assistant professor in the fashion department at the University of Delaware.  Written to include the sometimes competing priorities of various readers, Kelly includes a resource list at close to further your exploration. My sincerest thanks to Kelly for this thoughtful review.
Digital Textile Design
Second Edition, $40. 192 pp
by Melanie Bowles and Ceri Issac

The universe of textile design is becoming more and more inclusive with the onset of technological innovations that allow anyone interested access to high-end printing capabilities. The potential to create custom prints is appealing and very accessible with operations like Spoonflower or Fabric on Demand. Digital Textile Design focuses on the evolving world of digital print technologies, offering tutorials and case studies geared towards “practitioners” of textile design. There are many facets of practitioner! Below, I review Digital Textile Design from three perspectives.

As a textile artist I covet visually rich textile books, of which this is one. It is a part of my textile studio library; I reference it often and find the concepts inspiring. The examples given of the potentials that exist within the evolving field of digital textile design are stunning. The scope of the book is creative, conceptual, artistic and one-off to niche market. Tutorials such as “creating a custom brush” and “create a color palette” I have found helpful in my studio practice.

From the perspective of educator, I feel that the tutorials are not comprehensive enough to teach on their own. Primarily, they require the reader to do lots of legwork prior to doing each tutorial (i.e. scan in source material for photo-montage tutorial). The reader/user must also understand how to navigate the software programs (Photoshop and Illustrator) before they begin. I could imagine this being quite frustrating for someone ready to jump in and learn. The tools used are not explained (i.e., stroke, align) so you are making something cool but you don’t know how, rather, why the tool is doing what it does. I have used this book in the classroom successfully when paired with a technical software book such as the adobe classroom in a book series.

The strength of this book is the section on pattern and repeats, with tutorials such as how to create basic weaves and stripes. Demonstrations of basic repeats offered (i.e., block, how to offset a block, ½ drop) are clear, very visual and easy to understand. The final chapter “Technology for Digital Textile Printing” offers an industry overview from traditional print technology, digital methods, one page on color chemistry, CAD and a page on color management. The content is perfect to wet the whistle of a textile design student who is considering a career in the field.

As an Industry focused designer this text serves primarily as inspiration. There is not much in the way of technical guidance on textile design in reference to production (advanced textile engineering, fabrics and finishes, color management, strike-offs, costing-the fun stuff that gets you in trouble). The software versions are not mentioned as I suspect when you mention CS5 or CS6 you are instantly dating your text. From the perspective of a fashion designer who is interested in creating custom prints this book would be handy as a how-to for sampling fabric, developing textiles for boards and to generally try new things.

A workbook on the subject of technical knowledge relating to digital print and dye techniques as well as industry print manufacturing processes, this is not. There is almost no mention of scaling prints and little on color management, two topics that are beyond essential for a fashion designer who for example would like to scale-up a sample print into a larger run/yardage production.

This book is a good resource for students and serious hobbyists who have basic Photoshop and Illustrator skills. Often technical guides to software are non-fashion based so this book is refreshing and would pair well with a technical how-to guide. The tutorials are fashion relevant and sincerely fun to do.

For students this book is a must. For artists this book is a must have for the studio library as it offers a niche perspective that might inspire, for industry based designers the book is a must for the inspiration library however, its technical offerings are introductory.

Resources that you might find helpful similar to this text are:

A Field Guide to Fabric Design, Kim Knight. This book offers the budding entrepreneur tangible lessons in textile design. Very modern look with voices from many fabric design experts.

Digital Fashion Illustration with Photoshop and Illustrator by Kevin Tallon. I have used these texts in my classroom. The tutorials are not perfect, however, Tallon does a great job of explaining what the program is, what the program is good at doing and how to open and navigate within it.

Also, I have not reviewed it but Fredrick Chipkin’s book Adobe Photoshop for Textile Design looks very comprehensive and seems concurrent with software updates.

If you would like to learn more about Photoshop and Illustrator I would suggest Skill-Share or Lynda. I personally access both of the resources to dust off my skills each summer before heading back to the classroom and to stay current with software. The classes range in topic and are generally specific to one project task like customizing a logo.

Skill-share classes are online, affordable video classes taught by talented creative professionals that you can complete at your own pace.

Lynda.Com offers great industry fashion and apparel software tutorial courses with a free trial.

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  1. Stephanie says:

    As a Spoonflower user, I really appreciate your review. I am almost in the market for it. I am torn between building up my design skills to make custom fabric for custom work (the potential is amazing) and the end results from the company, which vary wildly with the fabric used for printing. So far, I am not satisfied with the material, and only use it sparingly at home for decorative or specialty items. I would not recommend it for apparel at this point, and so I am not devoting my energies to it. Yet.

  2. I’m glad to read a review of the second edition of this title. I perused the first edition of it as a potential text for a print design workshop and found that version unhelpfully written, compared to the Kim Kight text. And, the graphic design of the book’s interior (font choices, layouts, etc.) was just awful for readability and accessibility. I’d be interested to see if they overhauled that aspect in the second edition.

  3. Steve says:

    The challenges involved in digital textile printing, especially for the ‘solo’ designer, can be daunting. Spoonflower offer a tremendous value product aimed at a specific market. They predominantly print with pigment inks which have a very limited color gamut (no true black or bright colors). There are many more companies in the USA, and around the globe, that digitally print with other types of inks (reactive, acid, disperse), offering better colors on fabrics suitable for upholstery, apparel and the finest accessories (such as silk scarfs), all of which provide superior wash and color fastness. Unfortunately the companies producing these products don’t have a web presence or a workflow that allows them to deliver their product cost effectively in small volume. An online solution at has just been established that is attempting to link these companies directly with the ‘solo’ designer. Instead of the designer just dealing with ‘a Spoonflower’ they will be able to choose from many companies around the USA/Globe and the website will take care of delivering their print requirements and payment directly to the provider of their choice.

  4. Wanda Clarke-Morin says:

    I teach both Digital Textile Design and Applied Textiles at one of the Art Institutes. I have both, the 1st and 2nd Editions, of Digital Textile Design. I have used them as a reference in my teaching, but sadly, I have not yet found a comprehensive “go-to” book on the subject. However, I can offer up that “The Fundamentals of Printed Textile Design” by Alex Russell is an excellent resource for understanding the patterns, the history, and the production side of textile design, and “Print in Fashion: Design and Development in Textile Fashion” by Marnie Fogg is good for creative inspiration…and other than that, my “go-to” for advancing the understanding of both Illustrator and Photoshop is the magazine “Computer Arts” that is printed in the UK…I often take what I learn from one of their tutorials, and apply it to the creation of a textile…

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