Photoshop vs. Illustrator for Fabric Design

Many budding designers wonder whether they should use Photoshop or Illustrator for fabric design. And of course, there are the purists/classically trained artists among us who like to design with pen/pencil/pastel/paint and paper.

The short answer is that there's no RIGHT way to design fabric! You can use any one of the methods above OR combinations of some or all of them. Each software program, however, does offer advantages (and have shortcomings!) depending on the type of design you prefer.

In this section, I will discuss each program as it relates to fabric design.

Side note: Personally, I prefer Illustrator for most of the design work I do because of its ability to scale artwork (without quality loss) and how it smooths lines. But you may find you prefer the more organic look/feel of working in Photoshop. It completely depends on the design experience and final look you wish to achieve. I encourage you to learn BOTH so you can determine what works best for you.


Photoshop is best for painterly and free-handed designs. It's also perfect for creating repeats of hand-drawn/painted artwork that you've scanned into the computer. Here are its features at-a-glance:

  • Bitmap-based images
  • Images can be scaled down but NOT up
  • Artwork is represented as pixels, and shape edges cannot be easily altered
  • Artwork creation is more like creating artwork on paper
  • Lines are not smoothed as you work - what you draw is what you get


Illustrator is best for creating smooth lines and more graphic artwork. Here are its features at-a-glance:

  • Vector-based images
  • Images can be scaled up OR down without loss of quality
  • Artwork is represented as combinations of anchor points and handles (which create curves), and shape edges can be easily altered
  • Artwork creation is less intuitive than creating artwork on paper
  • Lines are smoothed as you work - can be frustrating if you want a more organic look

Software Comparison

In the following video, I'll give you a more hands-on explanation of the differences in the two programs.