Printing PDF patterns – what are your options?

If a sewing pattern has a paper and a PDF version, the PDF typically costs less than the paper version. But they can be a pain to assemble, especially when you’re printing PDF patterns at home and have a big stack of letter-size or AO pages to tape or glue together. A paper trimmer certainly saves time (see this post) but sometimes you just want to skip the tedious assembly.

The good thing is that many patterns have large-format, copy-shop versions in addition to the print-at-home file. However, if you pay to print it, you may end up spending more than the cost of the paper pattern. Grrrr. Meanwhile, some patterns are only available as PDFs.

Let’s face it, cost is a factor. I will often buy the PDF version of a sewing pattern if the shipping costs are too high for the paper pattern. For example, Tessuti charges $30 to ship one of its paper patterns from Australia. Yes, $30 for shipping outside Australia – that’s in addition to the cost of the paper pattern!

A large-format print of PDF pattern I designed on Bootstrap Fashion. I printed this at Staples for $17.40.

Where can you print large-format PDF patterns?

In the United States, you can go to:

  • FedEx, which has print services in addition to shipping,
  • one of the big office supply chains, such as Staples or Office Depot,
  • a local shop specializing in architectural, and engineering document services, or
  • an online company based in Virginia, PDF Plotting.com, which I learned about from Melizza, who blogs at Pincushion Treats.

Below is a breakdown of prices for printing PDF patterns, as of March 20, 2017. I’m listing prices for prints 36″ x 48″ (3 ft x 4 ft or 91.3 cm x 121.9 cm) and for a more unusual size 36″ x 120″(3 feet by 10 feet or 81.3 cm x 304.8 cm). Yes, that’s a really long piece of paper.

If you create a design on Bootstrap Fashion or buy one of the Leko or indie patterns available at Bootstrap’s online pattern store, you can choose to print the pattern at 36″ wide and it’ll be however long it needs to be. I designed a dress using Bootstrap’s design app and made a PDF pattern that was 36″ x 114″ (81.3 cm x 289.6 cm) and I spent $17.40 to print at Staples – 2.5 times what I paid for the pattern. 🙁

I posted on Instagram (@csews) about what I paid at Staples and Melizza (@pinsuchiontreats) commented that she gets her PDF patterns printed at PDFPlotting.com. Thank you, Melizza!

Options for printing PDF patterns - copy shop (Staples, FedEx) or at PDFPlotting.com

When I went to my local Staples on a weekend, the person working in the print/copy department didn’t know that their printer could print anything longer than 48″. I told him to print it at 100 percent and instead he printed it to fit on one 36 x 48 piece of bond paper. Then he had computer problems. While he was rebooting his computer, I emailed Bootstrap Fashion and the founder, Yuliya Racquel told me that if the paper wasn’t on a roll, he could choose “poster” as a print option and print it that way. But if it was on a roll, it should be fine. She was right.

It was taking him forever to get the computer going so I went back on a weekday. The person working that day didn’t know that the printer could print anything longer than 48 inches but it worked and he learned something new. Hopefully, you’ll get a knowledgable staff person but you may need to educate them about printing PDF patterns.

Rates for printing PDF patterns

Note: All prices are for black-and-white prints, before taxes. (Maybe I should update this post annually – let me know if that would be useful to you.)

