March 17, 2023

A designer's guide to what is surface pattern design

Theren Moodley
Theren Moodley
A decade's worth of fashion experience across; product design, development, sourcing & logistics

Surface pattern design is the creative field of creating original patterns and prints to be used on a variety of soft and hard suitable surfaces.

Including; textiles, furnishings, wallpapers, ceramics, and interiors.

These designs can be anything from floral prints to geometric patterns.

As our textile community contains a large number of surface pattern designers, I wanted to explore the world of surface patterns, through their eyes.

The history.

The skill and technique.

And, the process.

Let's dive right in shall we.

example surface pattern design moodboard on Make the Dot
Some sample prints I used in my print pattern moodboard

🏛️ The History of Surface Pattern Design

As you've probably guessed, the history of surface design is long and rich.

The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Indus (India), and Greek all had their own styles, but it's probably the geometric patterns and bright colors of the Maya trends we remember best.

The dawn of the industrial age and the textile industry in Europe and North America in the 19th century allowed the industry to boom.

Mass production enabled prints to be produced on fabric textile products and shipped worldwide.

By the 20th century designers such as Liberty of London created prints and patterns for clothing and accessories, expanding into interiors, wallpapers, and all the products we know today.

🌙 Elements of Surface Pattern Design

Next up, our community member and textile designer Adriana will take us through the key parts of a style.

"The three most important parts to any piece of artwork regardless of sketch, trends, illustrator, or fabric are color, shape, and lines. Every successful surface pattern designer, when creating artwork knows the important role they play no matter surface design or surface patterns"

Checkout community member Adriana's sample print pattern moodboard
Checkout community member Adriana's sample print pattern moodboard


Beginning with color and color palettes, these are one of the most important elements for a surface designer, as it sets the tone, mood, and influence of the final look.

A pattern designer must have a strong understanding of color compositions and be able to produce color palettes that can be used in styles such as repeat patterns.

Be those paper products, throw pillows, or in the fashion industry.

Checkout our blog dedicated to the subject.


For textile designers, shapes are the structure of any style, when creating art.

Geometric shapes for example are used in minimal design elements and produce a range of effects.

Understanding how these shapes fit in with the overall design is key for the aesthetic of the print pattern, be that in the art world, or on wrapping paper.


Lines generate texture, depth, and flow within a pattern or print.

They convey different messages that tie together the whole style.

Think of thick lines in a pattern and you think of strength and boldness, with the opposite true of thinner lines.

✍️ Methods Used in Surface Pattern Design

Next up, print and fashion designer, and Make the Dot community member Amber will explain her favorite methods for creating a surface design.

"For me, a surface design is best when it's fun and free. I dream of drawing, so that's the start of my process, followed by transferring that art to my computer"


Hand-drawing prints and patterns is the classic method used by artists the world over.

This involves drawing designs by hand offline using pencils, pens, coals, crayons, or other drawing tools.

Still the preferred method for most of the designers in our community, this allows designers to create a surface design that could be highly detailed and have a unique, handmade, art feel.

But also one that may contain seamless repeats.

Hand-drawing can be used to draw simple and complex designs, often used in the early stages of the design process, before a style is created digitally, using a digital illustrator.

Digital Sketches

As it's 2023 and design trends have now moved (somewhat) into the digital age away from paper, designers now use software tools such as Procreate or Adobe Illustrator to produce their patterns digitally.

Mainly drawing on their tablets this technique gives the flexibility of creating sketches, pen strokes, and paintbrush strokes within the same canvas.

Being digital, it also allows undo's and other elements to be added, while keeping an original look and feel similar to an offline version.


Printmaking is a traditional 20th-century technique that involves using blocks dipped in pain to print designs on surfaces.

A great example is creating bold colors and multiple designs quickly, with Andy Warhol-style prints that are often used as standalone prints or on textiles.

What's not to love.

We created a full blog on the various techniques for surface pattern design here.

👚 Applications of Surface Pattern Design


Having started in fashion design, over the past 18 months, we've seen textiles as the most common application for surface pattern designs.



Home Decor

Soft goods

All are commonly adored with the best surface pattern designs from PV & Texworld.

Check out our blog on our visits to the shows and what we saw.

Some prints and fabrics from PV 2022 we saw at the show
Some prints and fabrics from PV 2022 we saw at the show


The beauty of print patterns and the opportunity for designers is the wide variety of uses for their work.

Wallpaper or similarily other paper products like gift wrap or wrapping paper are other ones.

For the past 10 years, it's been common to see the best and brightest florals and prints on feature walls in homes throughout Europe and North America.


Last but not least, ceramics give designers another medium to express themselves and their creative output.

Being drawers and painters, there are a few designers in our community who craft ceramics and hand-paint their art onto the surface.

📚 How to Get Started in Surface Pattern Design

Finally, if you're an artist wanting to begin a career in surface design, there are a few things you need.

"For me, being able to draw well, having a good online presence, and being able to have multiple income streams is a must for arts today".

This was the feedback from Artist and Make the Dot member Feanne.

Below is her full list of how to begin the road to becoming a successful surface pattern designer.

Beginning with the core skill:

  1. Draw, draw, draw - this is the core skill for a designer, so create designs through a course, or seek out others to teach you the gaps in your skillset. There are plenty of classes and resources online to help your career.
  2. Shadow industry leaders - study the work of other designers and learn from their techniques and styles. Bonnie Christine is an industry leader and has a few free resources online.
  3. Build a portfolio - create a portfolio of your best work to show your skill and projects to potential clients
  4. Build a network - most of the highest quality and best design work comes through ages, so having the best one will get you the best projects
  5. Grow an online presence - the most successful artists are those that have an online profile to show their work to the world, build up multiple income streams, as well and sell directly to clients

Our designer & community member Feanne shows how to promote online
Our designer & community member Feanne shows how to promote online

We wrote a full blog on how brands source patterns and prints, and what designers can do to stand out following 400 interviews.

Or check out our community hub, which contains the best learning resources and sources.

🎨 Conclusion

And we're done.

Hope this guide has explained a little bit about the history, process, method, and application of surface pattern design, as well as the skills and tools needed to get started in the craft.

Will you be going out to create, and apply some of the techniques our community has recommended?

Want to get started?

Checkout resources like our textile design template gallery for a quick start to your process

Remember, no matter what you create, it all starts will a dot.  

🧐 FAQs

  1. What is the difference between surface pattern design and graphic design?  Surface pattern designs are patterns and prints created and added to surfaces & textiles. Graphic design is much broader and strictly digital.
  2. Is surface pattern design only for artists? As long as you have a design eye and are creative you can try it. The ability to draw does help though.
  3. Can you make money with surface pattern design? Having multiple incomes, selling direct, and producing high-quality products all help
  4. What program is best for surface pattern design? 500+ textile designers in our community recommend either Procreate or Ai.
  5. How much do surface pattern designers make? According to ZipRecruiter, the trend is between $40-60k
  6. What makes a good surface pattern design? Subjective question, but a good balance of color, lines, and shapes that convey the theme makes a good surface pattern design for me
  7. What qualifications do you need to be a surface pattern designer? Nothing specific, but an eye for creatively and a passion for art is a must
  8. What computer is best for surface pattern design? Most of our community members use a Mac and Ipad as resources

If you liked this blog checkout our others on the world of surface pattern design.

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