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  • Writer's pictureMikelle Drew

Why Designers Learn Illustrator for Fashion Design

Updated: Jun 3, 2023


Why Designers Learn Illustrator for Fashion Design
Why Designers Learn Illustrator for Fashion Design

You may have heard that designers use Adobe Illustrator but not quite sure how they use the software.


You may also have heard about 3d fashion design software and wondering if it's even worth your time learning Illustrator.


This blog will help you understand why Adobe Illustrator is important and whether you should still take the time to learn the software.

(Spoiler alert: you should!)


Why Use Illustrator?

Designers use a variety of software for design development as well as what many might deem as "old school" pen and paper. So where does Adobe Illustrator fit in?


Fashion designers use Adobe Illustrator for a variety of reasons including creating digital sketches and illustrations of their designs, refining and communicating design ideas clearly and professionally to clients and vendors, and creating technical drawings for tech packs, fashion CADs, line sheets and other presentation materials and business documents.


Here are 6 reasons to use Adobe Illustrator for fashion design:


1. Sketching and Illustration

Adobe Illustrator allows fashion designers to create digital sketches and illustrations of their designs. The software provides a range of tools for drawing or adding color and pattern, which can help designers to quickly and easily create professional-looking flat sketches, graphics and illustrations as well as documents like fashion CADs.

Illustrator flat sketch drawings of a pant on a notebook and a designer drawing a similar sketch in a notebook.
Use Adobe Illustrator to draw digital flat sketches and illustrations of your designs.

2. Technical Sketches

Adobe Illustrator allows fashion designers to create technical drawings, which are detailed illustrations that include measurements and specifications for the construction of a garment. Technical sketches are usually added to a tech pack and used by pattern makers and manufacturers to produce the final garments.

First page of a fashion tech pack displayed on a lap top screen.
Create flat sketches and technical sketches for tech packs and fashion CADs.

3. Color and Fabric Choices

Adobe Illustrator allows designers to experiment with different colors and fabrics, and to create color palettes and swatches that can be used in the design process. I remember in one of my former jobs we would, literally, create paper dolls to help narrow the merchandising assortment and those came from our flat sketches created in Adobe Illustrator, drawn and colored in different colorways and pattern options. It drastically cut down on the time it took to merchandise the line and the amount of samples and colorways we requested (which ultimately saved the company a LOT of money!)


Illustrator colored flat sketches of various apparel styles and a ring of color swatches sitting nearby.
Create colorways and various color and pattern choices in Illustrator to merchandise the line.

4. Presentation and Communication

Adobe Illustrator can be used to create professional-looking presentations, fashion CADs, mood boards and various other documents, which can be used to communicate design ideas to clients, manufacturers, and other stakeholders.

Female holding a tablet with drawings and text and presenting it to others.
Use Adobe Illustrator to create various presentation documents.

5. Efficiency

If you've ever worked for a corporate fashion company, you know that efficiency can be the difference between you making the Fedex pickup or getting a tech pack done on time and missing that last pickup of the night or missing the shipping window because you didn't turn a tech pack in on time. Learning Illustrator is not just about drawing neater sketches. Illustrator provides an efficient way for designers to create, edit and refine their designs, saving time and materials, which are both crucial in the fashion industry.


6. Industry Standard

Illustrator is widely used in the fashion industry, and it is considered the industry standard for creating technical sketches and illustrations. (And quiet as it's kept, most designers DON'T create many fashion illustrations. They spend the majority of their sketching time drawing flat sketches and technical drawings.) So if you are planning to get into corporate design, you NEED to learn Illustrator.


A flat sketch is also the type of drawing that goes on a fashion tech pack, an essential document that EVERY designer will need if you are creating physical product and asking a manufacturer to help you do it. So even if you have your own fashion brand or you're a fashion entrepreneur, you'll want to learn Illustrator so you can create accurate and detailed flat sketches for your tech packs.


Now that you understand why a designer uses Illustrator, you might be thinking, "That all sounds great, but what about this 3d stuff? Maybe I should just learn that!"

Arranging patterns on an avatar in CLO3D
Even though 3d fashion design software is emerging, Illustrator for fashion remains important.

While 3D is an emerging and important technology for fashion designers, Illustrator will remain an important part of a designer's workflow.

  • Believe it or not, the fashion industry is slow to adapt new technology. Even after the pandemic, there are many more companies who are waiting to adapt 3d fashion design software and really leaning into Adobe Illustrator.

  • Adapting a 3d fashion design workflow involves more than just a software upgrade. It takes some time to get your design team up and running efficiently using a 3D workflow. Not only is there a learning curve, but in many cases, companies will have to invest in hardware upgrades as 3D requires more memory, RAM, hard drive space, graphics card, and a faster processor than many designer's computers currently have.

  • Many designers are beginning to learn 3d fashion design software, but there's still not a large pool of designers who know it well. And what that may mean for a business owner is that you have a smaller pool of talent to choose from if you need freelancers. There are, however, LOTS of talent who know Illustrator well and can create what you need quickly, efficiently and creatively. And as a designer looking for work, 3D is a "nice to have" skill, but Illustrator is still a "need to have" skill.

  • 3D companies are still trying to make their software communicate with PLM. For smaller brands and indie designers who don't use a PLM system, this is probably not a big deal. But for larger, corporate apparel companies who use PLM to run a large part of their business from design through supply chain, getting the 3D software to communicate with their PLM system is hurdle that they have to overcome in order for 3D software to work efficiently long term within their company!

So yes, 3D fashion design software is important. However, Illustrator isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So if you're still deciding whether you should take the time to learn it, I hope I've convinced you that you SHOULD!


Female designer completes a fashion CAD of men's denim jean designs on the computer.
Designers will continue to use Illustrator for fashion design for awhile, even with the emergence of 3d fashion design software.

Take my beginner Illustrator for Fashion: Level 1 online course. Sign up now to learn to use the Pen Tool, draw flat sketches, color then, and create a simple fashion CAD.


Plus, you'll get some free downloadable assets to add to you Illustrator fashion design library including trims, fashion croquis, flat sketch templates, and more.

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