Prints and Patterns - What's the Difference?

The terms print and pattern are often used interchangeably by those of us in the Color & Style world and, unfortunately, often used incorrectly. You might be thinking it's a mere case of semantics but let's take a look at the differences to clear up any confusion.

What Is A Pattern?

pattern is any repeated design in a garment, such as a floral, geometric, dot, or stripe etc. It can be woven into a fabric, embroidered or printed on top . 

Let's look at some examples of garments with patterns.

The skirt and handbag share a floral pattern. But this is not a print. The floral pattern is embroidered onto both the fabric of the skirt and handbag.

There are a number of patterns going on with this outfit. But none of them are prints. The patterns in the hat, sweater and skirt are actually created by the weave of the fabric or yarn. If you turned these garments inside out, you would see the pattern in the reverse.

What Is A Print?

A print, however, is not woven into a fabric or stitched on top, but applied to the garment with ink or dye. There are a number of methods used to do this such as wooden blocks, stencils, engraved plates, rollers, wax, silkscreens or digital printing etc. These can all be used to place colours on the fabric of a garment.

African Wax Print

A print is a pattern. The dresses shown above and below are both a print and a pattern.

Indonesian inspired Batik patchwork prints

So, why do you need to know the difference between a print and a pattern? Well, besides knowing how to correctly refer to one or the other, it will come in handy for shopping online. Because sometimes it's hard to tell the difference from a photograph.

The garments shown here are ALL patterns, but only one of them is a print! Can you guess which one?


If you chose "B" you guessed correctly! "A" is a pattern but it is woven into the fabric. "C" is a pattern but it is a damask woven onto the fabric. Only "B" is a print and a pattern.

To be on the safe side, refer to fabrics with a print as a pattern, because all prints are patterns, but not all patterns are prints!

Was this new information for you? Why not share this post with someone else who may not have known the difference.

Joan Kosmachuk

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