1. What is a textile designer?
Textile design, or surface design, is a niche within the vast field of graphic design and covers all aspects of print and pattern from fabric for garments to home decor and more. A textile designer is essentially an artist that creates artwork to be sold or used on a variety of surfaces. Prints are often an important part of a fashion collection and many times can define a brand or collection, potentially making it a very import layer in the manufacturing process. In addition to artwork creation, textile designers are usually trained with a specific skill set of technical skills, to prepare files for reproduction onto fabric or other surfaces.
2. How to find the right textile designer
Individual artist is often known for specific types or styles, techniques, or genres of design (i.e children’s, swim, juniors). Many textile designs also offer technical skills to place an existing artwork into a correct technical file for printing. But first and most important is that the right professional will understand exactly what you want and represent in a work that will have the best performance for you and the final client you're working with.
3. Costs of working with a designer
If you’re interested in incorporating prints or artwork into your line, it’s important to create a budget for this. In general, the textile industry works in two ways: Artwork purchased ‘outright’ for ‘exclusive’ use, copyright ownership OR licensing a design. When a client is seeking to buy artwork for exclusive use and copyright ownership it usually means that the artwork has not been showing publicly (only to prospective clients), it is original, and once bought the ownership of that artwork fully transfers to the client and can be used in any manner by the client. This artwork comes at a higher price because the copyright and exclusivity are being sold with it. The pricing for the artwork only includes the artwork, usually digital files and/or fabric sample if bought at a trade show. The price does not include any printing or fabrication itself. Once sold, the printing and fabrication is the responsibility of the client/brand. Pricing for one design can start at around $350 and go upwards to $800 depending on complexity, the number of colors, scale, and other factors that contribute to the artwork.
Another way clients or brands work with textiles designs is to license a design from. When a design is licensed from an artist is being ‘rented’ for a specific period or time, project, or product. When a design is licensed, the copyright of that artwork remains with the artist and permission is granted to use the pattern for a fee or royalty (usually based on a percentage of product retail price) with specific agreed upon guidelines and a contract between both parties. Royalties or fees will depend on the popularity of the designer and use of design. For some small companies without a large budget for custom designs, licensing can potentially be an economical way of starting to introduce artwork into the brand. Most times when licensing artwork the designer name goes with the project, therefore bringing their audience to your brand and making it a true collaboration and mutually beneficial.
4. Preparing for a project
It can be helpful to have some technical knowledge of what and how you intend to use your artwork. If the artwork is to be printed onto to fabric it might be best to contact your printer first to find out what type of printing they are able to do, what types of fabric they can print on, what file format is best to send, and any other technical info they have about color so that you can relay this to the artist you’re working with. Some printers only print using screens, which involves a setup fee, limitations on colors, and artwork to be prepped and color separated. Other printers use digital methods which can give significantly more freedom for color, scale, but may have limitations for types of fabric etc. It can save time and makes a huge difference if an artist knows they can only use four colors verse hundreds of colors, variation, and texture.
Creating a mood-board with inspiration, other prints, colors can be very helpful to an artist so they can create what you are looking for specifically. Part of my initial process is to make a research with references and primary ideas that will be sent to the client to start working on the idea and develop artworks that will be on the desired direction but also that will be produced in the techniques and terms needed (price, timing and final result).
5. Additional textile and surface design terms:
Technical or Seamless Repeat: When a design has a seamless repeat, it can be printed on endless yards of fabric without lines or interruptions in the flow of the design. Repeat size can vary and sometimes have restrictions depending on the type of printing or the width of the fabric.
Placement/Engineered Design: A design created for a surface that does not repeat. The design is usually strategically placed on a garment and requires special printing as it’s not usually done on seamless yardage. T-shirt graphics are placement graphics.
Colorway: A design can be created and then come in several different color versions. Most of the time if a design is sold you are purchasing one main colorway. Additional colorways can usually be purchased for a smaller fee. For a new brand, a budget can potently be stretched by buying one-two artwork and colorways as opposed to several different artworks.
Color Separation: When artwork is being printed via screens it needs to be separated digitally into each color that will be a screen. The more colors, the more screens, the more costly the printing and artwork.
Strike Off: A small sample of the artwork printed on the intended fabric to check the colors, scale, repeat etc. This is an important step before having many yards of a fabric created. If there is an error it can be very costly to have to re-print. If adjustments are needed, your textile designer can fix the artwork.
Croquis: A design that is NOT in technical repeat. It is an idea of a design, but not ready for printing. When buying artwork from a studio or individual, it’s important to know which version you’re buying.