5 Myths You Believe About Illustrator…And Why Proficiency Is Closer Than You Think

You’re currently reading Chapter 5 of The Ultimate Guide to Adobe Illustrator for Fashion Design

Illustrator is the only thing standing between you and your fashion design dream.

But that “proficiency” word keeps coming up.

EVERY freelance opportunity on UpWork.

EVERY job posting on StyleCareers.com.

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EVERY interview.

And EVERY potential freelance client.

All you hear are those two evil words you’ve grown to loathe:

AI “proficiency”.

Just reading them makes your heart race, stomach drop and ears ring. The weight in your chest grows.

You feel tremendous pressure to learn QUICKLY and you’re committed to figuring it out.

But the thought of Illustrator is DAUNTING.

Maybe it’s because you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

And you know it sounds like an excuse, but you CAN’T FIND THE TIME to catch up.

I know how you feel.

I spent 2 years trapped in a dead end job I was overqualified for.

I felt powerless, depressed and embarrassed.

So using passion, my overachiever tendencies and surviving on very little sleep, I landed a fashion job with no experience and then built a six-figure freelance career (working when and where I wanted on projects I loved)…BECAUSE OF MY ILLUSTRATOR SKILLS.

But I would have KILLED for someone to help me get there.

Because, like you’ve probably ALREADY done, I wasted A LOT of time and made A LOT of mistakes getting there.

Which is why I created this guide.

Because I want you to get ahead NOW.

Not next month or next year. NOW.

This guide will show you how to further your fashion design career with confidence in Illustrator.

When you try to DIY learning Illustrator, there are a lot of things that will knock you down and TEAR you to shreds.

Make you want to throw your computer out the window and GIVE UP.

computer throw2

And leave you overcome with disappointment and ANGER within yourself.

I am here to PREVENT this from happening to you. And show you:

Reaching your dream is POSSIBLE.

You can get there, and I’ll be with you EVERY step of the way.

First, let’s look at 5 MYTHS you believe about Illustrator…and why proficiency is CLOSER than you think.

A lot of designers like you get stuck in Illustrator because they believe things that Simply. Aren’t True.

I promise, anyone can learn to use Adobe Illustrator for fashion – INCLUDING you.

And it’s more achievable than you think.

Most of your frustration comes from TWO things:

  1. MYTHS you believe about AI
  2. UNQUALIFIED teachers who don’t show you how to do things simply, in a clear way that’s easy to understand

We’ll get to unqualified teachers later.

For now, let’s look at 5 MYTHS you believe about Illustrator and why proficiency is CLOSER than you think.

MYTH #1: You have to know how to do EVERYTHING

There’s an interesting frustration I hear from designers like you ALL. THE. TIME.

It goes like this:

“I feel like I’ll never learn how to do everything! There are so many hidden functions and features in Illustrator, I’m completely overwhelmed.”

But guess what?

You DON’T have to know it all. I don’t, and neither do you.

Here’s why:

Illustrator does A LOT more than fashion.

It’s used for things like:

  • graphic design (logos, packaging)
  • artistic design (cartoons, illustrations)
  • technical design (maps, charts)

There are a lot of fancy tools to do very SPECIALIZED tasks.

And you don’t need to know how to use ANY of them.

I don’t want to just TELL you this. I want to SHOW you this.

Look at my old college notebook from 2000:

sew heidi illustrator notebook 2

Using JUST the tools mentioned in this photo (in fact, you don’t even need all of them!), you can draw an ENTIRE sketch.

Let’s look at a flat together.

Count the tools used (noted in bold). The entire design was drawn with just 6 tools.

And not mentioned but surely used, we’ll add the Selection Tool (black arrow) for a GRAND total of 7.


sew heidi fashion flat example 2

So, if ALL you had to do was learn SEVEN tools, could you? I KNOW you could.

Beyond this? You don’t always have to start from ZERO. You can create something once (like a placket with buttons) and reuse it over and over. Or, you can download elements created by other designers (like my free flat & trim library!)

