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Paper pattern formatting for designers

Updated: May 12

So you've been designing for a while and you're ready to branch into distributors and shops with a cute little booklet version of your patterns. Sounds fairly simple . . . until you realize just how much smaller booklet pages are than regular 8.5" x 11" pages.

Getting a pattern originally written in a digital format to fit into a booklet format without being 20 pages long can be a VERY frustrating challenge, particularly if your pattern has templates or several sizes. You also want it to look nice and not cost an arm and a leg to have printed. Balancing those opposing forces can make you want to gouge your eyes out! But unfortunately, if you want to sell in shops, they're a necessary evil.

As a ghostwriter, I've learned a few formatting tricks to make this process a little less painful. Here are my best tips and tricks to make your booklet patterns beautiful, professional, and, most importantly, compact.


Paper pattern basics

If you're a modern quilter, digital patterns are probably your preferred way to purchase patterns. However, when it come to the more traditional quilting community (still the majority), paper patterns are the preferred way of purchasing patterns because they're a physical item that can be purchased inside a quilt shop. Here are the basics that you should be aware of when it comes to paper patterns.

Booklet vs. Cover

Most patterns traditionally come in a 5.5" x 8.5" booklet (basically a regular sheet of printer paper folded in half). To be honest, I don't really know where this stems from (I suppose it's cheaper than full-size sheet booklets), but it's the industry standard for physical patterns. With only a few exceptions (such as very long block of the month patterns), all paper patterns need to be in a half-sheet booklet format.

But . . . there's more than one way to skin the paper pattern cat.

Historically, many pattern designers would just design a booklet cover and then fold regular full-size sheets in half nestled inside the cover. The cover would be high-gloss cardstock, beautifully styled, but inside, the pattern instructions would essentially be black and white printer paper.

The advantage to this approach is that the instructions can be larger; full size sheets have more real estate. It also costs much less to have printed. But . . . black and white instructions can make it difficult to show what is happening and if you're purchasing a paper pattern, do you really want to pay $10-12 for black and white printer paper? Probably not.

This cover-only approach seems to be falling out of popularity as the access to high quality publishing softwares and printing becomes more widely available. Consumers are expecting more. However, recent increasing costs of printing have been pushing designers back towards this method as a way to manage their printing costs rather than having to increase their pattern pricing.

I implore you to avoid that urge. The very last thing you want is your customer to be disappointed with the quality of your product. Yes, that mostly means pattern instructions and illustrations, but when it comes to a physical pattern, it also means the look and feel of the paper and graphics. Spring for the nice booklets with color pages, even if it means you have to raise your pattern prices a little bit to cover the cost. It WILL pay off in the long run.

Examples of two booklet format paper patterns

Some printers that will print booklet patterns are below:

Essential Elements

While many things are a matter of preference, there are a few elements that are required in paper patterns because they're meant to be sold in stores:

Fabric requirements on the (back) cover

In a store, paper patterns are packaged in bags so that the customer can't open the pattern and see all the instructions without purchasing. This means that certain elements have to be on the cover if the customer is going to need access to it as part of their purchasing decision.

Fabric requirements are one of those things because many quilters will buy the pattern and the fabric for it in one shopping trip. It's customary to put the requirements on the back cover of the pattern.

One thing to note: when the fabric requirements are on the cover, there is no need to repeat them inside the pattern. That just takes up more room.

Anatomy of a pattern back cover

Barcode (UPC)

A barcode is a requirement for paper patterns that are going to be sold in shops because UPC barcodes are how shops track their inventory and link items into their cash register system. They typically go on the back cover of the pattern on the bottom.

You can purchase barcode numbers from a variety of distributers who have taken care of the registration process for you. The one I use most frequently is Barcodes Talk. They cost $1-5 depending on how many you purchase, and they guarantee that the numbers are unique and will replace them if there are any issues.

When you purchase barcodes, you'll get a high-quality vector graphics image file to go with that can simply be embedded into your pattern file.

