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  • Writer's pictureMikelle Drew

The 6 Types of Fashion Designer Sketches & Why They're Used

Updated: May 20, 2023

Which if the most important fashion sketch?
Which if the most important fashion sketch?

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What is the most important type of fashion design sketch?

Designers use several types of sketches to express their designs but is there one that’s most important for you to master?

Designers use different types of fashion sketches, and each sketch serves a different purpose. A fashion illustration cannot serve the purpose of a flat sketch and vice versa. So let’s talk about the different types of sketches a designer can use and what the purpose of each one is.

The 6 main types of fashion sketches designers use are:

  1. a Rough

  2. a Tech sketch

  3. a Flat sketch

  4. a Stylized flat sketch

  5. a Float

  6. a Fashion Illustration

The Rough Sketch

A rough or rough sketch is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a quick sketch that just serves the purpose of getting the idea out of your head and onto paper. A lot of times there are no details; it’s really about the fit and silhouette. This may be a sketch you create if you’re walking down the street or you're in a museum or some type of art exhibit and inspiration strikes.

The tech sketch

A tech sketch is the sketch that was traditionally used on tech packs. A tech sketch is very similar to a flat sketch but it’s even more technical and mechanical, (and for a designer, that usually means even more stiff and not pretty.) It’s the sketch that’s meant to have all the technical features and construction details so that a physical prototype of your design can be made. Traditionally, the only people who saw these sketches were the apparel designer, tech designers, the pattern makers and the sample makers.

Most of us don’t use these sketches anymore, mostly because design’s sketches have become so outward facing and because they are so technical and stiff, a buyer or consumer looking at that sketch might not understand the intent and might even be deterred from buying the design because of it. (Hence the reason it was normally only shared internally.)

Now that these sketches tend to be used on more documents that are shared with people outside internal design teams, most designers often use flat sketches or stylized flat sketches instead.

The Flat Sketch

A flat sketch of a puffer jacket.
A flat sketch is what most designers use daily.

A flat sketch is what many of us are familiar with, use regularly and probably spend the most time drawing if you’re producing garments. The flat sketch is a two dimensional representation of your design and contains all of the design and construction details. The design is also proportional and reflects the fit intent.

Over the years, the flat sketch we regularly use has morphed into a stylized flat sketch. This serves many of the same purposes as the flat sketch, but it’s more fluid, it may have shadows or look rounder, like there’s a body in it. Often times they are placed on fashion CADs, and I’ve even had my sketches featured in sales catalogs.

The Stylized Flat Sketch

Stylized flat sketches are a lot more nuanced and can be more easily understood by a buyer, salesperson, consumer or anyone else outside of internal teams who might be viewing this sketch.

4 fashion floats in various fashion sportswear outfits from the trend service, Bloc Note.
A float is similar to an illustration, but these sketches don’t have a body in them

All sketches from trend service Bloc Note.

The Float

A float is similar to an illustration. It can have as much detail and be as stylized as an illustration, but these sketches don’t have a body in them. Whereas an illustration would have a fully rendered face, body parts, feet, arms, fingers, a float is focused on the garment and accessories.

They aren’t used much anymore. The last time I really saw them in commerce was in the early 90s in hosiery, but they were also used regularly in one of my favorite trend books, Bloc Note. And from what I could tell, the purpose was to focus on the design (without the distraction of faces, body parts, etc.) while also showing the versatility and movement of the item.

Illustration of a model with red lips, a black striped turtleneck and a gloved hand.
The purpose of a fashion illustration is to create the overall mood and attitude of the design

The Fashion Illustration

And last but not least, there's the fashion illustration. And the purpose of this is to create the overall mood and attitude of the design. To showcase who this person is that’s wearing the design, how it should be worn and styled, perhaps even what that person is doing in the clothes.

Illustrations aren’t used as much as they once were, but there are lots of illustrators that still practice their craft and sell their illustrations. There are also some designers who hire illustrators to draw their collections on the runway. And there are also trend forecasting companies that use illustrations in their reports. However, most illustrators today, I think, do it because they love it, not because they believe they can get a corporate job.

So, of these 6 illustrations which is most important for a designer to master?

If you answered flat sketch, you would be correct! And here’s why:

  1. a flat sketch is essential for a tech pack which is a necessary document to manufacture a physical garment

  2. a flat sketch gives the designer the opportunity to work through the idea, the details and to think about the execution of the design, AND

  3. a flat sketch will showcase all of the details of the design so that anyone looking at the sketch can understand the fit intent and how to construct it

And I am always meeting people who say they have great ideas, but they can’t draw. Well, a flat sketch is a great way to express your design idea if you're not great with illustration or you can’t draw.

To get you started, you can download my FREE flat sketch template.

Many designers use Illustrator because it’s a great tool to help you accurately draw your flat sketches. And my course, Illustrator for Fashion Design Sketching, is a great way to get you started if you don’t yet know how to use the program!

If you're looking for a beginner course to learn how to use Illustrator for Fashion Design, you can sign up for my course today!

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