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5 must have Surface Pattern Design tools

May 22, 2017 | Design Business, Tools and Resources | 0 comments

I often get asked what are the most important tools for a surface pattern designer. Every designer works differently but there are some essential tools that most designers use frequently.

Here’s my list of top 5 Surface Pattern Design tools that I can’t live without.  

1. Sketchbook/ Visual diary

A sketchbook is a must have for any designer. It’s a space for you to develop your ideas, collect inspiration and write any observations down. The best thing about your visual diary is that there is no right or wrong. Any mark, sketch or idea has the potential to be turned into a fabulous pattern design. You can use it as a tool that has no set outcome but a place for you to explore and record your ideas.

It’s a good idea to have more than one visual diary so you can scatter them in different locations. That way you’re never without one when inspiration strikes. I always have a small A5 bound visual diary in my bag that comes with me everywhere. Even though I prefer a large visual diary to sketch in, having a small one in my bag allows me to record ideas when I’m out and about and unexpectedly find inspiration. I like to to have larger A4 or A3 visual diaries for sketching at home or when I’m intentionally going to sketch outside of the house. Whatever your preference, a visual diary should become your creative companion. 


Sketch book and pen to generate surface pattern ideas

2. Sketching materials

The different sorts of media you can use to sketch with is endless and is personal to your way of working or the design brief. For quick sketching, I like to use Artline pens which come in a variety of thicknesses. Artline pens can work well if you intend to scan your artwork later and use in Photoshop or Illustrator. Grey lead pencils are also great for quick sketches. Experiment with the range of grey lead pencils from 2H to 8B to discover the different effects they create. I find both Artline pens and grey lead pencils are easy to carry around, so along with my small A5 sketchbook I usually have at least one Artline pen or grey lead pencil in my bag.

Other sketching materials you can experiment with include charcoal, Conte, paint or ink.

Camera, sketching ideas, surface pattern design, textile design

3. Camera

A camera is a great way of quickly capturing inspiration when you’re out and about. Any sort of camera from a good quality digital SLR to your phone camera can be used to quickly capture inspiration. I use my phone camera when I unexpectedly find something interesting but for those time that I’m going out to intentionally make observations, I like to take my digital SLR. I use a Canon 80D.

4. Computer

For me, my computer is key in creating my surface pattern designs. Photoshop and Illustrator are essential tools that allow me to develop my sketches or design ideas further into finished designs. I find the process of putting my designs into repeat much quicker and easier using Illustrator or Photoshop than repeating designs by hand. Using the computer also gives you more options to quickly change colours and design layouts. You can choose to create your designs from scratch directly in Photoshop or Illustrator or you can scan in your hand drawn sketches or mark making and then use the computer to further develop your ideas. Some designers have a preference for working in either Photoshop or Illustrator but for me, I like to use them both depending on the style of design I’m creating.

To make the design process using Photoshop and Illustrator easier for you I have created my 25 Top Photoshop and 25 Top Illustrator shortcut keys.


5. Scanner

A good quality scanner allows you to use your hand drawn sketches, found objects or photography within your designs. I use the Canon Lide220 which I have found has worked well for me. It’s important when scanning to make sure your scanner is clean and I like to scan my images at a minimum of 300dpi depending on the artwork and how I’m using it. A scanner is an essential surface pattern design tool for me as I like to incorporate hand drawn sketches and mark making into my designs.

There are many more helpful tools for a surface pattern designer but these are my ‘can’t live withouts’.

What are your essential surface pattern design tools?



For any designer, developing a good eye for colour is an important skill in order for you to create successful designs. Some people have a natural flair for using colour and others find it more challenging. If you’re new to designing you may find it a difficult task to begin with, but thankfully there are resources that can help you. Here are 3 colour palette resources you can use for your surface pattern designs.

3 Colour Palette Resources:

1. Design Seeds

Design Seeds is a fabulous reference for finding colour palettes. The site is full of beautiful images and colour palettes that you can sort through by colour or collection. If you’re stuck for a colour palette for your next design, this is a great place to start.

What I love about Design Seeds is that not only do you have the image and colour chips as a colour reference, there are also hex colour codes for each of the colours. It couldn’t get simpler!

3 colour palette resources for your surface pattern designs

2. CSS Drive Colors Palette Generator

This CSS Drive colours palette generator allows you to upload your own image and create a colour palette from that image. It will show you a range of colours from your image and you can select from those the image you’d like within your colour palette. It also includes hex colour codes for each of the images.


3. Adobe Color CC

Adobe Color CC allows you to create your own colour palettes and schemes by using adjusting the colours on a colour wheel and selecting either the colour scheme you’d like to create or you can select ‘compound’ which will create different combinations of colours that work well together as a group.

Another great feature of Adobe Color CC is that you can upload your own images and it will select a colour palette from your image. It will even allow you to select what colour mood you’d like for the colour palette. You are also given the hex colour code and you can also choose to have the CMYK, RGB, HSB or LAB values.

If you want to have a look at some ready-made colour palettes, you can browse through the explore tab.

3 colour palette resources for your surface pattern designs

For more information on using colour within your design:

  • Learn how to create your own inspiring and successful colour palettes here
  • or you can read more here and download your free colour cheat sheet here

Do you have any questions? Comments? Let’s chat below


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Every surface pattern designer works differently but there are some essential tools that most designers use frequently. Here are 5 must have Surface Pattern Design Tools for your surface pattern design business #surfacepatterndesign #designbusiness #businesstools #createdesign #createpatterns #patterndesignbusiness #patterntools