While this post might seem like review for some of our readers, we still see quite a few questions about printing and troubleshooting PDF patterns in the CSC Community Facebook group. In particular, to beginning or returning sewists who may have only worked with printed patterns in the past, PDF patterns can seem somewhat intimidating at first glance. In this post, we’ll demystify the process of printing your PDF patterns at home or on a standard office printer so that you can hopefully be a confident PDF pattern user!
Configure your printer settings
Probably the most common issue that I see online when people struggle with printing PDF patterns is getting their printer settings correct. The two main settings that you need to worry about are Scaling and Paper size. If you set this correctly, you should have no major issues with your printout.
For the examples in this post, I will be using Adobe Acrobat Reader, the popular free PDF viewing application. If you are not using Acrobat Reader, your PDF viewing software should still have mostly similar options to the ones discussed here.
When you open a PDF pattern in your PDF viewing software and click Print, a Print options window will open. This window enables you to change options like scaling and page size. Choosing an incorrect option for page scaling is the most common cause that I’ve seen for PDF printing issues.
Often, the default setting for Scaling (or Page Scale) is set to “Fit” or “Actual Size”. However, for your pattern to print correctly, always choose Custom Scale: 100% or No Scaling (depending on your software). If you do not choose 100% Scale or No Scaling, your pattern will print out at the wrong size, and your garment likely will not fit correctly.
Most pattern companies offer their PDF patterns in 2-3 different paper sizes:
- Letter format: 8″ x 11″ paper size used in North America.
- A4 format: 21.0 x 29.7cm (8.27″ x 11.69″) paper size used in the rest of the world outside of North America.
- A0 (copyshop) format: Large-format printout that needs to be sent to an engineering plotter or outsourced to a copy shop. Not all pattern companies offer this format, although it’s becoming a more popular printing option. (Note that occasionally, you’ll find a company that offers a “continuous roll” copyshop version instead of the A0 page size; however, this option seems to be a lot less common than the A0 format.)
For printing at home or on a standard office printer, normally your printer will choose the correct paper size for you by default. However, if you are offered an option, choose Letter format if you’re in North America or A4 format if you’re not in North America.
You might occasionally run into a PDF pattern that includes the “layers” feature for printing. Layers allow you to print only the size(s) that you need from a multi-sized pattern. For example, if you only need sizes 18-20 in a multi-sized pattern, you can select only the “layers” for those sizes, which means that only those pattern lines will show up in your printout. The lines for the smaller and larger sizes won’t show, which gives you a much less cluttered pattern to work with.
For example, here’s the page containing the bust dart for the Liesl & Co. Classic Shirt pattern, which includes sizes 0-20:
Now, let’s remove all of the layers except for the size 18 and size 20:
With only the sizes you need, you’ve got a much cleaner pattern to work from, especially when trying to transfer markings or follow a line through a curved section, such as an armscye or sleeve cap.
To choose which layers to print:
- In Adobe Acrobat Reader, open your PDF file and look at the icons at the left of the screen. If your pattern has the Layers feature, you’ll see an icon that looks like the following image:
- Click the Layers icon to view the Layers panel towards the left of your screen.By default, when you first open the file, all of the layers will be visible, as indicated by the small “eye” icon next to each layer:
- Click the “eye” icon to unselect any layers that you don’t want to print:
- Configure any other printer settings, and submit the print job to your printer.
Assemble the printout
Now that you’ve got your printout, you simply need to verify the size of the “test square”, assemble your printout, and then you’re pretty much good to go.
Check the test square
No matter who the pattern company is, every PDF pattern includes a “Test” square as part of the printout. Use the Test square to verify that the paper print out that you’ll be working with printed at the correct (100%) scale.
Typically, the Test square is located somewhere on the first printed pattern page and can measure anywhere from 1″-4″ on each side, depending on the pattern company. The following image shows an example of a typical Test Square:
With a ruler, measure the test square and make sure that each side is exactly as long as expected. If the sizing of your test square is off, you’ll need to re-print your pattern with the correct scaling, otherwise your garment sizing will be off.
Tape or glue the pages together
Once you’ve verified that your pages printed out at the correct scale, you can assemble the pattern. Depending on the pattern company, you’ll commonly see two possible formats for page assembly:
- Pattern pages with a trimmable border (most common)
- No-trim pattern pages
Assembling pattern pages with a trimmable border
Most PDF patterns come with a trimmable border. The border has nothing printed on it and exists to account for the fact that different printers will leave different amounts of whitespace that can’t be printed on, so that you don’t experience a “gap” in printing from one page to the next. You won’t see this blank border in your PDF viewer, but it will be visible on your paper printout.
To work with these patterns, trim off either 2 or 4 of the borders, depending on your preference. I, personally, always trim off the top and left borders, then overlay the cut pieces onto the adjacent right/bottom borders and tape them into place. You can also use a glue stick to secure the overlap. If you prefer to get rid of the overlap, trim all 4 borders, simply butt the printed pages up next to each other, and tape into place.
Note that most PDF patterns will have some sort of graphic/labeling combination to help you order and align your printed pages correctly when assembling them.
Assembling no-trim pattern pages
A bit less common than trimmable pages, but becoming more popular are patterns printed with a “no-trim” format. This format has a border that’s visible in your PDF viewer and sets a firm whitespace “border” on two edges of each piece of paper:
The other two edges of the printout will print as close to the edge as a printer allows, and you’ll overlap this part over to butt the page edge with the printed border. You can then glue or tape your pages into place.
If you’ve been intimidated by or simply had issues printing PDF patterns in the past, hopefully, this post helped de-mistify them a bit for you. PDF patterns are great for instant gratification or retaining access to your master pattern if you’re like me and hate tracing patterns.
We’ll take this series one step further in a few weeks and talk about the “copy shop” option that more and more patterns are starting to provide. The copy shop option allows you to print to a large format sheet of paper, thus bypassing the assembly step.
If you still have questions about printing PDF patterns, let us know in the comments, and we’ll try to answer them as best as we can!