Patterns: PDFs and Piracy

piracy of patterns, stitchcraft marketingThe digital revolution in crafting is changing the way hobbyists buy and use publications for their various crafts, particularly instructions. It’s most noticeable in yarn crafts, where sales of individual digital patterns are quickly breaking down the model of pattern booklets printed by yarn companies in favor of digital collections from which customers can buy only the patterns they intend to make. With the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, the yarn crafter’s library of patterns is easily portable, ready for the serendipitous trip into a yarn store or a lunch-hour cast-on.

The digital transition has been a bit trickier for sewing patterns. Unlike a knitting or crochet pattern, which are primarily text with a few photographs or perhaps some stitch charts or schematics, sewing patterns are made up of pieces that create a person-sized garment as well as the instructions needed to make that garment. Compressing all of that into a digital file that the sewist must print herself presents a unique set of challenges. On the other hand, selling patterns digitally opens up international markets that shipping physical patterns may not reach. We’re going to look at how and why a sewing pattern designer might choose to move into digital sales.

Printed Patterns

Who doesn’t love those magic envelopes illustrated with drawings of finished garments and full of neatly-folded tissue paper sheets of pattern pieces, waiting for you to cut them out? The beauty of the paper pattern is that once the sewist has purchased it and her chosen fabric, it’s a matter of cutting the right-sized pattern pieces, laying out the fabric, pinning the pattern, and cutting the pieces – after that, she’s ready to assemble her garment. What you see is what you get: a life-sized, customizable, reusable garment pattern.

If you buy it locally from a fabric store or sewing shop, its price is transparent: what’s marked, plus local taxes if there are any. Depending on how many sizes are included with a specific pattern, the sewist can make the garment in a range of sizes or lend it to a friend who wants to make the garment within the included size range. The instructions are printed on a separate leaflet, so that the sewist can easily refer simultaneously to both the instructions and the pattern pieces they reference.

Printed patterns have their downsides, though. With the internet facilitating international craft communities and world-wide demand for a designer’s patterns, a print-only format brings its own limitations. Printed patterns incur supply-chain costs like production and storage that drive up the retail price. Shipping costs, even for that single envelope, add to the customer’s cost and can be prohibitive across oceans. The delayed gratification of falling in love with a particular garment, ordering the pattern, waiting for it to arrive, then shopping for the required fabric and notions does not lend itself to the impulse purchase of “I want to make this right now!”

From the designer’s perspective, even if you wholesale your patterns to chosen stockists around the globe, you still have to maintain a supply-chain of your design catalogue. If you also sell directly to consumers via a website, you’re doing the same work on a retail level as well. It may not be the best way to use time you could be designing.

PDF Patterns

PDF patterns to the rescue? Digital patterns, usually sold in PDF format so they cannot be altered by the end consumer, eliminate supply-chain issues, shipping costs and the time lag associated with printed patterns. Sales are instantaneous and the sewist on the receiving end can start cutting as soon as she downloads the pattern.

PDFs may not be our superhero, however: unlike other craft instructions, sewing patterns must be printed at full physical size to work correctly. Most hobby sewists do not have widescale printers in their home sewing studios to handle the printing requirements for sewing patterns.

Right now there are two solutions to the issue. The first is formatting the pattern as a set of files that print on 8.5 x 11” or A4 (standard printer-sized) paper with specific markings that allow the individual pages to be assembled into a garment-sized whole, then cut. The other option involves a trip to a dedicated copy store that can do oversized prints. The sewist then has a full copy of the pattern on a few sheets of 36” wide paper, rather than a puzzle of standard printer pages.

Time and money are the glaring objections to this mode of delivering sewing patterns. In addition to the cost of your pattern, the customer incurs the cost of printing the pattern, whether it is her own paper and ink at home or the per page cost of the specialty print at the copy shop. If she’s doing it at home on her own, she will be spending time taping together all those sheets of paper before she can even cut out the pattern pieces that she will use to cut her garment fabric. If she’s giving the job to professionals, she has lost at least half a day in the process of delivering the digital file, having it printed and picking up the prints.

There’s no way around it. Sewing patterns require a physical version, even if it’s delivered electronically.

The Designer’s Perspective

For the designer of a sewing pattern who is selling directly to the consumer, a PDF or digital version has its attractions – mainly, the ability to reach a worldwide market for her designs. Digital patterns are less expensive for the designer to create and produce; within the limits of file size, bonus information is more easily included, whether it’s a larger range of sizes, extra views of the garment, or instructions for variant versions of the garment. The environmental footprint of a digital pattern is smaller than a printed pattern, from the resources used in production to the costs incurred in the physical shipping of the pattern. It is also easier to correct errata and update information in a digital format, plus there’s no cost sunk into printed materials that are now erroneous or outdated. As Camille Barot of Deer and Doe noted, PDF patterns also cut customer service costs: if a customer has lost the assembly instructions or a single pattern piece, they can easily download a replacement with no effort on the part of the designer. All of these factors generally lead designers to price their PDFs lower than their printed versions of the same pattern, which consumers expect. On the other hand, you can also find yourself answering both technology questions (How do I change my printer settings to “Landscape”?) as well as craft questions (how to customize sizing on the pattern); you may want to add a FAQ section to that part of your website so that you don’t spend all your time providing email support.

But there are negatives associated with digital publication and distribution which can make the designer hesitate to sell her work in this way. The biggest issue is piracy–that is, controlling the further distribution of the product after its initial sale to a customer. While it is true that a printed pattern can be shared, at least to other sewists of the same size, a digital pattern, with all its information, can be shared electronically with ease, theoretically costing the designer additional sales of that pattern. There are ways of formatting your work that can cut down on unauthorized use (sharing) of your patterns:

  • Make your customer agree to a Terms and Conditions statement that explicitly forbids digital sharing before they can download your pattern. Sure, lots of people click “Agree” without actually reading the statement, but it adds a layer to the purchase process.
  • Put your sales behind a membership wall that requires a username and password. The more identifiable customers are, the likelier they are to play by the rules.
  • Require your customers to download the pattern from your site or a remote site like Dropbox, rather than emailing a PDF to them. Again, your site has their digital information, and while they could turn around and share the pattern, it’s not as simple as just forwarding an email.
  • Add a watermark to each page of your PDF. A watermark is a repeated pattern or phrase “stamped” on top of or behind the primary content that will appear on forwarded or duplicated versions of the PDF. Watermarking is a feature of most PDF programs, or you can use an add-on. Here are the instructions for adding a watermark in Adobe Acrobat; if you are using a different program to produce your PDF patterns, here’s a list of free programs that will allow you to watermark your PDF. These programs also have features that will let you stamp a PDF with the buyer’s email, which can be a further deterrent.

The customer who will pay for your pattern in the first place is likely to be the customer who understands copyright and unauthorized use and won’t be sharing it anyway. Many designers, while taking some safeguards, view the small percentage of shared or copied patterns as part of the price of doing business. They make sure that their PDFs contain lots of direction back to the URLs of their websites, so that if the crafters using their pattern without paying for it like their work, they know where to go to buy more of it.

Deciding to sell your sewing patterns in downloadable PDF versions is a big step. You have to establish your pricing by accounting for your customer’s printing costs in lieu of your supply-chain costs. Will reaching a worldwide market make up for the lower prices you will be charging? You can always test it with a limited part of your line to figure out whether you want to offer it as an option for your entire collection.

Stitchcraft Marketing can help you build your craft-based business with marketing plans, social media strategies, podcast partnerships, and graphic design services. Contact to find out more about the magic we can make for you.


Laura Cameron
No Comments

Post A Comment