So, what is Surface Pattern Design?

It’s a good question. I was dabbling in illustration and design for several years before I had even heard the term. When I finally learned about the field of surface pattern design, I had a bit of an epiphany. Why did walking around stores like Anthropology inspire me? All the beautiful patterns! Once I stared creating my own patterns, I was hooked. I had finally found my design niche.

Surface pattern design is, literally, everywhere! Wherever you are right now, look around. The patterns you see on your notebook, comforter, wallpaper, or maybe even on your outfit, where all designed by someone. That is surface pattern design. Next time you go to any store, take a look around. You’ll be amazed by how many patterns you see.

Surface pattern design adds color and dimension to the world around us, and it’s an accessible art form. Patterns add life and energy to our everyday lives.

What does a surface pattern designer do?

Surface pattern designers create artwork which is printed onto surfaces such as apparel, home decor, and quilting fabrics. After creating the artwork, a repeat is created, typically using design software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Usually, multiple colorways, or alternate color palettes, are created. Finally, the artwork is prepared for production. Understanding design principles, color, and trends, and above all developing a signature style, are important to becoming a successful pattern designer.

As with most creatives or designers, typically the most successful surface pattern designers focus on a specific niche. The big surface pattern design industries include:

  • Fabric: fashion, quilting, and home decor

  • Stationary: calendars, paper, gift warp, stamps, and washi tape

  • Home decor: pillows, dinnerware, upholstery

  • Wall coverings: Wallpaper, decals, and stencils

However, that’s by no means an inclusive list. Other categories include phone cases and skins, packing design, jewelry, and so much more.

How do Surface Pattern Designers make money? 

As with most creative fields, there are many different paths to earning a living. Surface Pattern Designers often sell patterns to companies who then apply their designs to various products. The designer may be paid outright or they may earn a commission. Some designers license their patterns, which means they retain the copyright and their name remains attached to the design. (From what I've heard, this tends to be more and more uncommon as a primary means of income for surface pattern designers.) Other designer may choose to sell their own patterns on various products, either through a print-on-demand site, such as Society6 or Redbubble, or through drop-shipping companies such as Printful. 

Are you curious to learn more about Surface Pattern Design? Sign-up for my newsletter for additional Surface Pattern Design insights, tips, and trends.