File Formats in Fashion

Technology has changed the way things get done and made it easier to do our jobs, share information, and collaborate as a team. The tools of the fashion trade aren’t just physical items like scissors, sketchbook and pencil, or ruler anymore. The modern fashion toolbox is much more digital – and, at times, more complicated. What software do you need? What file type is this? Why can’t I open the file the factory just sent? Let’s take a look at some common file types in fashion so you’ll know what you’re looking at and what tool is required for the job.

Native versus non-native file formats

There are two main groups of file formats. Native formats are the file types that are specific to a certain software or program and can sometimes only be opened by that software. Non-native formats aren’t tied to a specific software or are very widely supported by other software programs. For example, a .psd Photoshop file is a native format, but a jpg is a non-native format.

In fashion, certain parts of the design and development process involve file formats that are native, so you may not be able to open every file with the programs you have on your computer. In this case you may want a copy in a different format so you can view the document without investing in every expensive industry software. With many non-native formats, though, there is a loss of quality or editability, so it is always best to keep the native source files of your document as well.

Design file formats

.ai – Adobe Illustrator file

While there are other programs on the market, Adobe Illustrator is still the industry standard for vector design work. Flat sketches, textile prints, line sheets, and more are typically done in Illustrator. Illustrator files are the original “AI” files. Most people in fashion have Adobe Illustrator, but if you don’t, you can save .ai files as jpegs or pdfs to capture the visuals in the document (but you will lose the layers and editability).

.psd – Adobe Photoshop file

Adobe Photoshop is another common program used in fashion. It is often used for textile artworks and graphics, presentation artwork, and, of course, photo editing. PSD is the native photoshop file format (or .psb for extra large files).

.jpg – image file

Jpeg files contain visual image or photo information. In fashion, you’ll see image files used for inspiration images on a mood board, for photos during a fitting, for capturing hand-drawn sketches digitally, or for artwork reference. Jpegs are best at saving raster art like photos and painterly artwork. While they can handle text and crisper lines, they can blur the edges at lower resolutions. There are other formats like .png that are better for exporting vector art and text.

Pattern file formats

.dxf – data exchange file

DXF is the most widely used file type for CAD pattern files. All the big CAD patternmaking programs (Gerber, Optitex, Tukatech, StyleCAD, etc.) as well as 3D programs (Clo3D, Browzwear, etc.) can import dxf files. This makes this format very convenient for sending patterns between patternmakers and factories. DXFs save all the pattern information like sew and cut lines, notches, drill holes, grainlines, and notations within the file. While importing to a new software does often require a bit of set-up, all the needed information is there.

Standard DXF files may include multiple sizes of a pattern, but don’t contain grade rules. This means that instead of being nested with grade rules, each pattern piece in each size saves as a separate, independent piece. 

AAMA or ASTM formatted DXF files do contain grading and write a separate grade rule file – making them the preferred format for saving patterns in the fashion industry. AAMA or ASTM formatted patterns still use a .dxf file extension, but contain additional information specific for sewn products manufacturing.

.rul – grade rule file

This file type is the companion to an AAMA or ASTM DXF file that contains the grade rule table. It is imported along with the DXF to create the additional sizes from the base pattern. 

.pds – Optitex pattern file

Optitex pattern design software or PDS uses .pds as its native file format. You’ll need Optitex or another CAD patternmaking software with a converter module to open these files.

.zip – Gerber pattern file

While the file extension is the same, Gerber .zip files are not the same file type as the one used to compress multiple files for sharing. Gerber .zip files contain all the pattern pieces (.tmp files) and information associated with a style. Gerber software or a CAD converter is needed to open these files.

.tud – Tukatech pattern file

The native format for Tukatech patterns is .tud. You’ll need TukaCAD or another CAD patternmaking software with a converter module to open these files.

.sty – StyleCAD pattern file

STY is the native file format for StyleCAD. You’ll need StyleCAD or another CAD patternmaking software with a converter module to open these files.

.zprj – Clo3D project file

Clo3D is the popular new kid on the fashion software block. Clo3D has both 2D patternmaking capabilities and 3D draping, fitting, and simulation capabilities. The .zprj file extension is the native Clo3D project file type that contains the pattern, 3D, and fabric data.

Marker and plotter file formats

.mrk – Optitex marker file

If you want to save the cut layout of a pattern and you work in Optitex software, you’ll use the .mrk file format. MRK is the native format for the Optitex Mark application.

.hpg – print file

HPGL (Hewlett-Packard Graphics Language) files are used to send a marker layout to a printer or plotter.

.plt – plot file

Similar to HPGL files, PLT files send marker or patterns to a plotter.

Other file formats in fashion

.xlsx – Microsoft Excel spreadsheet

Most people are familiar with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. They are used everywhere – including the fashion industry. Companies that don’t have PLM (product lifecycle management) software often use Excel for tech packs. Its ability to both handle grading formulas as well as images and text needed in a tech pack make it a good choice for smaller brands. Other uses of .xlsx files in fashion include size charts, costing sheets, finance projections, order planning and more.

.indd – Adobe InDesign file

Adobe InDesign is used for multi-page layouts like catalogs and books. It isn’t as common to see and share .indd files in fashion design, but if you work in fashion advertising, journalism, marketing, or sales, you might see these more often. You do have to open .indd files in InDesign and make sure that you package the file and all its linked assets (like images, etc.) together before sharing. 

.pdf – Portable Document Format

PDF is a format by Adobe that makes it easy to send, receive, and open documents across different operating systems, softwares, and devices. While it is very versatile, it usually cannot be edited to the extent the original document format can so it is always best to save the original native file. PDFs save visual, text, and formatting well which means they maintain the quality and readability of the original document. PDFs can be saved for web use or print use. Web use is a lower resolution file, but can contain links, forms, and other interactive features. A print quality PDF will be saved at a higher resolution to keep your document crisp and sharp when printed on in real life. In fashion, tech packs, mood boards, line sheets, and sometimes even patterns are exported to PDF for accessible and convenient sharing and printing.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the file formats used in fashion, but these are the common ones I see used and shared in the industry. In the design phase, you’ll probably use an Adobe program. During development, your patternmaker or factory will use a CAD patternmaking program – perhaps with 3D capabilities as well. To run the business side of things in your brand, you’ll be working with spreadsheets if your company isn’t big enough to use a comprehensive PLM solution. Being familiar with the file types you’ll encounter will help you assemble the right software toolbox for your brand and know which files need to be kept safe even if you can’t open them on your computer.

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