What is ‘surface pattern design’ or ‘surface design’?

Well, I’ll try to keep it simple.

Surface Pattern Design is the process where you take your artwork (hand created or digitally created) and transform it into a digital file (in most cases a seamless repeat) which you then send to a manufacturer to be used on a specific product.

As the name suggests, in its most true form, this is primarily artwork that repeats in a pattern. For example, wallpaper, wrapping paper, upholstery, quilting fabric, apparel fabric, stationery. Really thanks to the progress in modern print methods, the printing possibilities are almost endless.

Look around you, your phone case, notebooks, your favourite coffee cup, dress, t-shirt, cushions…do they have patterns? Or some form of design? Chances are that every day you are using something which involves surface design. And all these designs are created by somebody…an artist like myself for example.

So, in a nutshell, a company or client can present me with a brief, or even a basic idea. Through good communication between myself and the client, I move on to sketching ideas, developing motifs. After client feedback, I will then carry it through to a final design, ready to print on all manner of products and surfaces.

The two main types of surface design I like to use:

Placement print: As the name describes, the print is designed to be placed in a specific space or created for specific dimensions. So this type of surface design you would see perhaps on a T-shirt, a towel, a mug.

Take this towel design, the dimensions for the printed area are 160cm x 80cm, so therefore, I created the design to ‘suit’ or ‘fit’ this particular shape, paying close attention to how the motifs are positioned, how they fill the space, and with careful use of colour and balance.

Or, for a T-shirt design, I am often tempted to keep the illustration within a shape, such as a circle, it is a good base to work from, and what’s more, you can place editable text around either the inside or outside of the circle, which is a great bonus. Especially when creating a t-shirt design for an event. As seen here below in this Prague half marathon t-shirt design proposal.

Or for a fashion T-shirt design, I might like to work a little more freely, with motifs and colour, like this…

Seamless repeat: One of the most common types of designs I create are repeating patterns. Also known as a ‘seamless design’. In its simplest form, it’s a design prepared as a square tile with motifs,  that can be repeated vertically and horizontally, forever, without a break in the design. The type you see on so many surfaces, so many products, in fact it’s an amazingly flexible way of creating a design that can be used on infinite surfaces. So if you compare these two examples, it might help explain the difference:

1. Placement print

2. Seamless repeat