10 Essential Tools for Surface Pattern Design

10 Essential Tools for Surface Pattern Design

What You Need to Start as a Surface Pattern Designer

Do you love pattern design and want to be a surface pattern designer but not sure what you need to start?  There are so many tools, resources, and information that it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin. When I started out was before iPad’s, Tablets and Smart Phones were around. 

When I was setting up my business it was a case of trial and error. In fact, lots of errors! It’s been a really slow process but I now have lots of tools in place that I love and couldn’t imagine running my business without. So, I’ve created a list of my top essential tools for my surface pattern design business. 

Disclaimer:  I will never recommend something that I don’t truly believe or use myself.


1. Computer

woman sitting and Mac desktop

A computer is essential for any business, especially for surface pattern design. It is here where I put everything together, keep track of my designs, communicate, do research, put my designs together etc. 

You can do all of this from a laptop, desktop or both. You can use one or the other but for me personally I have a laptop and a desktop. I like having the large screen to work on when designing and then having the capability of packing up and taking my work remotely with a laptop. 



2. Adobe Creative Suite’s Illustrator/Photoshop

Adobe Illustrator Adobe Photoshop

The industry standard for creating repeating patterns is Adobe Illustrator. Even if you start your motif or design by drawing on paper or on your iPad, you will most likely put the final pattern together in Adobe Illustrator.  Most, if not all, companies you will license to may want a raw illustrator file as well. So, of any of the Adobe products essential to have - Adobe Illustrator is the one to get. You can even create mock-ups in Illustrator as well - did you even know?

Speaking of mock-ups, Photoshop is what is most used for creating them with the use of smart layers. You can either create yourself or purchase/download online mockups with smart layers, as well as all the shadows, curves and other details that make your image look realistic, done for you. 

You can also create repeat patterns in photoshop as well. 

3. Dropbox


I don’t keep ANY of my work on my hard drive. I have lost too many hard drives to count and learned my lesson early on. Many of the companies I was submitting my work to used Dropbox, which is how I was introduced to it. 

Dropbox is a cloud service for storing files. Another popular one that is available today is Google Drive, which works much in the same way. 

The benefits of using a cloud service for file storage is, that you can access your work from anywhere from any device. I use Apple/Mac products, so it’s nice that I can start something on my desktop, pick it up on my laptop or iPad.

Whichever you decide to use, make sure you always, always, always have a back up of your files someplace else - I use an external hard drive for backing up only.


4. iPad 

iPad with keyboard and Apple Pencil for surface pattern design

I remember getting my first iPad. I was using it to showcase my portfolio when walking the floor at trade shows. Since its early inception, the iPad has evolved. Now you can draw using an Apple Pencil and a drawing app (my favorite is Adobe Fresco & Procreate). Add a keyboard to your iPad and you have a mini laptop to run your business or write your latest blog post etc. 

 I also use my iPad for creating reels - yes reels! I use an app called Videoshop. And Because I use all apple products, anything I record on my phone (which I’ll get to next) I can access from my iPad (as well as my desktop & laptop). I even upload to Instagram, Facebook & TikTok from my iPad as well.





5. iPhone Camera

iPhone Camera taking photo of flowers

I LOVE my iPhone! Not just because I can access my calendar, notes etc. but because of the Camera. I take all my product photos and post photos with my iPhone. The iPhone camera comes in handy too when I’m out and about and see something that inspires me for a new pattern; I just pull out my phone, point and snap a pic for inspiration later when I sit down to design.

I also record videos for my stories & reels too!


6. Printer

Home Desk Printer

Even though we are living in a digital age of pdf’s and cloud storage etc. I still like the feel of paper and the ability to physically write on said paper. So, I still print out pdf’s and keep them in binders. The type of pdf’s I print out are typically, instructions for something new I am learning, various marketing and email templates or examples.

Another way I use the printer is to print out my pattern. There are times when I’m just not sure of how a pattern is being laid out. I’ll walk away and come back to it and I still might not be sure. In those instances I will print out the pattern just to get a feel of what it would look not on my computer screen.

Printers with scanners are also good to have for scanning your hand drawings into your computer. I haven’t used my flatbed scanner in ages since Adobe has a scanner app for your phone - I’ll talk about that in a minute.

7. Drawing Tablet (Wacom or iPad)

drawing table and computer

I don’t do all of my drawing on my desktop or laptop. I also will draw by hand with a Wacom tablet or on my iPad. What is nice about having these options is that I can draw freely and see the result vectorized immediately on screen. I can also manipulate my lines and curves in an instant. The iPad is portable and can go with me anywhere allowing me to get an idea out of my head in a moment’s notice, no matter where I am. The Wacom tablet is nice because it gives the feel of drawing on paper, and it's an affordable option to begin with as they have several options to choose from at various price points.

8. Task Light/Ring Light

laptop with ring light on a desk

I like working in a bright space and having a task light on a swing arm over my desk & computer helps create that for me.  

A ring light can be used for brightening my workspace as well, but mainly I use it for product photos and creating videos of my products and if I am speaking to the camera. 

9. Sketchbook/paper & Pencils or Pens


Hand drawing in sketchbook with succulent on desk

Even though we are in the digital age and a lot of designers are flocking to and creating an amazing motifs and designs on their iPads, I still like to draw with a piece of paper and pencil or a pen.  I love the feel of the pen or pencil in my hand as it moves and drags across the paper. I feel like I can just be free with doodling or being more intentional with what I lay down on the paper. I mean have you ever been out someplace, like a restaurant or a meeting and just doodled or scribbled to stay awake, or to break boredom? You never know, during these times you could create your next masterpiece, so I like to make sure I always have at least a pen or pencil on me at all times - napkins make a great canvas btw!



10. Scanner or Scanner App

Hands scanning on flatbed printer scanner

To get my hand drawn doodles or drawings into my Adobe Illustrator program I use a scanner. I have a flatbed scanner as well as a scanner app on my phone. Both work very well, but I’m finding that I’m using my scanner app more often as it is portable and if I am out and doodle something I can scan it immediately. Once it is scanned I can send it to my computer for creating a pattern design. There are many scanner apps. The one I prefer and use most often is Adobe’s scanner app.





There are other tools for surface pattern design but these ten things are essential for my surface pattern design workflow. 

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