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Color-blocking with Free Tools

Color blocking has long been a popular design technique and a great creative outlet. When done thoughtfully in garments it can hide figure flaws and be very slimming. Color blocking is also a great way to use scraps left over from other projects and even recycle worn out garments such as tee shirts and jeans, etc. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a color blocked garment is the Mondrian-inspired dress created by Yves St. Laurent in 1965. This deceptively simple dress incorporates the darts and waistline shaping in the seams of the color blocks.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

For more inspiring color blocking ideas, check out my Color Block Crazee Pinterest Board

This tutorial will teach you the basics of creating color blocked fashion sketches and flats using freeware and tools available in Windows and Mac. While I will be illustrating these techniques with garment pictures, the tools and techniques work for any item including accessories, quilts, home dec, etc. For this class, you will need a screen capture tool and a graphics editing program. There are free tools that ship with both Windows and Mac so there is nothing else to buy.

You can also download this article in PDF format. Right mouse click on this link Color Blocking with Free Tools and choose Save Target As.

Tools for Windows

NOTE:   In Windows 10, you may have to download the Snipping Tool and Paint apps from the Windows store.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Windows Snipping Tool

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Windows Paint

Tools for Mac

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Mac Grab

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Mac Paintbrush

If you have not used a screen capture tool or paint program before, take a few minutes to browse through and try the commands and tools in each program to see how they work.

NOTE:   Make sure to save your screen captures to the .PNG format. It is a cleaner format and will be easier to fill.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

JPG format vs PNG format

Select Image to Color Block

Our first step is to select the fashion illustration that we want to color block. If you are more artistic than I am, you can certainly draw your own sketch.

To practice these techniques, fashion sketches and flats can be grabbed from pattern company websites such as Vogue Patterns and Kwik Sew.

  1. To choose an image from a website, launch your web browser and go to the site and find the desired image.
  2. Launch your screen capture tool (Snipping tool for Windows or Grab for Mac).
  3. Drag a selection window around the sketch to capture it an and save it to the .PNG format.

For PatternMaster or Cameo users, you can work with the design sketches that ship with these programs. See your program documentation on where these sketches are located.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Open Style Editor sketches in Pattern Editor

Create the Color Palette

Once you have the image you want to color block, it is time to create your color palette. While you can certainly just select colors from the color wheel in your paint program, I like to create an actual palette that I open in the Paint program and use to fill my blocks. With this method I can create a coordinating set of colors such as monochromtic or contrasting palettes. There are a whole bunch of places to create or get color palettes including paint company websites and websites that display colors for HTML.

One of my favorite sites is Color Schemer. It has a free online gallery of user-created color schemes you can draw inspiration from and use in your color blocking. If you purchase the Color Schemer Studio, you can create and save your own color palettes. Also check out the totally free ColoPix utility from Color Schemer. It allows you to mouse over any area of your screen and lock in the color.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Color Schemer Color Pix Tool

As you find colors you like, use your screen capture tool to select colors and color schemes for your palette. Save them to the .PNG format as you go.

Once I have saved the colors for my project, I like to merge them all into one file for ease of use if they are in multiple files. By adding the color palette to the drawing file, you can quickly use the Color Picker tool to select and fill your blocks.

Windows Paint

  1. Open the first color file in your Windows Paint program.
  2. Press Ctrl A to select all and then Ctrl C to copy it to the clip board.
  3. Open the sketch file and press Ctrl V to paste the color.
  4. While the color is still selected, move it to the right of your sketch.
  5. Use the small rectangles on the edges of the window to expand the size of your sketch, if necessary.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Adding Color Palette to Windows Paint

Mac Paintbrush

  1. Open your sketch file in Paintbrush.
  2. Go to the Image menu and choose Canvas Size.
  3. Enter a percent amount to increase the width of the canvas to accommodate the number of colors in your palette.
  4. Open a color file and press Cmd A to select the color and then Cmd C to copy it to the clip board.
  5. Go to the sketch and press Cmd V to paste the color.
  6. While the color is still selected, move it to the right of your sketch.
  7. Repeat this process for each color.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Adding Color Palette to Mac Paintbrush

NOTE:   If you have an inspiration image, you can copy and paste it into the file along with your sketch and color palette to guide you in draw the lines to create the block areas.

Color Your Blocks

Now that you have your image and color palette, it is time to color block. The first step is to add the lines delineating the blocks to color. For PatternMaster users, read through the next section on Color Blocking with Pattern Editor.

NOTE:   As you are drawing, be very certain to create closed boundaries for your color blocks.

If there are any gaps, your color will bleed into the next area. Use the Zoom tools and Line tool to add pixels to fill in the gaps.

  1. To add the color blocks, choose the Line tool in you paint program.
  2. Set the line size to 1 px (Windows) or stroke to 1 (Mac).
  3. Draw the lines as desired.
  4. Use the Eraser tool to remove any unwanted pixels. In my example, I used the Eraser tool to remove the darts and redraw the neckline.
  5. If you make a mistake, press Ctrl Z in Windows and Cmd Z on the Mac to undo.
  6. Once you have completed drawing in your blocks, activate the Color Picker tool (looks like an eye dropper) and click on one of the colors in your palette. The Color Picker will set the color you choose as the color for filling.
  7. Activate the Fill tool (looks like a paint bucket) and click inside a block area to fill it with color.
  8. If your color bleeds into another area, you have a gap in the boundary. Immediately undo (Ctrl Z) the fill and close the gap.
  9. Continue picking and filling as desired.
  10. Save your work often.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Color block areas created with Line and Circle tools

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Finished dress color block

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Pants color block

Color Blocking with PatternMaster Pattern Editor

NOTE:   This technique also works in Cameo's Pattern Design and the Digital Flat Pattern Editor.

If you are a PatternMaster user and created your style sketch in Style Editor, you can use the Pattern Editor, to add the lines, arcs, or circles for your color blocks before saving it to a PNG file.

For the images in the upper right, I merged my inspiration photo into Pattern Editor along with the style sketch that I want to edit. I used the Line and Intersect tools to draw the color blocks I wanted. I added a few circles and changed the neckline to match that of my inspriation picture. I then deleted the photo and saved the file as a .PNG file.

Color Blocking with Free Tools

Inspiration image merged in Pattern Editor

Additional Resources

There She Sews Blog

See Welmoed’s blog for a great reproduction of the Mondrian dress.

Click here to see the dress in progress

Click here to see the finished dress

Paint Programs

Click here for Windows Paint Tutorials

Click here to download Mac Paintbrush

Color Schemer

Access the Color Schemer gallery at Color Schemer Gallery

FREE Image and Photo Editors

Paint.net image and photo editor - Windows ships with a free Paint program which can certainly be used here but I recommend Paint.net. It is very easy to use but more powerful than Windows Paint and its totally FREE to download and install. Click here for Paint.Net

Gimp - Another free image and photo editor is Gimp. Its more powerful and feature rich than Paint.net but also more complex to use. Click here for Gimp

One caveat with freeware programs such as Paint.net though. They often try to install additional programs such as search bars and other web utilities. Just be sure to watch the install carefully and decline to install anything you do not want.