A Helpful List of Surface Design Tools to Get You Started

Surface Design Tools - Ashley Behnke Design

Now that you know what surface design is, perhaps you want to learn the trade. You could pick it up as a hobby or maybe, juuuust maybe, you’re interested in pursuing more. If you are an artist or have a graphic design background, you have a head start. If you don’t consider yourself an artist and graphic design is not your forte, taking some online classes will boost your confidence and can help you build a solid foundation. Before sending designs off to the fabric printer or hounding agents to represent you, review this list of surface design tools that will have stellar designs just a sketch, click or picture away.



Computer – The computer you choose will boil down to a few variables such as hobby vs. desired profession, Mac vs. PC, laptop vs. desktop and budget (hello! $$$). If you are learning surface design as a hobby, it’s unnecessary to go out and buy a top of the line computer. What you own will likely suffice. But if you need to excuse the purchase of a brand-spanking new computer, then by all means tell your husband you HAD to buy it. Choosing Mac or PC is dependent on preference, as Adobe applications work on both operating systems (Note: while this is true, from a distance I’ve noticed most if not all the designers I follow use Apple products).

I started with a 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro because that was what I owned and I had a limited budget after getting married. I eventually upgraded to a 21.5-inch iMac and believe the change has helped me work more efficiently. The iMac’s larger screen helps you view the details of designs and provides a better workspace than a laptop (IMO).


                                     13-inch MacBook Pro                                   21.5-inch iMac


Pen tablet (graphic tablet) – This is used to draw and modify designs in applications like Adobe Illustrator (AI). The tool can be used to create designs from scratch and also after scanning a sketch into your computer. Click here to view a range of pen tablets. Pricing for entry-level pen tablets begins at $24.99. Read reviews to look for common problems and to ensure the pressure ability is what you are looking for. Had I read the reviews of the first tablet I purchased, I would have saved myself the headache of a faulty product. The pressure function didn’t work on the MacBook Pro but for some reason was compatible with the iMac. What a headache! Wacom is the industry leading brand for pen tablets.  


Scanner – Used to scan all those nifty sketches you’ve made. Bonnie Christine of Going Home to Roost (aka the best Skillshare teacher eva!) recommends the Epson Stylus Photo 1400. I use a Canon scanner I already own, but often use my cell phone or camera to photograph sketches and upload them to AI.



Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop – Where are all the pieces of your surface design puzzle come together. Designers commonly use both, and there’s a running debate about which is better. Depending on your chosen design process, you may lean more toward one than the other. Shelly Monroe’s guest post for Pattern Observer does an excellent job describing the applications.

Adobe has developed the Creative Cloud, where you subscribe to its cloud-based applications. If you are a student or teacher, you can subscribe to the entire creative suite (all Adobe CC applications) for CHEAP. Like $19.99/month cheap. It’s a steal. The cost for the same applications is $49.99/month for all other users and it is $29.99/month if you only want Illustrator and Photoshop.


 Phone/Tablet Applications

Evernote, Apple Notes, and Dropbox – Keep all your inspiration in one place! Nothing can cramp your design style faster than being disorganized. Well, that and maybe too much clutter in your workspace…but that’s a whole ‘nother post. Pictures, website links, color palettes, fleeting ideas can all be stored in one place. Head to Google Play or the Apple App Store to download one.

Adobe Draw and Adobe Line – Two free Adobe apps you can use to design while on the go. What’s neat is the work you do in these apps can be linked to your creative cloud account. This means you can access them in AI or Photoshop and include them in your designs. Talk about high-tech!

Color Palette Generator – Sometimes you may need a hand developing a color palette. Pop on over to my recent post to learn about some user-friendly (and fast) color palette tools.


There are additional surface design tools worth mentioning related to sketching and hand-lettering. I’ll expand upon them on an upcoming post. I’ll also tell you about some online courses you’ll certainly enjoy. I hope this list is beneficial to you and at the very least informative.


In the comments, please share something you are currently learning or a hobby you want to pick up. You might be able to learn something, for FREE, on Skillshare.   The website has a tremendous catalog of classes on business, design, photography and more to choose from. The great thing is you can sign up for a free month to try it out. I’ve enjoyed a handful of surface design, hand-lettering, and photography classes. If you mention something you want to learn in the comments, I can review the catalog and suggest a class or two for you to try. Until next time, be well!


You May Also Like


  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>