Home Featured Why we should start using Adobe Illustrator more efficiently

Why we should start using Adobe Illustrator more efficiently

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Lucy Royle shares her third exclusive article with WhichPLM here. In her first instalment in this series she explored ‘The Pencil Revolution’ and the transformative ways of working for designers in our industry; in the second piece, she delved into the world of 3D and what it means to designers; in this third piece she pushes for designers to really think about the way they use Adobe Illustrator – one of the most important tools in a designer’s repertoire. 

Lucy RoyleAdobe Illustrator is incredible. Fantastic. Revolutionary.

But how many of us designers out there, who use the software on the daily basis, can honestly say that we’re using it to its maximum potential? That we’re using its benefits to make the most of our working hours and daily productivity? That we keep up-to-date with all Adobe Illustrator’s latest releases? That we regularly update our shared libraries so that we can efficiently collaborate with our fellow team-workers?

We might consider Adobe Illustrator to be one of the most powerful drawing tools in the world. But we can make it a whole lot more powerful, if we use it correctly.

They say old habits die hard, and when embedded firmly in an established and unbending way of working (designers are notoriously puritan when it comes to their creativity and design processes), they certainly are hard to break. But they also say ‘don’t be afraid of change’; and it was this phrase that echoed in my ears as I began to write this article.

As a designer, I’m a whole lot of things; I’m a creative, a thinker, a dreamer, a multi-tasker, a visual communicator, a trend-hunter. I excel in art and drawing, and have an eye for colour and putting things together. But I hold my hands up and admit to being a perfectionist, an over-thinker, a self deprecator and, ultimately, a time-waster.

When I started out as a freelance designer at the beginning of this year, the hardest lesson I learnt was the value of time; how I spent my time, how I charged for my time, and how people used their time around me. Realising and admitting to how I used my time in the day, and accepting how I could make better use of it, was the first step to overcoming a seismic shift in mindset, and navigating a steep learning curve.

And I quickly realised that I had to change my design habits.

My obsessive personality makes it hard to ‘let things go.’ I like to be in control. As designers, we become very attached to the product that we work on – and it’s understandable given that we are most often the route source of its very existence and production life-cycle. We like to see it cared for as it passes through each departmental workflow, keeping a check that nothing is changed too much, and no details are removed or compromised for a more cost-effective alternative. We want to see it reach the customer just as we so lovingly nurtured it to life in its final sample. But in reality, we’re part of one of the world’s quickest moving industries, and when critical production issues need to be made, and the removal of a trim or changing of a fabric can be justified in black-and-white pricing and time-saving, we just have to let it happen.

At the end of the day, we’re running a business here.

The same approach can be applied to how to we design. We all know that the industry is moving quicker than ever before. The very source point of each garment on the retail floor is the designer. And in today’s fashion industry, the designer needs to work fast.

We all want to work with more efficiency, speed and accuracy. Illustrator can enable us to do this. But as designers, we have to acknowledge that in order to improve our ways of working we have to let go of old habits, invest time in learning, and appreciate the value of sharing and collaborating on creative output. What use comes of working independently within a team, when the resources aren’t shared?

Let’s take the example of a shared assets library between a team of 20 designers.

There is a designer on the team, who has a fantastic personal library of jersey swatches – slubs, marls, space dyes, neps – created and collated through working over a number of years in the industry. It’s stored on a personal drive on their computer and is used on a daily basis by themselves to create their CADs and Tech Packs stored on a shared PLM platform. A designer who sits close by needs a swatch of an injected slub jersey. To their knowledge, without thinking to ask if there is anyone else on the team who might have one, they create their own. 15-20 minutes later, they have created the swatch but, with no knowledge of a shared assets library, keep it stored on their personal drive for their use. Another designer also requires an injected slub swatch, and takes the same approach – 15-20 minutes out of their working day to create it – and the swatch stays within their personal workflow.

The result?

If a team of 20 designers all require an injected slub swatch, and all create their own version, taking 20 minutes each time to do so, that collectively amounts to over 6 hours of a working day put to task on completely unnecessary duplication. When we’re talking about a team of people working within one of the world’s fastest moving industries, that’s a colossal amount of wasted time.

Similarly, we should question how we best use our time in Adobe Illustrator when working abroad on a product development trip.

