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Creating a Pattern Collection (Part One): What is a "hero" print?

collection of navy blue fabrics

If you want to start a career in surface pattern design, you'll need to create in collections. This is true whether you're designing home decor, stationery or fabrics to be used in clothing. A collection is simply a group of patterns that "play nicely together"!

Collections are usually made up of eight to twelve different patterns. There is a theme or unifying story that pulls it all together. The color palette is often limited too.

There are usually three "hero" prints (or patterns), three or four coordinating prints, and a few blender prints.

Collections make it easy for a consumer to buy matching products that work together beautifully. A good collection isn't too "matchy-matchy", but instead, provides patterns in different scales and motifs to keep the eye interested!

So what's a hero print? Let's take a look at the photo above, which is from a Ralph Lauren home decor collection. The hero print is the big floral in navy and shades of beige that is on the left. As the word "hero" implies, the hero print is the big man or woman on campus, the showiest and often attention-seeking print. Here's another hero print from Ralph:

armchair with sailboat fabric

Notice that this nautical print shares the same colors as the floral shown above. You could easily place this armchair in a living room and cover the sofa with the floral. Or, you could use the blue floral fabric for the drapes, or on a tablecloth in the dining room next door.

Coordinating prints are usually smaller in scale, but they mix beautifully with the hero. The chunky striped fabrics above are coordinates. Here are some more coordinating prints from this collection:

blue plaid fabric

fabric with small sailboats

This leaves blender prints, which are often the smallest in scale. They blend with all of the other fabrics in the collection.

dusty grey blue damask fabric

ticking stripe fabric

This is not the complete collection, but you can easily tell what the story is behind it. It's nautical, to be sure; but it's also old money, British or American feeling, a little on the masculine side (but I could see a woman buying it too!). It's crisp and classic.

The blender prints would work as wallpaper, drapes and throw pillows. All of these fabrics work well together, and they would also look terrific in a bedroom. Fabrics in deep red tones would compliment the navy blues.

Even if you're not interested in creating home decor patterns, start thinking and designing in collections. Stationery companies love collections of greeting cards and gift wrap, although the collection could be smaller (say, 5 patterns rather than 12). Quilt makers live for gorgeous collections. Fabric companies that produce clothing are always looking for collections.

Do you want to learn how to create patterns with Adobe Illustrator? I'll be running a free workshop that will teach you how to get your own designs on products in just five short lessons! Here's the link to the wait list:

Have any questions about how to create a collection? Leave a comment below and I'll get back to you!


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