Fabric design is an exciting, creative, diverse industry. If you’re reading this, you're most likely involved in textile design. And as experts in this field, we have plenty to discuss.

We've put together a comprehensive guide on fabric designs. Here you'll find out what textile designers do and how you can design magnificent patterns on fabrics for sewing. We also give you plenty of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing.

What is a design you put on fabric?

In fabric design, we create patterns to print onto material, or weave or knit together using fabric fibres before the material is made. The most common way to do this is by printing on fabric, something we specialise in at maake. (We also print a minimum order if you need it, but that’s another story!)

Many artists create these two-dimensional patterns digitally (on computer). Others do this by first painting or sketching them and then scanning them into Adobe Design computer software products. They can also use patterns that have already been created by independent artists. In this case, this involves obtaining copyright to do this, unless the images are free of copyright.

Textile creators produce their designs for two industries – fashion clothing as well as accessories like footwear, handbags and scarves; and interior design fabrics, such as upholstery, floor coverings and soft furnishings.

The 2 types of textile designers

There are 2 different types of fabric designer, surface designers and those who design fabric.

·       Surface designer: This type of creator produces a motif to print on a selection of products, including fabric. Other media that can be printed on include wall paper, paper packaging, plastic, mobile phone cases, paper etc. This type of designer creates lots of patterns for both the fashion and the interior design online and home industries.

·       Fabric designer: Creates patterns and designs specifically to print, weave or knit onto fabric for sewing. Different products may have special characteristics. For example, if you’re designing a motif for an upholstery fabric, the material has to be extremely hard wearing. If you're upholstering furniture for outdoors, the textile needs to be waterproof and able to stand in the sun the sun without fading.

Different styles of patterns used on fabric

·      When designing fabric, you can create either individual (exclusive) designs, or repetitive ones. The latter are a lot less expensive than exclusive ones, as the motif can be repeated. 

·      Of course, if you design a specific motif especially for your brand, you will stand out from the crowd. In this case, you have to consider the rights of the motif that has been created. This is divided into:

-       Exclusive use (copyright): Fashion brands use this method a lot, so that they have exclusive ownership of a particular design. Exclusive designs aren't cheap, as the brand has to pay for having the motif created and for the copyright of the design. Copyright ensures that nobody else can use the design.

-       Licence to use the design: You can purchase a licence to use a pattern without having to pay for creating one. The copyright for this pattern belongs to the creator. They give you permission to use their design, at a fee. The independent artists whose work is featured in our library retain the copyright to their designs; but they allow us to print them on fabric for customers, at a fee. 

How to create custom designs 

The process involved in the fabric designs includes:

1.     Having the knowledge of your industry, and the skills to execute these skills on computer.

2.     Coming up with a custom design, taking the brand and your audience into account when you create that custom design. We cover this in detail separately, below.

3.     Creating a sketch of the design either by hand or digitally on computer.

4.     Using specialist computer software to make the decoration ready for print.

5.     Sourcing and selecting the right textile for printing on. 

6.     You need to know a lot about different fabrics in order to choose the right method to choose for a particular fabric. You also need to find a printer. Think about it: reproducing on cotton will be completely different to reproducing on leather or velvet, for example.

The creative process 

Creating patterns for base materials

The creative process is complicated, as you need take a lot into consideration. You need to consider the colours you will be using and the fabric you’re going to print on. You also need to think about which reproduction process you use; this depends on whether the textile is natural or man-made.

If you're not going to print on fabric, you need to think about what's necessary to weave or knit with the material.

Here at maake, we use two very different methods to print on man-made and synthetic fabrics or a blend of both. Both methods are sustainable.

A note on design fabric repeats

A pattern can be exclusive, or it can be repetitive in different ways. Try not to make the pattern too repetitive and make sure it's the right scale to fit the product.  Let’s take a look at the 4 different repeats available:

1. Full drop repeat patterns

This is the simplest type of repeat, where the pattern is copied horizontally and vertically. It’s meant to be repetitive.

2.   Half drop repeat patterns

This type of design is less repetitive than the one above. It's created by repeating itself horizontally, then aligning it with the repeated pattern on the first line.

