I get this question almost every day, so I know many of you are wondering — What is the best app for surface design/pattern design/repeat patterns?
The thing is, it depends a lot on your goals, the way you like to work, and what file types you need. I listed some of the top considerations below, so you can stop wondering, and start making patterns!
What Are the Popular Apps?
Affinity Designer – A raster and vector based app with most of the functionality of Adobe Illustrator.
Procreate – A raster based app with lots of life-like brushes and a sleek user interface.
Illustrator for iPads – A subscription based app with some of the functionality of Adobe Illustrator.
In this article I’m going to compare Affinity and Procreate, because Illustrator for iPads just doesn’t have all the functions I want yet, and I know most of my audience doesn’t want to pay the subscription fees for Illustrator. Sorry Adobe, we love ya, but you’re expensive.
Do You Need Vector or Raster Images?
If you’re wondering, “what the heck is a vector?” start on this post where I cover everything you need to know to get started with vectors.
Once you know if you need vectors, you can decide whether or not Procreate is even an option for making your patterns. Procreate only produces raster images (that means pixels!) so if you have a client or a licensing deal that requires vectors, then Affinity Designer is best bet. Also, Affinity works for both raster and vector images so you can do a combination in Affinity, although many people complain that the raster brushes they love in Procreate aren’t available in Affinity. So while you can make raster images in Affinity, they may not be made with the raster brushes you know and love.
Do You Want Have a Live Pattern Preview?
One thing I love about Affinity Designer is that (like Illustrator) you can see your pattern repeated as you work, so you’re not “building blind” when it comes to placing your pattern elements. I find making a repeat pattern block without being able to see the overall repeat very difficult and more time consuming, because it leads to lots of exporting and checking the repeat as you adjust the elements.
Speaking of Adjusting the Elements….
In Procreate, if a repeat element touches the edge of the canvas, you can’t move it. You literally have to place it the right way the first time, or redo that element every time you need to adjust. For me, this is a huge time suck because I adjust my elements hundreds of times before settling on a final placement.
Do You Want to Make Overall Color Changes?
When you create a repeat in Affinity it is easy to change the color of a lot of elements at once. You can see what I mean in this video:
What About Print on Demand Sites?
You have to upload raster images to most print on demand sites, but keep in mind that Procreate has size limitations for their documents (the limits depend on your iPad size, see here for details), so when I’m preparing files for print-on-demand sites, I use Affinity designer because that app has no size restrictions. Yes, you sometimes have to wait a while for a file to process, but for me it’s worth it to be able to make my artwork available on all products (hello, curtains and furniture!)
The Bottom Line
For me, Affinity is the best option for making patterns because 1) I often need vectors 2) I want the live pattern preview and 3) I can’t stand not being able to adjust my elements freely. However, I do sometimes miss all the brushes I have in Procreate! That is where the “hybrid method” comes in.
The Hybrid Method
When I want to use repeat elements I made in Procreate for a pattern, I make each element on a separate canvas, remove the background, save the image as a PNG, then export them and insert them onto my Affinity designer canvas. That way I can use my fav Procreate brushes, but also get all the benefits of Affinity Designer. That is how I made this pattern for example:
Learn the Affinity Method
I teach my whole process for making repeat patterns in Affinity designer in this class, and show my process for designing pattern collections in this class, so check them out to learn my whole process!