  • FedEx – $0.75 per square foot. A square foot is 12″ x 12″ (~30.5 cm x 30.5 cm).
    Cost of one 36″ x 48″ sheet: $9. So a pattern with three sheets of 36 x 48 will cost $27.
    Cost of printing one 36″ x 120″ sheet: $22.50
    You can order print services online here but I didn’t see an option for engineering prints or large-format prints so it looks like large-format black-and-white prints need to be ordered in person. Find your local FedEx office here.
    Conclusion: Expensive place to print, avoid unless you have no other options
  • Staples – about $0.60 per square foot.
    Cost of one 36 x 48 sheet in store: $7.19. Cost to print three sheets of 36 x 48: $21.57
    Cost of printing one 36″ x 120″ sheet: $18
    You can also place an order online (see Staples engineering prints page) and have it delivered for $9.99 or pick it up in-store for free.
    Cost of one 36 x 47 sheet ordered online: $7.29. Cost of three sheets: $21.87, add $9.99 shipping if you don’t pick it up in-store (cost of three sheets + shipping: $31.86).
    [Office Depot has the same prices as Staples for what they call “engineer prints” online but anything more than 30″ wide is delivery only, no in-store pickup available. Add $9.95 delivery fee.]
    Tip: If you’re in the store, tell them it’s a line drawing, similar to an engineering print and be sure to tell them that you want it printed at 100%. Customer service may vary greatly because not all staff will know what to do with your file.
    Conclusion: Still expensive but cheaper than FedEx.
  • Local shop specializing in architectural, design and engineering document management. I called one place in the Bay Area, Smart Plotting Reprographics, and they were far more expensive than FedEx. The rates were $2 per square foot for anything less than 20 pages, $1 per square foot for 20+ pages. And they also charged a set-up fee of $1 per page.
    Cost of printing one 36 x 48 sheet: $25
    Cost of printing one 36 x 120 sheet: $61
    Conclusion: Do not print at specialty engineer printing firms – they are not set up for small PDF jobs.
  • Pattern Review offers large-format printing for members who order patterns from Pattern Review. When you order a PDF pattern, you can also order a large-format print. The printing fee is $4.50 per pattern, which is very reasonable, especially if a pattern has more than one page. The shipping fees are $3.49 US 1st class, $6.99 US Priority, $13.99 Int’l, $7.99 Canada 1st Class. You can read the details on PR’s blog here.
  • PDF Plotting.com – about $0.10 per square foot! See the link B&W CAD Prints on their site. (CAD refers to computer-aided design.) They also print in color, which costs a little more $5 for one sheet of 36 x 48.
    Cost of one 36 x 48 sheet: $1.20. Cost of 3 sheets: $3.60 but a minimum of $7.49 is required to place an order. So you’d need to upload at least 7 pages to meet this minimum. Thus you’d spend $8.40 plus $4.99 for UPS ground shipping for a total of $13.39. The company is based in Richmond, Virginia so the closer you are to Virginia, the faster you’ll get your PDF patterns.
    Cost of printing one 36 x 120″ sheet: $3.60 (If you have a fraction of a page, the last page will count as a full-page. So 120″ is equivalent to 2.5 pages of 36 x 48 so it would be counted as 3 pages.)
    Tip: If you have a layered PDF where you can select the size(s) you want to print, be sure to click on the button “My file(s) require special sizing instructions” so you can add comments about what size to print. If you don’t do that, your print job may be delayed because they will need to contact you to find out what you want to print. Also, if you have one file but it’s two pages, in the “# of originals” field, select 2. If you select 1, then you will only be paying for one page instead of two. And they will need to contact you to confirm that you want to pay for that additional page.
    Conclusion: By far the best and cheapest option – even with shipping costs factored in.

Going forward, I will definitely go to PDF Plotting.com for printing PDF patterns. I don’t mind waiting a couple of days!

Where do you print your PDF patterns? At home? A copy shop?

Printing PDF sewing patterns - here are some options in the U.S.

Four PDF patterns I bought

Last week I blogged about the paper trimmer I got for the PDF patterns I recently purchased. I also mentioned that this week I would discuss which patterns I got. So here they are!

For quite some I’ve been hearing about Named—the Finnish indie pattern company founded by two sisters—and the popular Inari Tee Dress and its other version, the Inari cropped tee.  So I finally visited the Named website and just fell in love with the Mimosa Culottes (€13 for PDF, €19 for paper pattern). I love the wide legs! The model below is wearing both of the Named patterns I got, the culottes and the Lexi A-line top (€13 for PDF, €19 for paper pattern, also includes a dress version).  I went with the PDF versions because shipping adds another 9 Euros to the cost of a paper pattern.

I don’t know if I can pull off the wide-legged look but I like long skirts so maybe it’ll work. I’m always a little wary when the model is slender. As added plus is that their patterns are drafted for someone who’s 5′ 8″ – just my height (~172 cm).

