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Computer-Aided Design (CAD) in Fashion Design

Computer-aided design (CAD) is the use of a wide range of computer-based tools that assist design professionals with design. Some programs provide 3D modeling of garment designs, while others aid in drafting patterns, fabric design and embroidery or embellishment design.

Traditionally, fashion designers have presented their ideas through drawings, two dimensional representations being the first step to help visualize the finished garment. This approach has its limitations. It is largely dependent on the artistic ability of the designer to put his ideas on paper, and a flat drawing cannot adequately demonstrate the texture and hang of a garment, so the illustration can be quite different from the finished garment.

Apparel companies and designers have used computers since the early 1980s. Pattern Design Systems (PDS) have become invaluable tools that provide a full library of basic pieces that a designer can call up, tweak, add details to and save as a new piece, unique to his library. They may use a mouse or stylus and drawing pad to create the details that make a garment their own.

One interesting thing to note is that for years, the automotive and upholstery industries have been using software designed to take a 3-D representation of something like a car seat or a couch and break it down automatically to flat pattern pieces. With this protocol, designers could reverse-engineer their own garments by creating a 3-D drawing, then extracting preformed pattern pieces into a flat format for patterning, as if they could sew the garment first and then take it apart to see how it was constructed. The advantage to this kind of system would be superior fit. Designers would be able to call scanned body types and try different patterns to determine which would work best on the runway and be adaptable to have the widest appeal for the fashion consumer.

Once these programs have reached the requisite level of sophistication, designers will be able to:

  • Create their initial drawings on a computer, starting with their library of base pieces and combining then with other pieces such as collars and sleeves, then editing the details to create a unique look.
  • Select or define an exact body type based on measurement inputs or drawn from an existing library.
  • Render the drawings in 3-D on the model.
  • Dissemble the finished drawing into useable, scalable pattern pieces.

This technology is not far in the future, but designers may be slow to embrace the change. Some artists may feel that the flavor of their work will be lost once the hand-drawn art is no longer part of the process. Eventually however, young designers who were born with computers will come to see it as a natural part of design. Already, CAD is being taught in nearly every design school worldwide. Fifteen years from now, all but the most old-school designers will be wondering "What did we do without this?"


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            Fashion Design (BFA)
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