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Breaking Into Surface Design

December 20, 2013 IADT General, Graphic Design 0 Comments

Breaking Into Surface DesignSurface design is the art of creating images for any product with a surface. Think bags, mugs, sheets, pillows — virtually anything. It's the counterpart to graphic design, but the pathways to each profession are slightly different. While the path to graphic design is well-beaten and straight and narrow, the path to surface design may require a few detours. So, if you'd like to see your designs on everything from pillows to wallpaper, here's how to break into the industry.

Study Graphic Design

Graphic design is a great place to start. Many surface designers begin as graphic designers and later transition into surface design. Why? Graphic design principles apply to the creation of all designs and patterns, including those present on everyday products.

Study Textile Design

Not all surface designers begin as graphic designers. Some designers specialize in the design of textiles, fabrics and textile construction. They learn how to create woven and knitted fabrics, which is especially important if you want to create patterns for fabrics.

Work for a Manufacturing Company

Many major retailers have their own design department and need surface designers to add zest to their products. There are companies that need designs for everything from paper goods to shower curtains. Even clothing retailers such as Nordstrom have a surface design department.


If you have no interest in working for a major retailer, freelance instead. Many prominent surface designers are freelancers. If you decide to freelance, build a portfolio with samples of your patterns and designs. Seek out companies that may be looking for freelance surface designers and contact them to see if they would be interested in viewing your work. Email is great, but visuals are always best. Try sending a postcard with samples of your work.

Join an Association

Whether freelancing is your method or not, joining an association will provide you with inside information on the industry, including conferences, publications and information on the marketplace. The Surface Design Association is a popular association if you're specifically interested in designs for fabrics and fibers.

Go to Trade Shows

For a freelancer, trade shows are one of the best ways to break into the surface design industry. Surtex is one of the biggest shows. Agents and licensors — people looking for designs — typically attend the show. It's a great way to show your work to the world and pick up some additional business. The show is pricey, so plan ahead.

Now that you're aware of how to break into the industry, maybe you'll find one of your surface designs on a product one day.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.


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