Home Editorial 6 Adobe Illustrator Best Practices for Apparel, Fashion and Retail

6 Adobe Illustrator Best Practices for Apparel, Fashion and Retail


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In his first guest article with us, Dan Hudson, President of E-Spec, discusses his best practices when it comes to Adobe Illustrator for RFA. E-Spec, Inc. is an Adobe® Solutions partner, which means images are at the forefront of their focus. Their suite of products and services utilize Adobe® technology to embed data within the image file; Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, JPGs, PNGs and PDFs; so the files become self-aware, allowing the image to drive a business.

Adobe Illustrator is the premier drawing tool of the Apparel, Fashion and Retail Industry. We found 6 ways to save time through improved efficiency and consistency.

Set up a Common File Structure

An artist, designer or tech designer will store their files in a designated local working location. Once the user has the work to the point where they want to share it with other users in their department or company, it will be moved to a designated shared location on the network.  A folder structure is typically used to organize the files. Best practice is for an administrator to create the structure prior to the users saving the files. The folder structure should mimic the company’s processes: typically season, product type, division, gender, etc.  The number of levels should be adequate to categorize the files but small enough to reduce complexity. The order of the levels can also be crucial; if a company manages its business by season, season should be one of the top levels – not at the bottom. This makes file management (archiving, sharing, security, etc.) much faster and easier. Four of five levels are usually adequate and anything over seven can make navigation too time consuming.

E-Spec 1

Start with Templates

In order to maintain consistency among multiple users, these files should be based on templates. The template will implement standards, but will also be flexible to support various uses. Multiple templates can be used to support various functions and product types. Typically there will be different templates for Artists (artwork), Designers (style sketches and colorways) and Tech Designers (details and call-outs); in smaller companies or departments, the same people may perform these roles so the templates may also be combined.

Variations of the templates may also be required to support different products or markets. Some companies use one template for knits and another for wovens/weaves, or a template for Men’s, another for Women’s and a third for Children’s.  As product complexity changes, different templates may also be required; T-shirts and lingerie may not be able to share a template, for example.

In almost all cases multiple images are maintained in a single Illustrator file. They might be sketches for the front, back and side views with additional detail images with callouts; it might be a plain black and white drawing with a “filled” version for each colorway; it might be one piece of artwork with size variations for different applications (the artwork may be used on the garment, the label, marketing material, websites, in-store signage, etc.). Keeping these multiple images in a single file makes maintaining changes that impact all of the images much easier for the user. The template should be created with a “placeholder” for each of these images. Originally this was accomplished using layers and sub-layers; with the addition of multiple artboards in Illustrator, artboards may also be used. This approach allows the user to easily maintain all of the images in the file while making exporting the individual images easier so they can be provided to their particular recipient.

A template can include an object library of pre-existing approved objects. Logos, branding standards, buttons, trims, standard call-outs, etc. can be included. The object library can be specific for the intended usage of the template – only keeping the relevant reusable objects so that searching is easier.

E-Spec 2

Utilize Standard Libraries

The usage of these libraries should be standardized. In some cases the object should be copied and others linked – by linking a logo, any changes made to the logo can update all the instances in the file. Copying makes more sense when the each instance needs to be maintained individually.

Utilize Standard Color Palettes

A similar practice should be used for color palettes. A standard and a seasonal color palette should be included in each template. This doesn’t keep the user from creating their own colors but it does encourage the usage of the agreed upon palettes. Note this makes the templates seasonal, meaning they will need to be updated with the correct palettes each season.

Store Metadata with the File

Most templates also include a standard header and footer. The header usually contains the information about the file and its intended usage; season, collection, designer, delivery, product type, size range, etc. The footer typically contains copyright information, company information as well as date/time stamps.


Many of the values contained in the header may also be the same values used in the folder hierarchy. These values are data about the file: metadata. Many companies have Master Data Management projects/systems; this means the company is implementing an enterprise level taxonomy and vocabulary (simply put – every one agrees to call things by the same name). The metadata should comply with these standards. Illustrator (being an Adobe product) supports embedded metadata (using the Adobe standard XMP). The future is to embed the file’s metadata within the file itself using the XMP standard. XMP metadata is available to applications without the need to open the file. Applications like Bridge can allow users to search for files based on the metadata.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.