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How To Avoid A CAD-Tastrophe

In today's high-tech market, companies need to decice which CAD systems will fit their needs.

Teri Ross

In the mid-1980s, Stork, the Netherlands, spent several years and significant sums of money trying to find a CAD system that would facilitate color separations and screen engraving to drive its rotary screen printing equipment. The net result of the search was its own development of the first proprietary CAD system for the industry. The Image 3000 System, which was first introduced at the 1991 ITMA show in Hanover, Germany, listed for $250,000.Today there are approximately 30 to 35 vendors offering proprietary CAD software and hardware systems that range in price from $695 to more than $100,000 and are designed to meet the changing needs of an industry where technology is rapidly becoming a competitive advantage.These systems dont just replace the designers pen and color markers but support a variety of time-consuming and costly tasks such as color reduction, color separations, the creation of multiple colorways, putting patterns into repeat, creating weaves and plaids, engineering stripes and jacquards, rendering 3D models, fabric draping and even driving some of the actual production equipment. Important InvestmentsWhile the need for these systems is self-evident, there are many for whom these systems are either too costly or just plain more than is needed. With a variety of off-the-shelf graphics applications available, including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, MetaCreations Painter and Macromedia Freehand, with prices that range between $400 and $700, it is often asked: Do I need proprietary or commercial CAD softwareWhile commercial graphics software is designed to be used for a broad range of products and industries, apparel industry proprietary applications are designed specifically to address the unique needs of apparel and textile designers.Whereas 80 percent of a designers work might be done using only 20 percent of a commercial applications extended features, proprietary software offers a more limited but focused range of functions.For proprietary software, less is more, with specific and even customized functions that are often programmed to work with specific types of external devices, including monitors, printers, engraving equipment, weaving looms and knitting machines.According to Holly Henderson, president of H4 Designs, a CAD consulting firm in New York City, as well as a CAD instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the real advantage of proprietary software lies in the expertise of the software vendors.Sure, anyone can go out and buy off-the-shelf software and draw pretty pictures, she said. But how functional or useful will the digital information be if thats all that is created With proprietary software, you are buying not just specialized and functional software, but technical support, industry expertise and, in some cases, production capabilities. You are buying color management across devices, a relationship with a vendor that knows your system and products, as well as valuable consulting services.The major drawback to proprietary systems has always been the price, which has been dictated by high development costs and a smaller market potential than that of commercial applications. Proprietary systems also lock you into a relationship with a vendor and re-quire specialized training that can be costly if a company is growing or experiencing a high turnover in design staff. For this reason alone, it is not ill advised to shop for proprietary software through both the schools and the service bureaus in the geographic location of a company, both of whom could offer trained help as needed. Market ResearchWhile proprietary implies a closed system, i.e. that designs created on that system can only be worked with in that particular system, the days of truly proprietary CAD systems are fading.The market has dictated that only open standards are acceptable, with TIFF 6.0 having been established several years ago by CItdA (Computer Integrated Textile Design Association) as the industry standard. While some proprietary systems still write code in a closed file format, most of these now offer a save as option, which allows the user to save the file in a more widely used file format that can be read by other software applications, including the commercial software.The undisputed king of commercial applications is Adobe Photoshop, a feature-rich, faster-imaging program available for both Macintosh and PC platforms that lists for $995, but is available from most mail order houses for around $629.With an impressive 88 percent of the commercial graphics market using Photoshop, finding designers who are skilled in using the program is relatively easy. In fact, Photoshop is so widely used that many proprietary software vendors bundle the program along with their own custom software.While many companies have hoped that Photoshop would satisfy all of their design illustration needs, the program falls short in some of the industry-specific design requirements.These shortcomings include the ability to create repeats and multiple colorways, color naming and rotation, and the ability to create plaids and stripes with embedded structures.Several savvy proprietary software vendors have recognized both the trend away from proprietary systems, as well as Photoshops limitations.These companies, each of whom also offer their own proprietary software, have developed Photoshop plug-ins that add some of the requisite functions for apparel and textile designers. Plug It InA plug-in, as the name implies, is a mini program that is simply dropped into the plug-ins folder in Photoshop and results in the addition of menu items that add new features and functions to Photoshops