learn about all things surface pattern design including the creative design process, being a successful creative entrepreneur & stepping into the mindset of a successful designer

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How to get started as a surface pattern designer

A question I get asked by a lot by people is ‘how do I get started as a surface pattern designer’.

If you’re drawn to pattern and colour then you might like to learn what’s involved in creating pattern designs but before we do, what is a surface pattern designer?

A surface pattern designer essentially is someone who creates pattern designs that are applied to a surface. That surface could be anything from a length of fabric to a product. Your job as a pattern designer to be able to create your designs print ready for your client. Your client will be purchasing your design to put onto a product, or you could potentially create your own product.

The design process

There is a process of being able to create successful designs and that is called the design process. The beginning stage of this is to come up with some inspiring ideas that you’re going to use to base your designs on.

You’re then going to start developing your ideas. That is, taking the ideas that you’ve researched and turning them into sketches and design ideas.

You will then take those design ideas and develop them further into design motifs which you will use to create you seamless pattern repeats.

The process that you use can really be wide and varied depending on the way that you like to work, or if you’re working for a client, the brief that they give you.


The way that I would usually suggest working, particularly if you’re getting started is by just researching and coming up with lots of ideas and inspiration that you can potentially use to start creating your pattern design or collections. You should then select one of those ideas to further refine and develop into an inspirational mood board. A mood board is a collection of images that will show your design and motif direction and colour palette. You can find out more about creating mood boards here and here.

Develop your ideas

Once you have created your mood board you are going to use it to start developing your design ideas. These can be developed in any way you like e.g by hand or digitally.

A question I often get asked is whether it’s okay to create designs by hand. My answer is that you can absolutely create your design elements by hand (in fact it’s one of my favourite ways to create my design elements).  But I always recommend taking them into the computer to create your pattern repeats. To create your pattern repeats I recommend using Photoshop or illustrator as these are the industry standard programs.

Create your designs and collections

The reason that you want to bring your design elements into the computer to create your repeat is that most companies will require you to send them a digital file of your work. There is a technical process involved in creating your repeats, and it will differ depending on which program you use but you want to make sure that your designs are repeated seamlessly. That means taking the time to ensure your design elements are repeated technically to form a seamless pattern. You also want to ensure that you’ve thought about the way you’ve placed and chosen your design elements and your colour palette to ensure that your design is well balanced and pleasing to the eye.

From them there, you know, pattern designers also come up with collections of designs. This is a group of designs that work together cohesively to form a range. Creating collections will give you the opportunity to potentially sell more than one design to your clients. Collections can consist of just a few designs or many designs but most importantly you want to ensure your designs work well together to form a collection. That is a group of designs that work together really cohesively.

You can find out more about creating collections here and here.

If you are brand new to the process and are wanting to get started but are not quite ready to invest in the computer software what I would recommend is to start by researching your ideas, develop and practice your drawing skills, work on creating design elements and think about how you could potentially use those design elements to create a pattern repeat. When you’re developing your ideas I do recommend also thinking about what products you could potentially see your designs on too

Once you’re ready, I do then recommend investing in the software so you can take your designs into the computer and create your pattern repeats. If you’re unsure of which program to get started with, you can find out more here


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