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  • Writer's pictureMikelle Drew

What is a flat sketch and why are they important?

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

What is a flat sketch?
What is a flat sketch?

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You may have heard the phrase "flat sketches", but do you REALLY know what they are?

You hear people talk about them all the time.

Flat sketch.

“You need to know how to flat sketch”

Or sometimes you’ll hear people call it a technical drawing.

Flat, flat sketch, tech sketch, technical drawing, it’s all talking about that same all important drawing of your design. So let’s talk about exactly what a flat sketch is.

What is a flat sketch?

First, let’s talk about what a flat sketch is not. A flat sketch is NOT a fashion illustration.

Drawings of fashion illustrations
A fashion illustration does not serve the same purpose as a flat sketch.

An illustration conveys a mood. They’re meant to evoke a feeling and can be very stylized while a flat sketch should look flat, 2 dimensional, proportional and does not need to convey anything except the technical features of your design.

While an illustration can be very nuanced, a flat sketch needs to show every detail of your design, including stitching, darts, and any other construction details that visually show on the garment.

Drawing of a girl's romper front and back flat sketch.
A flat sketch needs to show every detail of your design.

Why is a flat sketch important?

Having said all that, you may see more stylized flat sketches floating around the industry today, even on tech packs. And at one time, that was a clear no-no, but because flats are more outward facing than they once were, designers have had to make them look a little more interesting.

And what I mean by that is, at one time flat sketches were strictly for a tech pack and internal use so that designers could clearly convey their design ideas to pattern and sample makers. But they’re not the only ones who see those sketches anymore.

A flat sketch of a top and the photo of the top on a model.
A stylized flat sketch is used if your sketches are outward/customer facing.

Now, flat sketches are used on fashion CADs, line sheets. I’ve had my sketches used in catalogs. They’ve been posted on social media. More than just you and a couple of other people making a sample see your sketches.

So most flat sketches you see now aren’t so stiff and two dimensional. They sometimes look a little rounder, maybe like there are body shapes in them. For fashion CADs being presented to buyers, many times designers will add shadows to give their sketch a bit more interest and dimension and to make the designs have a little attitude so they’re understood a bit better.

Flat Sketches Must Have These 3 Things

But regardless of what kind of “juging” you do with your sketch, there are still 3 important things that have to be present:

  1. Correct proportion: you have to make sure that your flat sketch, stylized or not, correctly reflects the proportion of the garment. So if your top is supposed to be hip length, a quick glance should not make me think that it’s supposed to be cropped.

  2. Correct fit: I should also be able to tell at a quick glance if the style is fitted, semi-fitted, relaxed, loose fit. And each company has their own definition of what fitted or relaxed may be, but in general a sketch that looks close to the body should not be labelled as relaxed.

Drawings of various types of pants and different pant fits

3. And correct construction: as a fashion designer, unless you are asking for a specific type of seam, you don’t need to specify joining seams, but anything that will visually show on the outside of the garment needs to be drawn. And that includes stitching (even if the thread color is dyed to match the ground).

And if you’re unsure about what type of stitching to use, I invite you to study your own clothes. That’s one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with what types of stitches are normally used. You can also use this free stitch chart to help you visually identify common types of stitches.

So think of your flat sketch as part of the blueprint for your design. Of course, the rest of the blueprint is the tech pack, but it starts with a good, accurate flat sketch.

Learn to use Illustrator to draw an accurate and proportionate flat sketch. Sign up now for my Illustrator for Fashion Design Sketching: Level 1 online course.

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