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How to Design Fabric Patterns

how to design fabric patterns

This how to design fabric patterns guide has been produced by Harry Mustoe-Playfair of Prinfab®, a fabric printing company where you can get your own designs printed on a range of different fabrics for a great price with short turnaround times and no minimum order.


You can create patterns for print in many ways. I’m going to show you a way that can be done using a computer or using scissors and paper. This method produces perfect repeats every time, and should get you well on the way to producing your own patterns for print in no time.

Computer Based Requirements

To do this project using a computer, you will need access to graphics software. In this tutorial I’m using:

Adobe Photoshop CS6

Adobe Illustrator CS6

However, I realise that not everyone has access to this software! The exact same results can be accomplished using:

GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) – free image editor (read our guide to designing fabric using GIMP)

Inkscape – free design tool

Paper Based Requirements

If you’re designing using paper, you’ll need the following:

Paper (any size – just bear in mind that the size of paper will be the size of one tile of your pattern)


Masking tape

Drawing/painting supplies

Imagining a Pattern

The first step to creating your first pattern is to sketch out the ideas in your head. Your pattern can be anything you like. It can be simple or complex, colourful or monochrome, serious or funny, It’s up to you!

If you’re stuck for inspiration, look at the room around you and look at the objects in your general surroundings. If you’re still stuck, you can turn to many places online for good inspiration – a popular place to look is Pinterest.

I have a cactus on my desk, so I’m going to use it as the basis for my illustration.

How to design fabrics

There are so many ways of illustrating your ideas, so I’m not going to cover them all here – there are lots of tutorials online with tips on how to illustrate.

In general there seem to be two broad families of designs – those that are made up of elements, and those that are one contiguous piece. The simple pattern I’m going to create is like the former, and a mandala would be a good example of the latter.

As I’m going to be building my design up using separate elements, I’ve created a healthy selection of cactuses for my pattern.

Prinfab guide to designing fabrics

Cutting and Putting Back Together

The entire basis for creating a repeating pattern is creating a single tile that can be repeated seamlessly. This sounds really tricky at first, but there’s one neat trick that turns a very hard task into a very simple one.


Paper Method

Take a piece of paper and start drawing/painting your design in the centre of the paper. It’s very important at this point that you don’t draw along the edges – we’ll get to those in a moment. I’m using a square piece of paper to better illustrate the process, but you can use any rectangluar shape you want.

Once you’ve finished the centre part of your design, we can start on the fun bit – cutting it up.

Measure exactly half way down each side of your design and cut exactly along those lines. You should end up with your design in four exactly equal quarters.

The more precise you can be during this part, the better – precise straight lines will make your pattern perfectly seamless.

Once you have done this, swap the quarters that are in opposite corners, and using some masking tape on the back, stick it back together.

Guide to drawing out fabric designs

Now you can go ahead and draw on the middle of the design again; this is the area that used to be the edges before we cut the paper up.

Now it’s ready for some colour, or any other details you like.

Once done, scan your image in as straight as you can and crop right to the edges of the paper. This is your finished tile!

Computer Method

The method for doing this on the computer is very similar to the paper method.

First, go into Photoshop and create the virtual paper. I’ve created a 10 by 10 inch square at 300 DPI, making the image a neat 3000 x 3000px. You can then start placing your artwork in the centre of the paper.

Once you’ve done this, cut the image up. Luckily, there’s a tool in Photoshop to do this for you. You’ll find it under Filter > Other > Offset. From there, enter in exactly half the dimensions of your image for the vertical and horizontal, make sure Wrap Around is checked, and hit okay.

Using software to make fabric designs
Use a computer for fabric design

You can then place more elements in the middle of the image, which was previously the edges of the image.

Design your own fabrics

And here it is repeated:

Techniques for designing fabrics

 Previewing the result

Once you’ve created your tile, you can upload it to Prinfab®’s online tool, which will show you how the tile will look repeated. Using the zoom functionality you can see if there’s any errors or gaps in your repeat.



Here are some general guidelines for creating images for printing on fabric:

High resolution files are a must when printing – aim for at least 180DPI, depending on viewing distance.

Try to use contrasts in your image – print is much less forgiving than the screen – what shows up as a crystal clear edge between two colours on your screen might not show up at all on print, especially with dark colours.

Use sRGB when creating your images – that way you aren’t limiting yourself in terms of colour. A lot of fabric printers use more than four colours when printing, so CMYK is only limiting yourself.

Try printing your design on your home desktop printer – this will give you a good idea of the correct scale and colours.

Choose the correct fabric – your fabric choice will have a direct impact on how your design will look printed. Light fabrics are best for ‘lighter’ designs, whereas heavier fabrics are more forgiving and can be used for pretty much any design.


Final Result & Printing

You can get your fabric printed at Prinfab® onto a range of different fabrics with no minimum order. It’s very easy, just upload your image, choose your fabric and go – you should have your own custom printed fabric in just a few days.

I’ve printed my cactus designs onto their Classic Plain Cotton, and here’s the result:

Illustration printed on fabric
Fabric design tips