capabilities.Hi-Techs International, Carlsbad, Calif., offers its Colorways Photoshop plug-in, which is actually two plug-ins in one.Color Separation allows the user to compress or reduce any of the colors from a scanned image in seconds. It also contains a special editing feature for cleaning up the image.The Colorways plug-in has an automatic color generator that can create up to four colorways of the same image at the click of a button, or the user can change colors one by one using RGB or CMYK color formulas. Colorways sells for $950, which includes both plug-ins.Companies can also add the Repeat accessory to Hi-Techs Colorways plug-in, which has the ability to create a repeat from either a single motif or minimum repeat image in seconds. The original motif can be reduced, rotated and shifted to the vertical and horizontal directions. Repeat sells as an addition to Colorways for $300.Monarch Design Systems, Glendale, N.Y., offers ColorExchange and PlaidsandStripes.ColorExchange is a plug-in that enables designers to automatically generate and view colorways of patterns, prints, backgrounds, wovens, knits or any graphic design. Multiple colorways are generated by shifting the position of the original colors used in a pattern, or by adding new colors either by picking from the 16.7 million available or from saved, specialized, seasonal or other color palettes.Users can also name their own colors and colorways, making it simple to track, reuse and distinguish between the different options.Monarchs PlaidsandStripes is a plug-in that enables designers to easily and quickly create simple to complex plaid and stripe patterns. It also includes a library of structures, such as twill and oxford, which can be, with the touch of a button, applied to the designs to create graphic simulations of woven or knit fabrics.Info Design, New York City, is offering the latest entry into the Photoshop plug-in market for the design industry.Vision Easy Step actually consists of four separate plug-ins, which include Easy Repeat for previewing customized repeat and step types; Easy Incrust with Color Expander, which supports click-and-drag cropping as well as advanced color controls; Easy Change Origin, which supports fluid, real-time origin movement in a variety of repeat and step types to simplify seamlessly meshed repeats; and Easy Duplicate, which converts the original single repeat into a new repeat based on the repeat and step-type selected. The Easy Step plug-in suite sells for $495.Age Technologies in Montreal, Canada, is the only vendor marketing plug-ins for both Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator software.Their Clicdesign modules include Plaidmaker; QuickRepeat for the creation of cascading repetition, horizontal rotation, superimposed and inversion of images horizontally or vertically; and ColorVision, which lets designers recolor scanned fabric images instantly without the need to reduce the number of colors.While these plug-ins have been developed specifically to address the needs of apparel and textile designers, there are a variety of other Photoshop plug-ins available on the market that offer frequently needed features such as the ability to create drop shadows, movable light angles and 3D movement for multiple perspectives. Proprietary Vs. CommercialAccording to Eric Rosenberg, Marketing Manager for Monarch Design Systems, the CAD software landscape is now best defined not as proprietary vs. commercial, but as high-end vs. off-the-shelf.Off-the-shelf really represents a subset or subsets of the high-end software, he said. We have essentially pulled out discrete functionality from our high-end software and offer them individually.Rosenberg states that the companys rationale is that not every company needs the high-end software, at least not on every workstation, so why not package sets of tools that address specific needs. Product developers are therefore not forced to purchase a lot of features they might never use in the high-end software.The off-the-shelf products can also be an unintimidating introduction to the benefits of CAD and sometimes a stepping stone to the higher-end options as companies needs or awareness of these applications grows.So, to answer the question of proprietary vs. commercial or high-end vs. off-the-shelf, it is clear to see that there is no simple solution.The CAD software needs of a designer or company are as varied as the products they produce. Software needs are a reflection of the type of products being developed, the methods of marketing and manufacturing, the size of a company, and most certainly the end-use of the CAD designs.With technology bringing about a convergence and re-engineering of business processes, CAD is not just about drawing pretty designs, but about being a pivotal front end to product development, pattern making, production and even marketing.CAD designs are now being used to drive weaving and knitting looms, for desktop, textile and offset printing, as well as for Internet publishing. Each of these end-uses presents its own unique challenges for linking different software systems as well as color definitions, which makes it clear to see that there is not one single solution.However, regardless of the tools used, the premise to keep in mind is that any CAD software is only as good as the operator who runs it. Get In Touch Hi-Techs International www.hi-techs.com Monarch Design Systems www.monarchcad.com/colorex.htm www.monarchcad.com/plaids.htm Info Design www.idivision.com/main/es.html Age Technologies www.agetechnologies.com Plug-Ins Party website http://pluginparty.i-us.com/  Editors Note: Teri Ross is president of Imagine That! Consulting Group, Inc. and publisher of the award winning Technology Exchange www.techexchange.com. To contact Teri, call 612/593-0776 or e-mail her at tekguru@techexchange.com.

February 1999