Recently, I’ve been purchasing a lot of sewing patterns – both in digital/PDF and traditional paper format. Self-drafting can sometimes be a drag when you have 100 other priorities.
One of the questions I had when I wanted to start working with commercial patterns was “what is the difference between a PDF/downloadable vs traditional/paper pattern”? I’m hoping I can answer that question for you in the simplest way possible.
As you probably know, the traditional patterns have existed for a while. The PDF patterns are a more recent “invention” and I for one am grateful that they exist. To answer the question, I’m going to talk about how the new ‘PDF/downloadable” patterns differ from the older patterns.
A PDF sewing pattern, sometimes called a digital pattern, is basically the same thing as a printed pattern. Meaning, the outfit you end with after sewing is the same as if you were to sew it up from a traditionally printed pattern. There’s no difference in the fundamental pattern itself, it’s simply a different format.
1. Format: A PDF pattern is a digital version of the printed pattern. If you were to take a piece of tissue on which a pattern was printed, and cut it up into letter-sized pieces and scan them each in separately, you’d end up with a file similar to what you get when you purchase a PDF pattern. The great thing about PDFs is it protects the contents of the document so that they don’t shift around unintentionally. Huge plus!
As someone who uses both, the other differences (see below) are what I consider the advantages of using PDF patterns over the traditional patterns.
2. Instant Access: when you get a PDF pattern, you can instantly download it on your computer and print off on your home printer on regular paper. Imagine getting an idea for a garment, finding the pattern, and being able to start working on it right away—instant gratification! No need to go to the store or wait for a printed pattern to be mailed to you.
Reusability: Another great benefit is that you can print off the pattern as many times as you want. Has it ever happened to you that you’ve cut out your size into a tissue pattern, only to find that you needed a different size? If that happens with a PDF pattern, you can simply reprint the pattern. Lost a pattern piece, or damaged a pattern by accident? Print it out again. It’s that easy.
Minimalism: you don’t need to trace them out, they don’t take up physical space until you’ve actually made them. They can be stored in a folder on your computer on in the cloud for use whenever you want.
Cost: this should’ve been number one, honestly. PDF patterns are often a bit cheaper than printed patterns (and as we mentioned, you don’t need to pay for shipping). Of course you would need to factor in how much it costs you to print it yourself, but depending on your situation that may be less than the difference in price/shipping.
Bonus: I love when the seller of a PDF pattern provides the option to print on A0 paper, because I get my pattern in one or two large sheets instead of multiple A4 sheets that I have to first assemble. I print my A0 patterns with pdf plotting by Keith Fabry, and the service is great.
Let me know if you found this helpful, and if you have any other questions that I could help with!
For more beginner-sewing tips, see posts here