MYTH #2: Illustrator is terrifying

My guess is that when it comes to Illustrator, you may feel like this:

“The thought of illustrator terrifies me, so I’ve been putting off absolutely everything to do with it. It scares the hell out of me. Sounds silly, but it’s true.”

But you know what? You’re NOT alone.

TONS of designers are scared.

Here are just a few things people tell me ALL the time:

sew heidi illustrator proficiency scares me 1

The truth?

There’s NOTHING to be afraid of.

You CANNOT break Illustrator.

You WILL NOT hurt your computer.

And NOTHING is permanent.

Mess up on a princess seam? Don’t like the fuschia colorway?

Undo it. Change it.

Illustrator is FLEXIBLE. You have LIMITLESS edits. And you can ALWAYS go backwards.

(Unlike when you mess up cutting $50/yd silk chiffon fabric…WHOOPS.)

So get in there. Play around. Have fun.

You will NOT ruin or break ANYTHING.

MYTH #3: Your hand sketches are 100x faster (and better)


If you can QUICKLY sketch beautiful flats by hand today, I’m not saying drawing your fashion designs in Illustrator will be EASY tomorrow.

And there’s a LOGICAL explanation:

How LONG have you been hand sketching? Probably YEARS.

And were your sketches PERFECT the first time? Probably NO.

You learned, practiced, and SLOWLY got better. And I would bet MONEY that you’ve improved year after year.

Now it’s time for a LEGIT HONESTY CHECK:

Have you spent that much time practicing and refining your AI skills? I bet the answer is no.

But if you did? IMAGINE…

Like my Masterclass student, “S”, you’d realize hand sketching is a waste of time and Illustrator is MUCH faster:

sew heidi fashion sketching illustrator faster 2

In the long run? You’ll find AI EASIER than paper. It’s FASTER to make edits and mock up variations.

Your sketches AUTOMAGICALLY start to build themselves as you “Frankenstein” different pieces together from designs you’ve already drawn.

No more drawing everything from SCRATCH, over and over.

Illustrator will cut your design time in HALF.

MYTH #4: You have to be an artist (or know how to draw)

Not all of us are born artists. And a lot of us can’t draw.

Including ME. And that’s OK.

Illustrator can be used as a technical and/or artistic tool. Many designers who don’t consider themselves artists? They actually think sketching in AI is EASIER than paper.

Want proof? I’ve been a fashion designer for 10+ years. And I can’t even draw a T-SHIRT:

sew heidi hand sketch 2

But in Illustrator? I can draw like a BOSS:

sew heidi illustrator fashion flat sketches 2

You can learn the tools to do this, even if you’re NOT an artist.

MYTH #5: You have to learn Photoshop too

photoshop for fashion design 1

No. You. Don’t. Here’s the thing:

Perceptions are fascinating. We believe them. And we beat ourselves up over them.

And one of the most common misperceptions in fashion design is that you have to know BOTH Photoshop AND Illustrator. #overwhelming

Photoshop does have a purpose. But it’s not sketching flats (or most other things fashion designers do).

PS should be used for photos and certain textile design aesthetics that have “photoreal” (ie watercolor or photographic bits) motifs, like these:

photoshop repeating pattern examples

AI should be used for *pretty much* everything else.

99% of your fashion design work?

If you’re doing things right (cough, the most EFFECTIVE way, cough), you’ll do them in Illustrator.

So why do brands think you need to know Photoshop? A few reasons:

  1. Non-fashion peeps who found startup brands just assume the freelancers they work with need to know PS
  2. Job postings are written by HR or management who *think* you need Photoshop to sketch (I’m glad HR thinks they know so much about the fashion design process… #eyeroll)
  3. Designers use PS because they don’t know how to do it (the right way) in AI

This is such a problem in our industry, I even wrote an entire blog post on it.

So just focus on Illustrator and IGNORE what other people say you need to learn.


So, what’s next? We’ll go through the options on HOW you become proficient.

And some of them are really REALLY REALLY BAD options.

So DO NOT skip the next chapter.

Go to Chapter 6 What’s the Best Way to Learn Illustrator fast (and maybe even FREE)?