Named - Lexi A-line top and Mimosa Culottes

The other two patterns I got are a result of a Bay Area Sewists meetup. I’m the organizer for the group and last month we had the ladies from the UpCraft Club come to our fabric swap meetup to talk about PDF patterns and UpCraft Club. (Thanks to Bay Area Sewists member Ali for connecting us!) They generously offered Bay Area Sewists’ members a 25 percent discount off patterns sold on their site. The UpCraft Club only carries PDF patterns that they have “certified,” which means they “are the most complete patterns available” (translation: the instructions are detailed and the pattern pieces have all the info you need to sew the project) and they “stand behind them.” Plus, the UpCraft Club will refund your money if you are not satisfied. Upcraft Club members pay a monthly fee and get discounts on patterns and at JoAnn Fabrics. But you don’t have to be a member to buy the patterns. So go ahead and browse their offerings. Indie patterns such as Sew DIY and Cashmerette sell their patterns on the UpCraft Club site.

I admit, I’m a sucker for discounts and sales. So I browsed the UpCraft Club’s offerings to take advantage of the discount. The site has filters to help sort the patterns, but they didn’t seem very useful because not many patterns would come up or I’d see children’s patterns rather than patterns for adults. When I clicked on “Women,” only two patterns came up. But I think they are revising their site so this will likely change. I entered “shirts” in the search function and got several results and decided to get the Biscayne Blouse by Hey June ($10). I need more casual tops and this looks like a good summer sleeveless top. I like the pocket detail, too.

Biscayne Blouse - Hey June - UpCraft Club

Next I searched dresses and discovered the Kathryn Top & Dress ($12) by Itch to Stitch, which incidentally, has a new pattern out, the Sirena Dress (currently on sale for $9.60). I saw the elegant Sirena dress on Pips’s Instagram feed (@magdalenesmuse) here. She was a pattern tester for the dress and blogged about it here.

Kathryn top - Itch to Stitch - UpCraft Club

Anyway, I liked the neckline pleats on the Kathryn top. I don’t know if I’ll make the dress version but I will definitely make the top. I’ve already cut out my pattern pieces. But before I cut anything, I had my own internal debate – cut or trace the PDF pattern? Cut. Trace. Cut. Trace.

I’m used to tracing Japanese sewing patterns, which you must trace because all the pattern pieces overlap and you can’t cut them out. So my first instinct was to trace them, but then I remembered what Ali, a Bay Area Sewists member said at our meetup – that she always cut them because she could always print it again – the beauty of using PDF patterns. So I posted a photo on Instagram, which you can see here, asking people if they traced or cut. I got many responses – some said they always  traced, others said they always cut and one person say “it depends.” After scrutinizing the pattern measurements, I decided to cut because I didn’t think I’d need to make any major adjustments so it would be OK. And if I messed up, I can reprint, right?

I had fun using my rotary cutter (28mm) to cut my knit fabric. The pattern pieces were small enough to fit on my 18 x 24-inch cutting mat (yes, I need a bigger cutting mat). I have a pretty steady hand as long as I’m standing close to the pattern and can see where the blade is going. I cut the pattern without using a straight edge or French curve. Do you use a rotary cutter to cut knit fabric? Do you cut freehand?

Kathryn top - Itch to Stitch - UpCraft Club - csews.com

The Hey June and Itch to Stitch patterns were really easy to assemble and they each had layered PDFs, which I really appreciate. When a PDF pattern has a layered version, it means that you can turn off all the sizes you don’t need and just print the size(s) that you want. This is really great if you need to grade up or down a size (or two) in certain areas. Each pattern page was numbered with a large number in light gray to make it easy to follow the printing diagrams and assemble the patterns. (You can see the number “22” on pattern piece 3 in the above photo.)

Now I can see the usefulness of the UpCraft Club’s certification. You know that the pattern will be easy to assemble and the instructions will be very clear. If you haven’t used a PDF pattern, you may want to start with one of the patterns carried by the UpCraft Club.

In contrast, the Named PDFs only have the number of the pattern page in small type on the bottom right, which isn’t very useful. There is a diagram of the pattern pages in the instructions but it’s easiest to keep the pages in the order they were printed so you can assemble them sequentially. Also, the PDFs for the patterns I bought are not layered. You have to pick the PDF for your size, two sizes per PDF. I printed the one labeled “44_46” for the Mimosa Culottes and the Lexi top and cut a U.S. size 12 (Euro 44). Other Named patterns do have layered PDFs, just not the ones I bought.

