Thursday 12 August 2010


To PDF of not PDF: that is the question. Well, a question. Probably not the question.

In the year in a half that I've been selling patterns, I've physically carried more than 650 patterns down to the post office. In the beginning, I hand traced each one but I ran out of gusto (and time) after I'd traced my way through more than 400 metres of paper. About a year ago I found a lovely large scale printer which I've never, ever regretted doing. But quite often I'm asked, 'Can you send it to me as a PDF?' and the answer has always been no (unless they have access to a large scale printer in which case it's yes). But yesterday my print reorder came like this:

Sodden box courtesy of DHL, ripped box courtesy of fury

I knew that the order was coming so I stayed inside my very small house all day WITH THE CHILDREN ( yes, this deserves capitals and bold and italics) to accept the delivery. When Steven came home from work in the evening, he came bearing the box that had been left out in the rain. They hadn't bother to ring the buzzer. Here is the stack of prints with their wet cardboard-stained folds and edges:

Vintage tea-stained patterns

My lovely printers have lived up to their lovely reputation and sent out another box today, but it's made me question again: should I be offering PDFs?

Personally, I'm not a fan of PDF patterns unless it is something I require urgently. The last one I ordered was two hundred pages, and there's no way I'm going to print all of that because a) that's insane, b) I never have ink in the printer and c) that's insane. So let's say I just print the pattern pieces and read the tutorial on the computer screen. The means I either have to use my Jedi mind tricks to memorise all of the instructions or I have to continually tromp back and forth between sewing machine and computer. And let's face it, if I'm on the computer anyway, I should probably check my email and my Facebook and my blogroll and then tell everyone how much I hate PDFs on Twitter and then everyone will be all 'LOL, me too!' and suddenly it's 3AM. And the pages and pages of pattern pieces I printed? They all need to be taped together in a very intricate fashion and then cut out. Or cut out and then taped together intricately, I can't remember. Hold on, let me check the computer.... I've found that although PDFs are quick in their virtual delivery, they are decidedly unquick in practice (at least at the first use).

There's some things I really like about paper patterns:
  • the excitement of receiving it in the post
  • the physical presence of the instructions by my side
  • the ability (should I be feeling mental) of cutting the pattern right there and now
  • dare I say it??... paper printed patterns and instructions just feel more professional
But the case for PDFs still intrigues:
  • once I spend 1,000,000 hours cutting all my patterns into little tiny pieces and scanning them in I won't need to go to the Post Office in the rain any more
  • they're easily stored on my computer so I can work from anywhere without a suitcase full of paper, likewise they are stored on the buyers' computers and they can print them at will
  • some consumers want things now and don't like waiting for the post
  • costs will be kept down (and profit maximised) by lack of printing and shipping costs
  • they sell very, very, very, well (although a disturbing number of people sell them for about £1.38 and thereby do all designers a major disservice, themselves included... but that's a whole different post)
So, what does everyone think about PDF patterns? I know some people like them but I do not. And if I didn't go to the Post Office every evening how would I get my 15 minutes of peace from the dementors?


  1. I printed one from burdastyle a few years ago (when they were all free, funnily enough) and the taping together prior to tracing drove me round the bend. So no, I don't do PDF patterns. The closest I will ever venture from the standard patterns you buy in envelopes is burda magazines, and that's only because the money you save is staggering.

    I supposed from the business perspective, though, if there are enough people who want them (and since you're selling pattern for kid clothes, that may be higher than it would be for grown-up's garments with the larger pattern pieces required) you should probably do it. The customers are always right, and so on.

  2. I would try a pdf pattern for something smaller, like bags, but probably not for clothes. :) But some people like them, so maybe you could offer both?

  3. For clothing I always prefer printed patterns. Can't be arsed taping stuff together & more chance of getting it wrong at my end - not good when things need to fit. For small things like bags or accessories PDF is great.

  4. I hate pdf patterns, because of the sticky tape issue. Also I love getting stuff through the mail:)

  5. Why not both? Paper for the sensible people and PDF for those who love to break out the sticky tape? When you're away you could revert shop to PDF only and then still earn.

  6. I like them for small things (your bag, your kids underpants pattern) but I do like having a physical pattern for bigger things. And no one is more immediate gratification than I am.

    I've seen sellers on Etsy who do both. Is than an option? It would maybe help sales for those people who do like them.

  7. I'd agree with the proponents of both. I also hate the tedious taping, but the instant gratification is nice, and if I want something NOW a pdf is the way to go. I do prefer them for smaller things, and kids clothes usually aren't that bad. I know there are sewists out there who prefer them though.

