Spoonflower Fabric Development Series 2: Computer Art Programs And What They Do


Welcome back for Part 2 of my series in fabric development! Back for more, eh?

Today I’m going to talk about Computer Art Programs available for people just like you and me.

There are so many things to think about and cover for something like this; the only way I can really even begin to touch on it, is to just bring you through the process the way that I go about it. That of course is not to say that other ways are wrong…(smile)…I’m just remembering how my sister Megan always says that I design backwards. So, there. I do things backwards. But, somehow they get done.

“I don’t have Photoshop or Illustrator”

For those of you who have Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator installed and being used, that is awesome! This post will not really pertain to you. I assume that you most likely have some sort of artistic computer presence in your house being yourself or your spouse. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are amazing programs to use. They also cost a bit of money to get them legally installed which is what I would recommend if you decide to go that route. Be wary of pirated computer programs. Being married to a computer nerd myself (love you Jon!) I have been more than warned about downloading anything. But then again, things are a bit strict around here in that regard. The newest version of Photoshop is $649+ and Illustrator is $599. You can download a trial version for free and try it out if you like. There is a cheaper version of Photoshop called Photoshop Elements, so if you’re familiar with Photoshop, that could be a more practical option.

I have not had formal training regarding computer art programs. I did have an opportunity to use Photoshop and Illustrator in college when I worked as an intern for the Creative Department at MBNA America Bank. I’m telling you this because like anything, you will need to practice and learn the program—but it’s completely doable. You don’t need to get fancy…you can just stick to the basics and create a wonderful piece of work from your sketches.

That being said, I do not use Photoshop or Illustrator. For those of you out there who aren’t sure they want to invest in the programs before they know what they are getting into, there is another amazing option out there for you. Both of these programs are FREE Open Source Programs. Yes, I did say FREE. The first program is called GIMP, which is like Photoshop and the second is called Inkscape, which is like Illustrator. In this household my husband Jon has a motto that I will share with you, “Free is good!” To be honest, it took me awhile to believe him that anything out there for “free” could possibly be good. In my world, you get what you pay for and if it’s free, well, it’s pretty much crap. Things are a lot different in the computer world and I’m so glad to be married to someone who could educate me in that department. Both of these programs are incredible.

“What is the difference between these two programs?”

Who asked that? That is an excellent question.

Bitmaps vs. Vectors? We all win!

There are two main kinds of computer art programs: those that edit bitmaps (like Photoshop and GIMP), and those that edit vectors (like Illustrator and Inkscape). Here’s the difference between them:

  • Understand that (Inkscape) creates vector graphics and vector text. Vector graphics consist of lines and curves that contain mathematical objects called vectors.
  • Know that (GIMP) creates bitmapped graphics. Bitmaps consist of tiny dots of color. The eye fills in the spaces between the dots so the color appears to be solid. Bitmapped graphics are measured by the number of dots per unit – usually called dpi (dots per inch).
  • Realize that bitmap graphics are much larger in file size than vector graphics. Therefore, vector images take up much less storage space and can be downloaded faster.
  • Understand that you can scale a vector graphic to any size without losing quality. A bitmap will change quality if you enlarge it or reduce it.
  • Know that some filters can be applied to bitmap images but cannot be applied to vector images.


Okay, basically there are two kinds of images you can work with. The first type of image is called a Bitmap. A bitmap is a pixel-based image with one bit of color information per pixel. These are the types of images when you blow them up really big you see all those squares and it doesn’t look so great anymore.


Picture of my daughter Eleanor.


Part of the photo blown up so you can see the “pixels.”

Common types of bitmap graphics are GIF, JPEG, Photoshop, PCX, TIFF, Macintosh Paint, Microsoft Paint, PNG, FAX formats, and TGA.

The second type of image is called a Vector.

Vector graphics are made up of many individual objects. Each of these objects has individual properties assigned to it such as color, fill, and outline. Vector graphics are resolution independent because they can be output to the highest quality at any scale.

This is really cool because no matter how big you blow it up or how small you shrink it, your image looks absolutely perfect. Your lines and shapes are beautifully smooth.


Here is part of the image I worked on in my last post. I’m going to blow it up so you can see the cluster of birds in the upper left corner.




You could continue to blow this image up forever and the lines would stay smooth and never get the boxy “pixel” look. Like I said, really cool.

“Do you use both programs? If so, what do you use them for?”

I do use both programs. I use Inkscape to make my initial drawings. After some practice, it becomes easier to mess around with your shapes and colors and you’ll find that you can create things you may not have thought of. After they are finished, I export the image and load it into GIMP where I crop and re-size to the exact specifications needed. (We’ll talk more about Spoonflower specs later!)

Well, Rachel. This is all fine and good, but when I download these programs, I’ll just be staring at them and won’t have the slightest idea where to start!”

This will most likely be true. However, there are some great tutorials you could look through and just play around with it. ALSO IN PART 3 OF THIS SERIES, I will take you from start to finish through this process. We will start with a hand-drawn sketch and turn it into a Vector Art Image. To do this, you will need Inkscape.

Get ready!

Love, Rachel

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  • Thank you so much for this explanation/tutorial. I’ve been wanting to find a design software program for fabric design for a long time & I’ve been stuck trying to figure out where to start- what program will fit my needs, how much money its going to cost & how to learn whatever program I chosse. Your blog series has already been so helpful & I’m only on #2 so far.

    Thanks so much!!

  • Vanessa Gowans

    I just fell deeply in love with you. I’ve been looking up classes to take to start on my graphic journey, and here you are. What an awesome tutorial. Thank you so very much.