Do you have any favorite PDF patterns? What did you make?

Biscayne Blouse by Hey June, Mimosa Culottes and Lexi A-line top by Named Patterns, and the Kathryn Top by Itch to Stitch - C Sews

Paper trimmers are great for PDF patterns

Using a paper trimmer for PDF patterns saves time - csews.com

I’ve only assembled a few PDF patterns and in each case, I used my craft scissors to trim off the borders. It’s one of those mindless things you can do in front of the TV. But I went on a mini PDF buying binge a couple of weeks ago and I was not looking forward to cutting off the borders – even when each PDF was only about 25 pages on average. So I decided I needed to get a paper trimmer. (For helpful tips on assembling a PDF pattern, see Sewaholic’s post How to Assemble PDF Patterns Quickly and Efficiently.)

My usual habit is to peruse Amazon and read the reviews but after reading several reviews of paper trimmers that got 4 and 4.5 stars, looking at their one-star comments and the most recent reviews, I couldn’t make a decision. They all seemed to have some questionable flaw (cut wasn’t accurate, blades dull quickly, guide wire didn’t last, etc.). Plus I didn’t know how much I wanted to spend. Prices varied from a $12 nine-inch plastic trimmer by Fiskars (Amazon affiliate link here) to $100 and up for heavy-duty ones, such as this 15-inch rotary trimmer by CARL (Amazon affiliate link here).

The only thing I did know was that I didn’t want a guillotine paper-cutter, the kind that has the arm that you swing up and bring it down to trim. Those thing scare me. I’m afraid of cutting my thumb off.

I had never shopped for a paper trimmer before so I didn’t know they could be so inexpensive, as little as a pair of scissors. In the end, I opted to go to Michael’s, a U.S. chain of craft stores and see what they stocked. My theory was that, they would likely carry the paper trimmers that didn’t break down right away. I went to my nearest Michael’s, which was in Emeryville and saw that they stocked a range of Fiskars paper trimmers, from under $20 to $39.99. I decided I didn’t need the most expensive one because I don’t buy PDF patterns all the time and didn’t need something that was heavy-duty – after all I’m not cutting cardboard.

I decided to go for the mid-priced one – the Fiskars 12-inch Supercut Deluxe Craft Paper Trimmer, which was the $29.99 version (Amazon affiliate link here). And it just happened to be 25 percent off the week I bought it. So I got it for $22.49 (not including tax). The current price on Amazon is $25.99. This paper trimmer has a tiny blade that you move along a guide wire to cut your paper. It’s also the trimmer that was criticized by one reviewer who said the guide wire frayed in three months. I decided to take my chances.

I trimmed about 100 pages and it went by really quickly. It was soooo much faster than using scissors. A couple of times the blade slipped off the guide but I popped it back in and it was fine. It seems to work better moving the blade from the bottom to the top. When I left the blade at the top and tried to use it by moving it down, it seemed to catch on the paper and didn’t make the cut as smoothly. I can cut up to three pages together without any problem. Anything more seems to interfere with the guide wire. It’s small, lightweight, and easy to store.

After I trimmed the pages I used glue stick on the edges and then reinforced some of the edges with tape, such as the areas where four corners meet. It went a lot faster than my first PDF assembly three years ago. (Of course, if there’s a copy shop version, you could take the file and get it printed on a large-format printer but then you’d have to pay more money. Yes, it’s saves you assembly time but I don’t think 25 pages is too many to put together for one pattern. Another alternative I need to research is architectural printers. I hear they can be cheaper than copy shops. Pauline (@sewuthinkucan on IG) of Sew You Think You Can, mentioned this on one of my IG posts. She said @fussbugit had posted about it on her blog Miss Celie’s Pants (love her tagline: “I sew. I cook. I travel. But, I do not clean.”). I found the post here, which mentions cheap PDF printing in Baltimore. I need to find such a place in the Bay Area. I’m sure they exist. I will research and blog about it if I find such a place.)

Tune in next week to find out which PDF patterns I bought…