One of the comments/questions from the recent survey we did was about PDF patterns. I forget of course that there are a lot of people out there who haven't used many PDF's – since I only started sewing recently PDF patterns were already common and I've used far more home-print patterns than tissue paper ones. I very much prefer them, but understand they can be confusing.
There are a lot of things you have to get right, and in the right order, for your pattern to be correct. Let's have a look at all the steps and I'll try to answer all of your questions I've had.
What's so good about PDF print-at-home patterns?
- Usually, all the sizes come in the same file to make grading easier
- If you tear it, cut the wrong size, the dog eats it, or you spill your tea on it – you can just print a new one
- They can be cheaper to buy than printed patterns because you aren't paying for professional printing, packaging, storage, and postage
- You can get the pattern instantly when you feel the urge to sew
- You can easily buy from International sellers – like me
- You support smaller independent pattern makers who couldn't afford to produce patterns otherwise
Here are some of my patterns that you can get your hands on right away, for example:
How to Download PDF Patterns
Downloading is tricky before you even think about printing. A regular PDF file will probably work for most people and computers, but introduce a ZIP file or a mobile device, and frustration will probably start to drive you crazy. I wrote an earlier article on downloading here and if you have questions or problems – go back and start there.
This article has just recently been updated because now it should be possible to download a ZIP file to your mobile device if you have the right ‘app' or software. If downloading isn't working for you, try the tips in this article and video first.
Once the file is downloaded, you are ready to go if it's already a PDF. If it's a ZIP file, unzip first to get to the PDF files inside. See this earlier article if you need to learn about unzipping.
Printing issues – all of them!
Before we start, a few general guidelines, to do and not to do.
- Don't use an old version of Adobe Reader. Always update to the latest version if possible. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader here. If the pattern was created in the latest version and you are using an old version to try to print, there may be problems.
- Printing a file from Google Drive? Don't! That doesn't work well either. Always download the file to your own computer first, then open it and print it locally.
- Using Mac Preview? Again – don't! Printing can be random. Use Adobe Reader for best results.
- DO – read the printing instructions that come with your pattern. Each pattern can be different and certainly, each pattern company or designer will be different. Open the instructions and read how to print before proceeding.
Typical print settings
Did you know that different countries use different sizes of paper? In the UK, Europe and most of the world, standard paper is called A4 and measures 210 by 297 millimeters, but in the US/Canada/Mexico they use a paper called Letter which is 8.5” x 11”. According to Wikipedia “Today the standard has been adopted by all countries in the world except the United States. In Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia,Venezuela, Chile and the Philippines the US letter format is still in common use, despite their official adoption of the ISO standard.”
Make sure you have the correct paper size selected for your printer. Most patterns should be designed to fit correctly on either size paper, or be able to be ‘poster printed' on either size.
You will typically be required to print your PDF pattern without any fancy settings, so unless the instructions tell you otherwise, DO NOT SELECT:
- fit to paper
- scaling at any percentage other than 100%
- centering options
- shrink oversized pages
DO SELECT – actual size.
Printing just selected pages
So you just want to print one page, or the pattern pages only if they are included in the same document as the instructions. We need to know the page number or numbers of the pages we want to print. That's where this preview box on the right will come in useful.
When your document is open, select the little print icon on the top menu to bring up the printing options box you see above. The preview box on the right has arrows underneath and using the arrows, you can scroll through the pages. Perhaps you want just the page with the test square, or you want to skip the instructions and just print the pattern pages.
If you want to print just a single page – enter just that page number in the ‘Pages to Print' box, like this:
If you want a range of pages, then you can include the first and last page number with a dash or hyphen in between to show the range to be printed, like this:
Before you print – the test square
Before you waste all of your ink and paper on a pattern that comes out the wrong size, you should always start by looking for the test square. Often this will be on page 1 of the pattern, but it can be elsewhere if there wasn't space. Preview through the pattern sheets until you find the test square. Print ONLY that sheet first.
Check the measurement on the test square before printing the other pages. If it's ‘out', then recheck your print settings before trying again. Only when your test square is correct should you print out all the sheets.
Important – your pattern pages will print out in the order in which they should be taped together so don't mix them up. Let the whole lot print, then remove from the printer as a batch.
How to assemble a PDF pattern
Some patterns will have page numbers, some will have marks in the margin and some may have guides where the pages should be lined up. You will find a lot of variety, but basically the process is the same. It's simply like putting together a jigsaw – except at least you already have your pieces in the right order.
Most patterns will give you a picture of what your finished jigsaw will look like.
In this example, you can see there are 20 pages in total, 5 per row. So start by getting together sheets 1 to 5 for your top row.
Most patterns will overlap one sheet with the other to help with lining up, and usually have an unprinted margin around the outside. You'll need to get rid of this margin on either the left or right and the top or bottom. I like to cut off the left hand side of my sheets and the top. So start with this.
Lie out sheet 1. Take sheet 2 and cut off the left hand margin. There may be a line to follow, or guides. In my most recently patterns, I've been including a grey ‘piece of pie' which indicates the corners of each sheet. When all 4 pieces of pie are assembled at the corners, you get a circle where they all meet. If you aren't sure where to cut, draw a line (real or imaginary) between the pieces of pie!
Match up the edges and lines on sheet 2 with the lines on the right hand side of sheet 1. How you join is up to you. Some people like to use tape, some use a glue stick. Anything that you can easily re-position a little later is best. I'll use a glue stick in this example and just lightly press my sheets in place, so that I can pick back up and re-position just a little if I need to.
Remember that our home printers are not necessarily designed for precision printing, and its quite common for the sheet to ‘wiggle' a little bit as it feeds in and goes through the rollers so finding some of the lines don't always meet up perfectly is quite common. They are usually close enough.
When you have sheet 2 in place, cut off the left margin on sheet 3, stick that in place and repeat for 4 and 5 and the top row is ready.
Now start with sheet 6, cut off the top and match it to sheet 1. Cut the left and top margins from sheet 7 and attach it to sheets 2 and 6. Now you get the idea. Keep adding the sheets one at a time, re-positioning a little where you need to.
Once all the sheets are stuck, you can go over with some tape for a more permanent finish.
Time savings tips
If you have one of these, or similar, you can stack your sheets together and cut off all the margins much quicker, cutting several at a time.
Or, save the old blades from your rotary cutter and use that with a ruler to quickly strip off all those margins.
Tracing or cutting your pattern
From now on, things should be familiar and work the same as a regular tissue paper pattern. Either trace your pattern over the lines for your size, or cut it out to use.
I hope this has been useful and if you've been mystified or worried about using PDF patterns, that now you'll be willing to give them a try.
Do you have any tips and tricks you want to add that might make it easier for other tackling this for the first time?