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  • Writer's pictureMikelle Drew

8 Productivity Tips for Fashion Sketching in Illustrator

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

Productivity Tips for Fashion Sketching in Illustrator for Fashion Design
Productivity Tips for Fashion Sketching in Illustrator

Jump to a video version of this blog.

Productivity is not just for CEOs, the higher ups, or business people. Creatives also need to be productive.

And when you introduce technology, you really want to make sure you are getting the most out of your software tool and being as efficient as possible.

If you already work in Illustrator or even some other design software, you know that the 1 hour you planned to spend working on something can easily turn into 2 or 3 . . . or 5! That happens naturally as you create.

With technology, it can save you time in the long run, but there are those times when it feels like it’s making the project take longer.

But there are definitely ways that you can make sure that you are working most efficiently and getting the most out of your design software so that you’re not spending unnecessary extra time on the computer.

Now, many designers use Illustrator to assist them with their fashion design sketches. That’s also the software I talk about most often, so that’s the design software I’m going to focus on today for your productivity tips.

1. Draw on paper first.

I didn’t realize until recently how many people weren’t doing this, but you really need a plan when you open your software and sit down to sketch. And think about when you’re creating something new: a lot of time, you’re still working out the actual design and playing with style lines and shapes. It’s a lot easier to get those ideas out with pen and paper than the Pen Tool.

And even if you want to use a digital tool like Fresco or Photoshop or Procreate to do those initial sketches or doodles, you want to work more freehand first, have an idea of what you want to create; then, move to Illustrator. I will usually still rework ideas while I’m flat sketching in Illustrator, but at least I’m tweaking a design that I’ve already put some thought into and not just trying to wing it.

Video of African American female's hand drawing with a pencil on paper.
Draw on paper first.

Winging it always equates to wasted time when you’re working in Illustrator.

2. Use a fashion croquis template.

A big part of creating a good flat sketch is making sure the proportion is correct. And that can be hard for even the most seasoned designer. I know for me, proportions were probably one of the hardest things to master when I started drawing in Illustrator. And anything outside of activewear, which I’ve worked on for years, still requires me to take a moment and think about the proportions. And then trying to make that connection between what you draw on paper and what you draw on screen can also be tough.

A croquis template will help give you a quick visual of those important markers on the body, so it’s easier for you to make sure that your sketch visually reads proportional to what you are trying to design. So if you want to design a top that ends at the low hip, or a knee length short or make sure the darts are pointing towards the apex, a good fashion croquis template will have markers to indicate all of those points and help ensure that your sketch is accurate.

Caucasian female's hands holding a pen drawing a fashion sketch over a fashion croquis template.
Use a fashion croquis template to ensure your proportions are correct.

Everyone should have a croquis, but if you don’t have your own, you can definitely download mine to help get you started. Here is the link to my free croquis template.

Picture of 383 Design Studio flat sketch croquis template.
My flat sketch croquis template has a front, back, and side view you can use freehand or in Illustrator.

3. Whenever possible, use the Modern Method of the Shape Builder tool.

If you’ve seen some the videos on my YouTube channel, you probably already know how much of a fan I am of the Shape Builder tool. It really makes the process of creating shapes for your flat sketches so much faster and easier.

Don’t get me wrong! I’ve used the traditional method for years, and I still use it to draw more complex flat sketches like outerwear coats, tailored jackets and woven shirts. And this YouTube video talks more about the traditional method of sketching if you aren’t familiar with it. But if you are drawing knit tops, pants, skirts, even jumpsuits, the “Modern method” is a great way to create shapes for your design efficiently and effectively so you can add color and pattern.

Not sure what the Modern Method is? Check out this video!

4. Upgrade your version of Illustrator.

I once joked with a student that I was speaking to someone who told me their company was using CS6. I politely told her that her company didn’t care about the design team and asked her when she was planning to leave. CS6? CS? The last CS program was released in 2012. NO ONE's version of Adobe anything should start with CS!

But anyway, besides the fact that the program is outdated, you miss out on SO many great tools and functions that Illustrator has to offer that can make you more productive like

  • CC libraries,

  • an improved pencil tool,

  • dynamic symbols

  • the properties panel

  • and so much more!

Those are just a few of the updates and remember, for a CS6 user, we’re talking about almost 10 years since they've updated!

And here’s the other issue: sometimes it’s hard to find help for a program that’s 1 or 2 years old. But 10 years? You’re gonna be hard pressed to find anyone who will still service or answer questions about that version. Adobe certainly won’t!

5. Use a mouse!

I am in awe of anyone who uses a laptop and draws in Illustrator without a mouse. But as I tip my hat to you, in the next breath, I’m advising to get a mouse. Trying to draw with the track pad is like signing up for a migraine, mainly because it limits your speed. You don’t have as much real estate to move around when you’re drawing, so you can only go but so fast.

Picture of a tablet and stylus.
A tablet and stylus is nice to have, but a mouse is sufficient.

A WACOM tablet is "nice-to-have", but they can be very expensive. A wireless mouse, however, is a lot less expensive than it once was. They even sell them in Walgreen’s or CVS. But even if you have to use a wired mouse, please, just get one.

6. Use shortcuts.

If you’re using Illustrator regularly, whether that’s as a freelancer, indie or corporate designer, you probably have your own set of keyboard shortcuts or tips that you enjoy using and help you create a smoother workflow. And if you’re new to illustrator, you’ll want to start learning and adopting a few of your own.

I talked about some of my favorites in this video, and I also talked about how you can create your own shortcuts in this video. And if you do an internet search, you’ll find lots of Illustrator shortcuts and tips that will help you move and draw faster within the program.

7. Trust your gut!

I was recently working with someone and said to her, “Trust yourself. If it feels like there should be an easier way, there probably is.” There’s a handful of things in Illustrator that are labor intensive and require a lot of steps and take a lot of time. But for most things that you’ll do day to day as a fashion designer, it’s really not that deep.

There’s almost always a very efficient, step-by-step way to create whatever you want to create. It may take longer based on your skills in Illustrator or how intricate you want to be, but the steps to do it are not hard. So if you’re doing a million steps to draw a sketch and you’re thinking to yourself “There has got to be an easier way”, more than likely, there is. And that’s when you check my channel for a video on the subject or hit me up for some private tutoring sessions:)

8. Take a class!

At some point, YouTube or scouring the internet for free answers is not enough, and you might have to have that talk with yourself and say, “We doing this or nah?” Illustrator is an important tool for fashion designers. If you’re already in corporate or currently working as a freelance fashion designer, you already know this. And if you’re trying to get into corporate, you’re an indie designer or you’re trying to make your living as a fashion freelancer, you should know and understand this.

Top view of desktop computer monitor, keyboard, tablet, stylus and fashion sketches.
Learn to master the tools of the trade.

Mastering the tools of your trade make you more marketable, more productive, give you more confidence when applying for jobs or taking on new projects, and perhaps most importantly, it allows you to live your life outside of work. So that you have less late nights or cancelled date nights and more dinners with the family and drinks with friends. It may sound like a bit of a leap, but the better I’ve gotten at using Illustrator, the more productive I’ve gotten at completing my projects, the less late nights working I’ve had and the more I get to say “Yes” to going out with friends or hanging out with my husband. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

If you are new to using Illustrator for fashion design, sign up now for my Illustrator for Fashion Design Sketching: Level 1 online course.

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