3.   Mirror repeat patterns

These patterns can look really exciting. A designer produces a mirror repeat by duplicating the decoration horizontally and then, on the next line, mirroring the first line. If created in Adobe Illustrator, the user would choose ‘Transform’, then use ‘Flip Vertically’ and ‘Flip Horizontally’. When you repeat the process vertically, the effect is mirrored.

4.   Half-Brick repeat patterns

This is where the design is arranged/repeated on a brick wall repeat with one placed in between two designs up and below.

What your creation looks like

It's very difficult to imagine what a textile will look like when it’s been printed, so we recommend that you print a sample before you print your order. This way, you will have a good idea of exactly what it will look like when it’s printed on the fabric. You can order a fabric sample, or purchase our samples book to get an idea of how patterns print on a variety of different fabrics.

If you’re happy with the result, the printer will then print your order for you.

 What to consider before printing on material

1.   Scale

Make sure the design is printed to the right scale. The design shouldn't overpower the product. If you’re using a floral design on a dress, for instance, it needs to fit the product – the flowers can’t be too big, or they will be out of place.

If you have an existing design ready, make sure to scale the design so that it fits the product you’re manufacturing. This applies to both clothing and homeware. 

2.   Colours and colour matching

Colours are also very important. You must make sure you consider the end product when you choose a colour palette. Baby’s clothing, accessories and soft homeware items are always in pastels or fun, happy shades. One would never use black or navy blue for these.

So think about how you want the product to look, whether you want the colour to pop or blend in. A good rule is to choose no more than 3 colours. One is for the base or the background, and the other 2 are for the motif itself. Of course, certain patterns, such as florals, often require more colours, but keep this rule in mind.

You can create a kaleidoscope of gorgeous colours for your design by colour matching, a service we offer here at maake.

3.   The fabric

You need to choose fabrics carefully, depending on your product. As we mentioned earlier, think about what you will use the product for and whether it needs to be hard wearing.

If you’re designing clothing, there's a lot you need to think about. Consider the fabric's drape and whether it needs stretch.

Is the material breathable? Is it waterproof? If the textile is for winter, is it warm enough? Or is it cool enough for the warmer months?

You need to consider all these facts before you choose the right textile.

Don’t forget to consider the washing instructions and care required.

For example, kids clothing needs to be easy to wash, while upholstery and cushions may need dry cleaning, as they need to be able to withstand wear and tear.

Don’t forget to think about safety standards for products (eg is the fabric flame resistant? Is it safe to use for children? Can people with allergies use it?

Printing on material

At maake we use sublimation or digital textile printing to print on fabrics. Different processes will give different results; it depends on the type of fabric you use. So make sure you print using the right process so that it creates the desired effect. 

  • Reproduction on natural or organic fabric: In our North London factory, our natural fabrics (cotton, linen etc) are digitally printed in a very sustainable manner. We work this process using Digital Pigment inks. We use no water in this process and approximately 95% less energy than other methods, including traditional screen prints.
  • Printing on synthetic fabrics: We use no water when we work in the sublimation reproduction process. 

Read all about the fabric print process with maake. And check out our simple guide to digital fabric printing, too!

And now the fun begins!

We’ve added 2 very important designer tools for you to order before you start your work. These are ideal for everybody, from a professional Etsy seller who spends days designing to someone who is creating a home project that will take a few hours:

The Designer Pro Bundle

At just £21, plus a £5 credit towards your next purchase

This comprises:

  • A samples book
  • Colour atlas for polyester fabrics 140x100cm
  • Colour atlas for cotton materials 140x100cm
  • Reproduction digital design booklet
  • 5 large fabric samples with your patterns
  • Free delivery.


There's also The Designer Starter Bundle

At just £12 - plus a £5 credit towards your next purchase

It features:

  • A samples book
  • Mini polyester fabric colour atlas 65cmx48cm
  • Mini cotton colour atlas 65cmx48cm
  • Reproduction digital design booklet
  • 5 large fabric samples with your patterns
  • Free delivery.
  • The product ships in a matter of days. 

Ready, set, it’s time for sewing!

Now it’s time to take the inspiration we’ve given you and create your own fabric.

Shop your fabric here

View products in our extensive fabric design directory

Design your very own fabric



March 20, 2024 — Artemis Doupa