Let’s say you’re a British designer working on a product development trip out of a factory in China. You’re jet-lagged, incredibly tired, and have a limited number of hours to get your designs drawn up and communicated to the factory team before you have to leave and move on to the next supplier. The factory team that you are briefing your designs to doesn’t speak English as a first language, so a visual drawing is the most effective tool of communication. You need to action a coat, complete with patch pockets, fur trimmed hood and toggle button fastenings – that’s a lot of detail – and you don’t have any design components or product assets stored in your Adobe Illustrator libraries that would help to facilitate a quick 15 minute sketch up of the final design. So instead, you’re frantically drawing up a design from scratch, taking the best part of 40 minutes to do so. When you’re up against the time limitations that overseas travel brings, it’s stressful and incredibly frustrating. Especially when you realise how the time could have been better spent.

Being a designer isn’t just about drawing – we aren’t sent flying to the Far East to sit there and draw for days. We’re innovators, and that’s exactly how we should be approaching our work. At any chance to work on-site with suppliers overseas, we should be investing our time in fabric sourcing, understanding what the industry is asking for, and seeing the newest techniques and processes in work on the factory floor. Suppliers can ‘wow’ us with the most incredible showrooms of styles, but unless we can work quickly, we’re going to miss style and trend opportunities.

It’s so important that designers are equipped with the tools they need to work most efficiently. That doesn’t just mean a subscription to the latest version of Adobe Illustrator, but a thorough understanding of how it can benefit collaborative team-working to prevent wasted time, mistakes and duplication. With effective use of its shared libraries on the Cloud, designers can benefit from a wealth of shared assets that can be organised by project, season or client. Multiple libraries can be created, so by storing assets across a number of categorised locations, designers can find what they need quickly, without having to store all their assets in one large file.

Shared images held within Adobe and PLM libraries also help designers to maintain consistency across the departmental workflow. It’s incredibly important to maintain company and brand identity at all stages of the product process, especially when working within a global supply base where visual communication is key.

So, let’s go back to that detailed jacket drawing that needed to be drawn in China. How can effective use of Adobe Illustrator facilitate a much quicker design sketch up?

  1. Using carefully drawn, relatively scaled sketches in collaboration with Adobe Illustrator or via a PLM sketch library means that you can drag and drop a range of pre-drawn and accurately scaled garment components – sleeves, hoods, body shapes, pockets operating across a family of Avatars – directly into your document. Easy. And your team have access to these garment components too, so wherever you’re all working, you’re all working to the same drawing foundations and scale.
  2. Creating and sharing the seasonal colour palette with your team prior to overseas travel means that you will have instant access to all the colours that you need. The best part is, the rest of your team will have them too, so on the return from your trip, the whole team will have worked to a consistent colour output.

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Create and collaborate with your team on seasonal colour palettes to keep CAD consistency across the department during the season

3. Need a fur trim for the hood? There’s no need for you to go all artistic for half an hour whilst you sketch up a texturally accurate representation of fur – you have a stored library full of fur trims and brushes ready to go at the tip of your wacom pen. Simply open your fur brushes library, select and draw.

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Blonde or brown fur trim? Creating a fur scatter brush with an option of Hue Shift allows you to change the colour of the fur with one single click on the colour palette

4. What about that toggle button fastening? Don’t go drawing it. Pick it up from within your button trim library. Or even better, create a symbols library and insert the trim as a symbol ‘instance’. Should there be a trim change decision at a later stage in the design process, with a few simple clicks, all the trims can be updated instantly – eliminating the need for a laboursome process of individually clicking on all the trims to delete and then individually adding new trims to all the garments that the change concerns.

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Changed your mind on the toggle fastening? Simply replace it with a 4 hole button with a few simple clicks using the Symbols window

5. And if you need to add a line of topstitching along a pocket edge, don’t forget about the Offset Path tool – it’s much easier than drawing it, or trying to do anything too fancy with copy and paste.

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Set the Offset Path tool to -0.5mm to create a smaller scaled line for topstitching details

Whilst these may sound simple enough to follow, it’s surprising how few of us don’t work in this way – preferring to work within the comfort zone of ‘what we know,’ unwilling to unbalance the delicate equilibrium that comes with working at pace. The frantic nature of the industry can make us abandon logical ways of working, often at the expense of excess energy and resources.

In today’s industry, we need to streamline our way of working, adopt good habits, and accept that although we love to draw – we are designers after all – Adobe Illustrator can help us simplify and expedite quicker ways of working.

Ultimately, any component of a garment – be it a shirt collar, a cuff fastening or a button fly – remains largely unchanged from season to season. A toggle fastening is a toggle fastening – you don’t need to draw one up from scratch each time you require one to give your tech packs your personal creative flourish – you’re just wasting time. Fundamentally, consistency and accuracy is of utmost importance, and a global supply base will appreciate a consistent level of drawing from a design team to expedite sample processing.

Get into good habits now, and save yourself truly valuable time; just think what else you could be doing with all that extra time.

More to come…

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six 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 the Annual Review, 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.