Unique pattern number

Most shops and distributors carry patterns from lots of different designers. They need a way to unique identify each pattern in their system. The pattern number is a great way to do this, but it can't just be a generic number (like Pattern 102). Several designers can, and frequently do, use that same numbering scheme.

Instead, add a prefix or suffix to your number that unique identifies it as your pattern. Most designers will use their initials, i.e. CM-102. That way, your pattern No, 102 is differentiated from another designer's pattern No. 102.

A copyright statement

Since the outside of your pattern is all that a customer will see when purchasing, it's important to have a copyright statement somewhere on one of the covers, usually in small print.

You can read all about what needs to be in a copyright statement here, but just make sure it's somewhere on your paper pattern cover.

Best Practices

Without further ado (see what I did there?), here's my hit list of dos and don'ts for paper patterns. These are in addition to some of the best practices listed for all patterns here.

  1. Still use lots of illustrations - most quilters are visual learners. Don't shortchange them by trying to use less images in the interest of space.

  2. Include all the same sections you would in your digital pattern (with only a few exceptions, see below) - A paper pattern should deliver the same quality and experience as a digital pattern.

  3. Use the same fonts, formatting, and styles as your digital pattern - the paper pattern should still look and feel exactly the same as your digital version.

  1. Use font below 10 pt (9 pt in tables) - it's always tempting, but most people will struggle to read font below 10 pt.

  2. Eliminate all whitespace - don't squish your text and images into the page until every inch is filled. Whitespace is important for readability and you can ruin the quality of your pattern if things are packed into too tight.

  3. Overrun your margins - print patterns need a minimum of a 1/4" margin around the entire page. Again, it's tempting to encroach on this, but you risk your pattern not printing correctly with your printer.

Ways to shorten

1. Make template and coloring pages digital - No one really wants to photocopy, color in, or cut out a template from a printed booklet page anyways, so this is a great way to remove pages.

Print them on full-size sheets of copy paper and place them loose-leaf into the center of the pattern when bagging, or embed a QR code that links to a private webpage (on your website) for the pattern where these files can be downloaded and printed at will.

There are lots of free websites that will allow you to generate a QR code image from a URL. My favorite is QR Code Monkey. Once you download the QR image, just embed it on to the page of your pattern file where it's relevant (or in the before you begin section).

Example of a QR code linking to digital resources in a pattern

This is also great for FPP template pages where you'll inherently need more than 1 copy.

2. Leave more detailed instructions in linked tutorials - Particularly with beginner patterns, it can be difficult to draw the fine line between overexplaining and not enough information. Things like how to trim HSTs, or sandwich and bind a quilt. Remove this information (and the pages associated with it) and provide QR code links to it in the paper pattern instead (see suggestion #1). That way, your customer has access to it if they need it, but you're not printing 20 page long patterns.

3. Use a column layout instead of a row layout - If your images are more square than they are rectangular, using a 2-column layout where you have instructions on one side and the corresponding illustrations on the other can help you compress your pattern.

2 column compact instruction-illustration pattern layout

A word of warning: don't do this to the extent where you lose all your whitespace. You still don't want to pack things too tightly, but columns can be a more economical use of space than rows.

4. Place tables in landscape rather than portrait - If you have more than 3 sizes, your cutting table is likely going to be rather wide and difficult to fit on one half-sheet of paper. If this is the case, try rotating the table 90 degrees and allow it to span two adjacent pages (1 spread). Your customer will be able to simply rotate the booklet to read it, but that's much better than making the table font tiny weeny (<9-10 pt).

Example of landscape oriented cutting table within a paper pattern

This can also be a great way to deal with large quilt assembly diagrams.

5. Split tables to continue on additional pages - If your table fits on the width of a page, but is simply too long, consider splitting it to continue on an additional page. Just make sure you repeat the header rows on the continued table so that there is context.

Example of cutting table spanning pages within a quilt pattern

Example of a cutting table spanning pages within a pattern - second page

Phew! That was a lot!

Hopefully, you've found something in here helpful. If you've got any other good paper pattern formatting tips, I'd love to hear about them in the comments!


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