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Section 7: Digital Textile Design

Hey everyone!

This is something I have been playing with a bit lately - digital textile design! In this post, I will be taking you step-by-step with how to do your own seamless prints for Spoonflower.

 (Side note: I've fixed that off-color blue in there since this repeat was saved last)

 Back in college in 2007 or so, I took a surface design class where digital print design was part of what we learned. Fashion design school will generally teach you a bunch of surface design techniques - from distressing denim, to screen printing, to a batik, hand-stamping, fabric dyeing, and lastly, digital design.

Digital print design was a little lesser-focused on back then. One of the most exciting things to happen not long ago for print designers is Spoonflower. Before them, there was almost no way for anyone at home to a repeat on fabric except by hand. We had a giant fabric printer in one of the design labs at school, but we only got to use it once to print out our "scarf" designs or very special projects. My scarf, unsurprisingly enough, included the Chicago skyline.

Front side with skyline (designed by me in 2007), and back side, mod faces fabric.

I also love that I found and used what I call the "Mod Faces" fabric for the opposite side on this. I actually bought the entire bolt at the fabric store in probably 2005 when I saw it. I was a poor college student, but I justified it as a "school purchase" though I had no idea what I was going to do with any of it.

 Yup. Here is me (if you can believe it!) in 2007 with said scarf. I used to dye my naturally very-red hair black!

I've come a long way from those years - both personally and design-wise. I would have been 21 in that photo, or close to it.

Ok kids, are we ready for the process of digital design here?!

1.) Draw, sketch, doodle. It can be ANYTHING. However, you do want to think of a motif of some sort. I advise just freely drawing for a bit, see what you are drawing the most of. You don't want to cram too many motifs into one fabric (unless I guess, if that's what you're going for.) Maybe you are drawing lots of typewriters. Maybe you want to do a floral design. Or maybe you're just going for a repeat of one or two ideas, like cassette tapes and hearts. I like to pull out my Dover art reference books (usually from the 70s or 80s for me) and get inspiration. I also have a few books about repeat prints so I'll take a look at those and get a sense of what I might want to do. 

Whatever your motif is, it should make sense. 

 I like to use tracing paper in some of my motif design work to get the symmetry just right.

 Before importing into my computer, I personally will use a Micron pen over my pencil sketches, then erase the pencil. It's advisable to use something that will scan well - markers might be a good idea if you are not filling in with color on Photoshop. You could even scan in something previously done, like a watercolor if you wanted to. 

 Experiment which medium you want to use. I tend to stick with my pencil sketch then Micron method because I like hand-drawing my prints. Other people will use exclusively Illustrator to make their shapes and/or clean up their hand-drawn images. 

2.) Import and scan your sketches into Photoshop or editing software. You will want to scan these images in at 600 dpi.

At this point in time, it doesn't matter what size your sketch is because when we go into Photoshop (and since we scanned at such a high dpi) we can adjust relatively what size we'll want. 

3.) Open a new document and change settings in Photoshop. This is where you want to think about how big your repeat is. Although in Spoonflower you can now change the size of your repeat very easily, I do this so later on when I proof it, I can get an idea of how big the design is. 

My settings are usually 4 inches by 4 inches (because I like to keep my repeats square) and I like this size for garment design. Set your dpi at 600dpi still for this. Spoonflower also specifies your prints to be in 150dpi. This is very important because depending upon the dpi you use, the print in Spoonflower will end up either larger or smaller than you wanted!


We will change the dpi later on. 

I go ahead an isolate each thing I have drawn and then copy/paste or resize as necessary. 

3.) Play with shape and arrangement. If you are doing a seamless repeat with a background design, it may be necessary to get the back looking just right and then add your shapes over the background. This is what I have done with both Victrola prints and this one. 

Otherwise, play with sizing of your shapes, arrangement, and add in colors now. Remember that this is only ONE small section of your print. You don't want to go too nuts with shapes if you want a clean design. Also, none of your shapes should touch or "fall off" the edge of your artboard ever.

My first thing was making a "background" for my other motifs in my print. (In the end, this didn't work out the way I wanted it to, but this is a way to do it.) So I started with this simple shape.

From this image, I copy/pasted and then overlayed those images. make sure those images do not go off the edge!
4.) Offset the image. Before you offset, you will want to flatten the image. Save BOTH versions of the PSD (editable mode) and flattened format. I know this sounds excessive, but trust me - if you mess something up and need to go back, you will have every reference point!

From here on out you just want to go into filter > other > offset. Make sure "wraparound" is checked. Try horizontal first, then vertical. For this one, I overlayed the same shape over the other to get it to be a full, seamless repeat.  

Here are the other iterations of the offset:

I just kept going until I "filled in the holes".

In the end, my repeat of just the background ended up looking like this:

Now, after this I overlayed those cool flower-things I drew that look like psychedelic tulips. It looked ok small, but when I proofed it, it became too busy. 

Yeah, way, way, way too busy.

5.) Change the dpi on your swatch.  On your 4 X 4 print, you will want to save your swatch at 150 dpi. The reason for this is that this is what Spoonflower specifies for printing. Too high of a dpi will make your print very, very small if you don't change it. Also, if you had any fuzzy edges on your print, this likely won't matter anymore. Even if there is a very minor hint, this generally doesn't matter when your fabric is printed.

6.) Test Your Print Out! I'll do usually 11" X 17" to check how the print goes. I also will make an 8 1/2" by 11" to print from my printer. If you want to get a bigger test print on 11 X 17, you can always head to a FedEx/Kinkos to test further, but this is probably not necessary. Select all on your inital 4 X 4 swatch after offsetting. You will then go into edit > define pattern and then you'll be able to use a fill swatch of your repeat. We also talked about this in the Computer Design section where we learned how to fill patterns into our drawings.

So I went back to the drawing board and just played a little with the flower because that's what I liked the most anyway. 

I would definitely buy this print over the last one!

Side note: I always have the rulers on with my Photoshop. The reason why this is because I can always pull down my guidelines to line things up. This print looks less-lined up because of the way I drew the flowers. I also have a little bit extra on one side in the middle between the repeat so you get  a little more distance between two sets for a less regimented version of this pattern.

7.) Save and upload to Spoonflower. Once you get it just right, you will need to upload the 4X4 swatch to Spoonflower. Remember, you want to upload your 150 dpi version so you don't affect the size of your print! 

Truthfully, the print I designed here will probably go through more iterations before I find a version of it I like. Or maybe it won't. You never know.

When you design a print, think about the cutting of the fabric. You will want to design your pattern (to get the most use) as a 2-way pattern. A one-way fabric will have you cut more out since you want to have your print going all the same way on your garment.  

Play with the type of canvas you use on Photoshop. Maybe you get a better repeat with a rectangle versus a square.  Maybe you want a much bigger repeat, so you may want to do a repeat on a canvas over 12 inches by 12 inches. 

Whatever the case, decide what works best for what you design! If you find some way that is better and easier, go for it! The only thing that matters in the end is if the print looks appealing to you and is a good quality-print, meaning an appropriate dpi like we discussed. 

As always, feel free to leave me a comment, ask questions, or even link me to some of your work!

Happy repeat designing! 


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