  8. I hate PDFs. That doesn't mean I don't buy them, I do. But I don't use them. Printer ink is scary expensive, especially here in Chile, so even though I have bought a few, I have never actually completed a whole article based on one. A couple of times I've used the schematics to draft my own, but that's just taking silliness too far.
    I'd say stick to paper, but maybe not stick with DHL!

  9. I like pdf patterns. They're instant, which is a bonus if you order a lot from sellers in the US. The costs are lower, which means I'm more likely to buy more of them, rather than treat myself to just one (although I think you're right about some people undercharging). I don't mind the sticking together part. I can print a new one out if I want to make a different size, because I'm not a huge fan of tracing. If I end up spilling tea on / dropping lasagne on / accidentally recycling the instructions or any of the pattern pieces, I can just print them out again. Some sellers put hyperlinks in their instructions, so if you are the sort of bod who likes to follow them on a screen you can click through to a tutorial on inserting a zip, or some extra photos of the construction process. If I was given a choice between printed or pdf, I would probably buy pdf. I would definitely buy pdf if it was cheaper than the printed option.

  10. Unless it's the size of a diaper, i'm not a huge fan of PDFs. Piecing patterns together gives me a headache, and I just hate doing it.

  11. For small stuff pdfs are great, for clothes etc... not so much, I hate the taping and the printing or any "enlarge by 50%, 200% or so on... its horrid.

    However, it would be a great idea to offer both if you can... people like all different things and it might mean it brings in more sales than usual.

    Also like someone else said, great if you go on holidays, or if people are in a huge hurry as then it will be wam bam and you wont loose sales.

    But if I personally had to choose one or the other...
    paper is the way... I also love the feel of tatty old vintage paper patterns... so when I am old and cranky I can tell my kids "Mummy made this for you when you were little!", etc, etc (I know I am slightly crazy)

    M xx

  12. I'm not the one to ask as I have never sewn anything from a pattern.. my head would probably explode and make a big mess that I could clean up because my head exploded and I couldn't see where the mess would be because I don't have a head anymore... its nice to look at pdfs but its better to have a hard copy to fondle the paper and sniff the ink.. what you dont do that?

    I think pdfs are great for small things, pincushions and bags but I wouldn't want to piss about with taping ten million bits of paper together for a bigger pattern.

  13. I find that I'm more likely to use the pdf patterns as I don't mind if they get bashed, bruised and covered in pin holes. Any patterns that I've downloaded I've had a go at making. If I mess it up then I can print another.
    The many 'new' patterns I have purchased remain in their packets as I feel compelled to use these with a bit more respect and just never get round to it.

    Could you offer an 'either/or' option so the purchaser could select which they'd prefer?

  14. To not PDF, that is the answer, sorry can't be doing with that and I love the postman ;) And knowing you through the blog I wouldn't mind a stained pattern and a post-it saying 'sorry, it got wet, love Amanda' xxx

  15. I prefer paper patterns because I hate having to print everything out - ink is expensive! And then tape them all, etc. I just tonight taped a pattern together from Burda and it was a huge pain in the butt. But, when it is just say 8 pages you have to tape together, instead of 36 or more, I think they are ok. Not my favorite, but fine if I love the pattern. I actually think some pdf patterns are over-priced because it is my ink and paper I am using to print it, and there were no big publishing/printing fees for the pattern designer.

    They do sell really well, so I think it is probably a good business move in reality.

  16. Oh and my other gripe is that all the instructions are usually on many pages - I love that there are pictures of the steps that make the process easier, but that is just more expensive printing. So usually I don't print them out, but end up having to run down to my computer to check on what it said and then running back up to sew, etc. which is a huge pain. If there was a way you could have all the instructions on 1 or 2 sheets, and then also include a few steps with pictures if you are inclined, I think that would be great.

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  18. I am late to this discussion, but I still wanted to chime in...

    I would be another vote for offering both. I have to agree about not liking pdf for large items. I recently bought a skort pattern from You Can Make This. I liked that it was pdf and I could use it instantly. But it wasn't until I paid and downloaded it that I discovered that the pattern did not nest sizes. Each size is a separate pattern. Part one of the pattern was over 90 pages! Then for each of the three pattern options there was another section to download and print. It would take over half a ream of paper to print the whole pattern out. That is ridiculous.

    I also agree that pdfs should cost less. Because of the work involved. (And a side note on Burda... they really annoy me with how they separate the options into different patterns. They had a pattern for a little girl's tunic with a spaghetti strap and a separate pattern for the exact same top but with a small ruffle added to the strap. That's just greedy.)

    But my real preference is for a traditional pattern.