July 15, 2021
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So what exactly do you get when you purchase a PDF sewing pattern? This is an important thing to know before you buy, so you can make sure that you are able to use the pattern.

What is a PDF Pattern?

A PDF pattern is a sewing pattern that is provided as a digital file download.

Most people print the pattern pieces onto paper (either at home, a copy shop, a library, or on a friend's printer), but recently many people have started using projectors to project the pattern pieces directly onto the fabric and cut that way, without any printing. More on that later!

What are all the different files for?

So if you've already bought the pattern, you may find that it comes with several different files, and you're not sure what to do with them. Here is a quick list of the file types, and then we'll go into more depth on what they are and how to use them.

  • Tutorial/Instructions File - often combined with the Letter or Home printing file, so the pages to print are at the end of the instructions file.
  • Letter/A4/Home Printing File - some designers provide separate Letter and A4 files sized specifically for each paper, and some provide in a format that can be printed on either size of paper correctly. Unless it's a pattern with very small pieces, you will need to tape the pages together.
  • A0/Copy Shop File - for printing on blueprint sized paper from a copy shop/large format printer.
  • Projector File - optimized for projecting onto fabric without printing.

Tutorial/Instructions File

This file typically includes a size chart (for clothing), instructions on how to print and assemble the paper pattern, and instructions of how to cut and sew the item from fabric.

The tutorial may or may not also include some of the following:

  • A finished measurements chart (clothing)
  • Supplies list
  • A fabric requirements chart (again more for clothing - it it's a small item or a one-size item like a bag, it likely won't need a chart, just a line or two in the supplies list saying how much fabric you need)
  • List of pattern pieces required for each view (if there is more than one style)
  • Pages-to-Print chart (listing the page numbers you need to print for your size and options - again, more for clothing)
  • Assembly layout - a diagram showing how the pages go together to create the pattern
  • Cut chart - some patterns will provide dimensions for the rectangular pieces so you don't have to print them

Often, the tutorial/instructions file will be combined with the home printing pages (Letter size, A4 size, or both) - those pages will be at the end of the file.

On rare occasions, some designers will combine all the files together, so the file will have the instructions at the beginning, then the home printing pages, and then one or two large pages for copy shop printing or projector.

Letter/A4/Home Printing File

Letter sized paper is 8.5" by 11", and used mainly in North America.

The rest of the world uses A4, which is 210mm by 297mm (approximately 8.25" by 11.75")

Some patterns designers size their pages so they can be correctly printed on both paper sizes, and others provide separate files - one for Letter, and one for A4. Often, if there are separate files, one of them (usually Letter) is combined with the instructions, and the other is provided as a separate file.

A0/Copy Shop File

A0 is a large format paper size that is used mainly outside of North America, but since it prints nicely on large format printers of nearly all types, most copy shop files for sewing patterns are sized as A0. The pages are 841mm by 1188mm, or approximately 33.1" by 46.8".

The advantage of printing large patterns this way is clear - no taping! You do typically pay more than you would for paper/ink/tape for the home printing method though.

Most copy and print shops are capable of printing this size of paper, but many of them (especially the large chain stores like Staples) will charge exorbitant rates - like $10-20 per page. An adult clothing pattern will often need 3 pages!

Thankfully, there are now many fabric shops and specialty print shops catering to sewing patterns that charge much less - about $1-4 per page, depending on your currency (US dollar, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, etc) and location. If you are in a small town you likely won't have a local place that does this, but if you order several patterns at once to reduce the shipping cost per page, it becomes quite affordable.

Many people have also found local print shops that aren't too familiar with sewing patterns, but print a lot of blueprints and similar sized documents, and these often have quite affordable rates as well.

Projector Files

The newest trend in the sewing community is using projectors!

There are many inexpensive ($80-200) models of projector that have been proven to work well with sewing patterns. They are typically mounted to the ceiling or wall (or some people use a tall tripod for a more portable set up) and project down onto your cutting table.

There are also "Ultra Short Throw" projectors that sit on a tabletop and project down onto the surface next to it, but these are much more expensive.

You connect your computer or mobile device to the projector via HDMI cable, or wirelessly using a Chromecast or built in wireless connection.

When first setting up the projector, it's important to level the projector and the cutting surface perfectly, so the pieces are projected at the same scale across the image, and not larger on one side and smaller on the other side. Most projector files come with a calibration grid that will help you to calibrate your projection and figure out the perfect zoom percentage to display the pattern pieces at the correct scale.

Projector files are similar to A0/copy shop files, but in order to make cutting with a projector easier, they typically have some or all of the following features:

  • Calibration grid and/or scale squares in various places around the page
  • Thicker lines, and all black instead of different colors
  • All pieces aligned by grain line, so the fabric doesn't need to be rotated while you are cutting
  • Some pieces may be "unfolded" so you can choose to cut it as a full piece instead of on the fold
  • Larger labels

What if I need more help figuring out how to use these files?

Most designers provide instructions in the tutorial on how to use their files (at minimum how to print from home), but if you need more help, please make sure to subscribe to our newsletter below - we are planning more blog posts with detailed information on printer setting, how to assemble the pages, and anything else you may possibly need to know about PDF patterns!

In the meantime, I hope this overview of the file types has been helpful !

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