Sewing Pattern Printing for the Home Sewing Market

Pattern printing kit from McCall Pattern Company

For a small, independent sewing pattern company, several options exist for publishing sewing patterns for the home sewing market.

McCall Pattern Company Printing Service

Among the major sewing pattern publishers in the United States, which all have their own in-house printing presses, McCall Pattern Company stands out as an exception in opening up its printing facilities to orders from independent pattern makers. Other companies worldwide likely offer similar services, so investigate with pattern companies in your region if you live outside North America. Pictured is a printing kit from McCall showing from the left a film positive of a pattern envelope template, a 49" roll of paper to use for hand-drawn patterns, a pattern instruction layout sample and stack of blank layout grids, an instructional CD, a sample pattern instruction sheet, a printing guidelines booklet, and pattern numbering samples printed in different sizes.

An advantage of contracting pattern printing through an experienced sewing pattern printer like McCall is that the printing can be done on tissue paper, something that few other printers are capable of doing. Because of the large size of sewing patterns, tissue minimizes the volume of the finished product which economizes packaging size and shipping weight. A possible disadvantage of using McCall services is that the minimum quantity required is 1,000 pieces which could tie up small business capital and reduce the number of different patterns built up in inventory. McCall printing is done in Manhattan, Kansas, USA, on an offset printing press. This requires printing plates which can be created from paper copies or digital files. Any of the pattern, instruction guide and envelope printing can be done in black-and-white or full color. For more information, contact the McCall Kansas office at 1-913-776-4041 extension 424, or the New York headquarters at 1-800-782-0323.

Some independent pattern companies have succeeding in source printing on a heavier weight of tissue than the larger companies like Simplicity and McCall use. Leisl Gibson of Oliver + S writes about finding a printer who sourced heavier pattern tissue for her, and it must be a printer accustomed to working with sewing patterns because she states the pattern folding machine would not handle her heavier paper, so all the patterns must be folded by hand. Few printers would have a folding machine set up for folding pattern tissue unless they specialized in printing patterns, so that is why it appears that she may be using a contractor such as McCall to print her patterns for her. Ms. Gibson has also stated that she uses different contractors for various parts of her printing, meaning the instruction sheets and envelopes may be printed by contractors separate from the patterns. If anyone would ever be so kind as to pass along advice as to where pattern printing on heavier tissue can be done, it would be most appreciated! Just contact us.

Printing Sewing Patterns with a Local Printer

Before deciding to print sewing patterns through McCall, it would be wise to do a cost comparison with an offset printing house locally to see if significant price savings might be possible. The vast majority of local printers will require paper heavier than tissue, and for this purpose Komar's 30 lb. plotter paper ordered in reel form is ideal. It offers a slight translucence that allows visibility for flipped patterns or fabric designs underneath the pattern paper. This heavier type of paper is easier to use than tissue for sewing because it does not rip as readily. Read our article on sewing pattern paper to learn more.

Printing Sewing Patterns on Large Format Office Printers

Printing patterns on a large format office printer offers ultimate flexibility to the home business entrepreneur. If only a handful of designs are ever intended for publication, then contracting printing through one of the methods described above is best to avoid investment in equipment. However, if multiple patterns are desired, a large format printer allows patterns to be printed on demand, reducing investment in inventory and preventing older patterns with a smaller demand from going out of stock. Komar is a full-service paper converter and can cut 30 lb. plotter paper to fit your printer's width. Komar paper is ideal for pattern printing on large format printers. Our article on sewing pattern paper provides a complete overview of paper options. While large format pattern printers are available in widths up to 72 inches (1.83 meters), staying with a 40 to 45 inch (1 meter) width printer will allow much easier loading of paper rolls. Rolls any larger must be handled by two strong people, something not always possible for the home entrepreneur. The occasional pattern piece that exceeds this width can be printed in two sections with joining marks noted.

If black-and-white printing is desired, the Ioline brand is the most reliable, economical choice recognized by most industry experts. Ioline printers work with all types of sewing pattern software, a crucial feature. The ink utilized is standard HP ink that is available everywhere. An important consideration is that this ink is not water-resistant, so excessive steam from a home iron could smear the ink. Ioline printer speed is optimized for sewing patterns and is up to four times faster than standard inkjet printers.

