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How to Make Patterns Faster by Improving Your Workflow

I hear from so many hopeful pattern designers that they love making patterns, but struggle to build a portfolio or fill a print-on-demand shop because of the time it takes to make each pattern.

I have made over 6000 patterns in my life (yes that includes color versions, but I’m still bragging about it) and have developed a process over the years that cuts out all the fluff and gets straight to the meat of making patterns.

In this post I want to share all the parts of my process that speed up my pattern making, so you can start shaving time off your process too!  Let’s dive right into the tips.

No More One-Offs

If you take the time to plan a theme for a pattern, get your reference images in order, and get your brain oriented to that theme, don’t waste all that work on just one single pattern!  Every theme can be covered with AT LEAST a mini-collection.  So if you make one pattern, go ahead and make some buddies for it rather than starting with a whole new theme.

This saves time by batching the work-intensive parts of your process (like scouring the internet for reference images), and provides your buyers with something they will likely want — coordinating designs that go with your main pattern.

Once you do all that work to plan a theme, you might as well use all that data you gathered to make multiple patterns!

Color Last

I know a lot of beginner designers who spend time tweaking colors every time they add something to a pattern.  The problem with that is that every time you switch your attention to something else (color in this example), your brain is living in the “shallow work zone”.  You are not working as efficiently in this zone as you are when you get into the “deep work zone”.  So save color for last and spend several hours on it all at once.  

Batching your tasks like this has been proven to save time in all types of creative work!  If you’ve never heard of this before, check out this book called Deep Work to blow your distracted mind out of the water.

Drop Some Details

I see a lot of beginner pattern makers spending WAY too much time on creating high-detail patterns patterns and I want to tell those well-meaning, detail-loving folks something that will be hard to hear: most companies and buyers don’t want your highly detailed patterns.

The truth is that patterns go on surfaces that don’t typically look good with high detail designs.  Picture printing a design on fabric:  we’re already losing a lot of detail going from the screen to a bumpy surface like fabric, and then the printing is being done with screen print process (where the colors have to all be separated onto different layers) or digital printing (where little droplets of ink are dropped into the highly-absorbing material). 

In the end we are left with very little room for detail, so why even spend the time to include it in your designs at all?  I’ve had more than one art licensor ask me to remove detail from a composition, so I’m speaking from experience when I say — they don’t want all that detail your hoping they’ll be impressed by!

Keep It Simple

Speaking of dropping some detail, remember that simple designs are some of the most beautiful and sellable ones out there!  You don’t have to create super-complex designs to sell your work, so be sure to give yourself a break from time to time and make a simple pattern.  This little guy probably took me 10 minutes, but is one of my favorites in this collection so far.

Also remember that every complex pattern needs some simple buddies to go along with it.  Anyone who has ever sewn anything knows that you rarely do a sewing project that doesn’t require a blender print, so make sure to balance your complex patterns with simple ones!

Use a Pattern Preview

If you know me at all, you know I love using the Live Pattern Preview in Affinity Designer to check my patterns as I create them.  I can appreciate this functionality more than most because I used to spend countless hours exporting repeat blocks from Photoshop to check them back in the good ‘ol days when no pattern preview tools were available.  Now I just use my eyes to glance over to the left and bam, I know exactly how to fix my repeat.  I think this saves more time than any other pattern hack I’ve ever found!

What's this "pattern preview" you speak of?

The Pattern Preview is a feature of Affinity Designer that I use to build my patterns on my iPad.  I have a free mini-course on Affinity in case you want to see what it’s all about!

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