3 Ways to Enhance Your Pre-Production Designs

Putting your designs into production is really exciting because you see your ideas turn into physical objects. I’ve worked as a fashion designer for over ten years, and still get ecstatic when I receive my first prototype for a new product from the manufacturer. But before sending your designs off to the factory, you should make sure you’re well prepared with everything they need for the development process run as smoothly as possible. A few extra hours of work up front will save you headaches and some cold hard cash in the long run. Here are three items you can add to your tech pack to facilitate the development process: photo references, physical reference samples, and digital tech sketches (as opposed to hand drawn sketches).

1. Photo References

This step is very easy! You probably already have some photos from your inspiration phase – so add them to your tech pack! It amazes me how many people don’t think to do this.  Every picture helps, be it a construction detail, stitch type, or trim design. If you don’t have these images, you can find them easily through Google. If you rely solely on descriptive words, you’ll wind up enduring through more rounds of prototypes than you should. Take, for example, the confusion between the meanings of ruching, shirring, and gathering. You know the final look your are envisioning, but you and your factory may call it by a different name.

design photo reference

2. Physical Reference Samples

Even better than photos, physical reference samples are priceless for guiding pre-production. If you need an excuse to go shopping, here it is. The small cost of buying a few pieces to showcase specific details, such as a cuff, pocket or sleeve construction, will be well worth it. If the sample is out of your budget, finding a photo reference of it is still an option. Can’t find an example in the retail market? Is the concept really hard to draw? It could be worth your time to leverage any sewing skills you may have and mock up a sampleA few years ago I was working on a running belt for a client. I spent a couple hours sewing a (very homemade) sample to convey the complicated pocket construction, and that time spend upfront was well worth it. The first prototype we got back from the factory was constructed perfectly and met our specifications.

apparel sample

3. Digital Tech Sketches

You can sketch out the full picture of your product on the computer. Your designs are unique, so chances are you won’t be able to find photos and samples of everything included within them. For apparel, most designers implement the industry standard software for fashion design, Adobe IllustratorWhile hand-drawn sketches have more character and romance to them, computer images are easier for providing a set of blueprintsIt’s become industry standard to deliver digital sketches as opposed to hand drawings: from a designer’s perspective, they’re easier to edit, and from a factory’s perspective, they’re cleaner and more accurately depict design details. Also, many manufacturers will professional digital designs more seriously; in turn, you’ll have more options to choose from when selecting a manufacturer.

Your final tech sketches should be accurate drawings of exactly what you want the final product to look like, including meticulous representation of all seam lines, stitching, trims, and construction. If there are any details that are particularly unique, or too small to see on the full sketch, create close-up sketches of those details. Although “meticulous” tech sketches can sound intimidating, they’re doable; you also have the option to: DIY, outsource, or a combination of both.

digital tech sketch

DIY or Outsource Digital Tech Sketches?

As creatives, we often like to be in control of the entire design process and DIY it all – this may not always be the wisest choice.  Here’s a quick checklist to determine whether you should learn Illustrator or outsource your digital tech sketches. If you answer yes for 6 or more of the questions, learning Illustrator may be the right choice – otherwise, consider hiring a designer to get the job done.

  1. I’m adept on the computer.
  2. I’ve worked with other design software (i.e. PowerPoint, Freehand, CorelDraw).
  3. My computer is somewhat current (3 years old or newer).
  4. I make a lot of revisions to my designs.
  5. When I want something done, I want it done now.
  6. I have more time than I do money.
  7. I’m not afraid to learn something new.
  8. I like to be in control.
  9. I’m a self-starter.
  10. I’ll figure out a way to do anything I set my mind to.
Related Reading:  Behind the Scenes: Pickett Furniture

If you’re still not sure, finding a happy medium is always an option. Consider hiring a designer to create the initial flat sketches, then learn some Illustrator essentials so you can modify the sketches  yourself.  There are also plenty of resources to buy fashion flats, brushes and patterns that you can customize yourself – Designer’s Nexus and Illustrator Stuff offer affordable templates for getting started.

Ready to Prototype?

After you have put together your designs, check out Maker’s Row for nearly 10,000 factories with capabilities in ideation, pre-production, and production.

If you want detailed instructions through the pre-production and production processes, pre-register for our Prototyping 101, and register for our Production 101 and Sourcing 101 courses. Our Academy offers these educational guides for free! Over the duration of each course, expect a new lesson in your inbox each day.


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