Working as a Textile Designer

I’m Katy Robinson, a Textile Designer. There are many experiences people can have as a textile designer, these are mine.

Designs came from several places. Sometimes designers would come to me with specific documents that they wanted. Sometimes through trend research, I would pull out documents we had and offer them as ideas to the designers. Sometimes, the designer wanted new artwork that I would create. Most of the designs I did at my previous company used documents that were purchased. These documents included fabrics, paintings, drawings, embroidery and paper cut-outs.

I use Nedgraphics Fashion Studio software. There are three modules. Although you may not be using Nedgraphics, these are the main steps you would take to design a print.

The first is Color Reduction and Cleaning. This module is used for any of the historic documents. The document was scanned. The scanned document is opened in Photoshop and the contrast and brightness factors were manipulated to create the most differences possible between colors. The Color Reduction and Cleaning module offered several automatic and manual ways to reduce the colors to a specific number. Often they were reduced to more colors than were wanted in the final design. As the colors were cleaned and stray pixels of other colors were removed, similar colors could be combined to reduce the total number of colors. The reason it was important to be able to limit the number of colors is because that directly affect the cost of producing the fabric. The number of colors equal the number of screens. The higher the number of colors and screens, the more expensive the fabric is. It was good to work with several options because often it was able to achieve the same look in fewer colors resulting in less cost.

The next module is Design and Repeat. If I were to design a print from scratch, I could skip to this step. This module allows me to manipulate the design of the print. I make various rotations of designs. Motifs could be isolated, copied, re-sized, flipped, re-colored and used in separate designs for coordinating fabric etc. Here’s where a lot of the creativity goes into the design. If you don’t have software to help with the process, there is a great tutorial for making repeats in Illustrator.

Lastly the designs are re-colored in the Easy Coloring module. Up to this point, the colors are fairly ambiguous in the process. Higher contrast works well so that you can see the design. This module allows multiple colorways to be created and compared easily. It is helpful to have a limited seasonal palette to work with. Otherwise your designs will not coordinate well. Also, be sure to have a way to clearly communicate the color to the printer. Pantone is probably the most popular color matcher, but there are other options that work just as well too.

After the design is created it has to be sent to the manufacturer. As there are several size limitations for the screens, it is best to be sure to match those or your design will not print correctly. After the first printing, a strike off will be sent. It is important to compare it to your digital design to make sure outlines, shapes, and colors are accurate.

Like any other kind of designer, one of the most important things is to have an organized system. You often have several projects going on at once meaning you will have several options of each design digitally. Take the time to make sure you have a simple way to label the various files. Also, ton of lab dips, strike offs, thread, trim and other approvals will be coming through. You need a strategy to store and file those. If they are not organized it is very easy to overlook something important.

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  1. Maila says:

    This is informative & helpful. I, too, design prints, not just for textile but also for stationery, so the process is similar for me but I use Illustrator.

  2. Trish says:

    Kathy, I love Nedgraphics Fashion Studio Plus very much. Here in the fashion technology program of El Paso Community College we have 15 stations of the GGT and Nedgraphics software. I also love Easy Weave and Easy Knit… the the “draping” software is fabulous and you can use it to see your textile on a garment in 3D.

    Amy, check out Surtex. It is a trade show were surface designers show their designs to industry. Also, all interested in textile design, check out Surface Design Association. It is a grea organization. I joined around 1980 and I love everything about this group. I am a Texas representative for SDA, so if you have any questions, you can email me at

    But first check out SDA at where you will find all kinds of textile design info and various portfolios, etc. The bi-annual conference is in 2009 in Kansas City. This is a great group for networking and sourcing information.

    • Amy Patrick says:

      I’m interested in teaching NedGraphics at various schools. I will be teaching NedGraphics for 1 semester this fall at FIT. Can you email me more information about teaching NedGraphics at your school?

  3. Helen says:

    I am looking to purchase a textile design software package – is Nedgraphics available to purchase ‘off the shelf’ with no maintenance contract, and is it expensive? I used to work on U4ia when I was employed but the cost is prohibitive for me now I am working for myself! Many Thanks for sharing.

    • Amy Patrick says:

      @Helen – Until recently, I worked at NedGraphics for 4 years. You can purchase a version called ‘NedEd’ for significantly cheaper price than the regular and Pro version. Contact the NY office for more info.
      (212) 921-2727

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