If color pattern printing is desired, the HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer (or current upgraded model) is a good option and the one that we have chosen for the Fashion Belle brand. This printer uses pigment inks that are water-resistant, reducing the chance of smearing if patterns are ironed flat with a home steam iron. A printer width of 44" is available, which is a couple of inches wider than most other large format printer options. A drawback to the HP Z3200 Photo Printer is that it can be tricky to get it to work with vector-based sewing pattern software (usually in DXF file format) which is unlike the bitmap-based photo files for which the printer is primarily intended. The files must be converted with software such as Adobe Illustrator that is readable by the printer, and paper lengths must be separately configured for each pattern. These challenges might be managed better with RIP software, but the cost of that is high and the software is not required. The PostScript (PS) version of the HP Z3200 is not necessary for pattern printing, and RIP software would take the place of the PS feature and be easier to update if RIP capabilities are desired. Depending on the future response to Fashion Belle patterns with different colors of lines for sizes, it is possible that our next replacement printer purchase would be a black-and-white Ioline to save on cost. However, if customers appreciate the colored lines enough to support the slightly higher cost for ink, then we may continue to use color printing.

Pictured below is an HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer and an Ioline StudioJet, both recommended for printing sewing patterns in a home office environment.
HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer and Ioline StudioJet for sewing pattern printing

Printing Sewing Pattern Instruction Guides

Pattern instruction guides can be printed in many formats, including saddle-stitched booklets. The traditional large folded sheet format would be easy for a local printer to run on a press, but using a booklet format that can be copied on a standard copy machine eliminates the need for printing plates and allows for small printing runs for a home entrepreneur. A booklet format also provides greater flexibility for changes if mistakes are discovered later. If the pattern instructions are short, they can be copied on 11"x17" paper and folded in quarters with no binding required. Longer instructions might be copied on letter-sized paper that is then cut in half and bound along the short edge with side staples, though it may be difficult for a booklet in this format to lie open on a table unless flexible paper is used. A benefit of designing a format that can be copied on letter-sized paper is that the machine for copying is smaller and paper is easier to handle. The goal with an instruction guide is to ensure that it is small enough to fit into whatever pattern packaging is desired. Care should also be taken to ensure that the paper is flexible enough to lie open easily on a table with whatever binding method is used. Another option to help with a bound booklet lying open would be a saddle-stitched booklet from 11"x17" cut in half so that the short edge is bound and the weight of the longer edge will hold the booklet open.

Printing Sewing Pattern Envelopes

Pattern envelopes can only be printed by a local printer if the printer has the capability for printing on flat paper and then assembling envelopes on site. Pre-assembled envelopes do not run well through any press or copier. Rather, printing on adhesive labels which are then attached to envelopes is the preferred method if post-print envelope assembly is not possible. Another alternative to envelope packaging is a wire-bound book that features sewing instructions in the front with an envelope holding pattern pieces bound into the back of the book. This type of format may not be available through services of local printers, depending on your area, but it is easily sourced through large printing houses nationwide. Wire-bound book machines are also available for purchase for a home office, though a book style of presentation will increase manufacturing cost above that of the traditional envelope. Customers tend to be price sensitive when purchasing sewing patterns, so the justification for any added cost must be cautiously considered. Many small pattern companies use plastic ziplock bags for packaging, though this method dulls the appearance of any color photo inserted into the front of the package for display. Some pattern manufacturers take care to include a hole at the top of packaging so that patterns may be hung from display hooks.

Sewing Pattern Printing Summary

In this article, we have looked at methods for sewing pattern designers to put their work into print. McCall offers a complete package of printing that is the easiest option for someone who is starting out and has a budget for a 1,000-piece minimum printing run. For the more ambitious sewing pattern publisher, working through a local offset printing press facility could be rewarding with a cost reduction in printing, but many details will need to be handled separately, from sourcing pattern paper to determining instruction guide and packaging formats. Finally, purchasing a large format printer to bring printing into your home office offers incredible flexibility for print-on-demand patterns. However, digital pattern software and equipment will be required for that method in order to transfer patterns to the printer digitally. If someone who is familiar with sourcing printing on heavier tissue would like to share their information contacting us, that would be so appreciated! Most of all, if you have a dream of one day becoming a published patternmaker, keep the dream alive! It is possible, and the home sewing market is bursting with potential for anyone who produces innovative, well-fitting patterns.