How to Understand the Elements of Prints


Following on from my post on how to interpret prints and patterns I want to talk more about different elements of prints and how they also relate to other elements of ourselves.

Elements of Prints

You would be aware that not all florals are the same, just as not all animal prints, stripes or checks are the same, they have different elements and some will appeal more to you than others, and some will flatter you more than others.

What are some of the basic elements of prints?

1. Scale – how large or small the print is.  The larger the scale the taller you need to be to wear it successfully, unless you have a very dramatic or bold personality, otherwise it will overwhelm you.  Petite people generally look better in smaller prints.  Medium height people in medium size prints.

2. Sparse or dense – if you can focus easily on individual elements of the print it’s more sparse.  If your eye roams and doesn’t focus on the print it’s more dense (there is less negative space in the print).  Dense prints are more slimming as they keep the eye moving, whilst sparse prints create focal points (which when placed judiciously can be used to your advantage).

3. Contrast – low to high.  The difference between the colours in the print.   What harmonises with you relates to your own personal contrast levels.  So if you have a low value contrast you’ll look better in a print that is has a low value, whilst if you have a high value then a high contrast print will not overwhelm you.   How many colours are in the print?  Are they really obvious or more subtle?  The more coloured you are (colour contrast) the more highly coloured prints will work for you, whilst the more monochromatic you are naturally, the more you’ll look better in prints that have fewer colours.

4. Ordered or Random.  Is the print in a geometric or ordered pattern or is it spread randomly across the garment?  Someone with a more classic personality style will suit a more ordered print, whilst someone who is more creative will prefer a more random print.

5. Intensity – soft and muted to bright and clear.  Your colouring will determine how bright or muted the colours in the pattern should be.  If you can wear bright colours then you’ll find patterns with bright colours suit.  Whilst if you find more subtle or soft smoky colours are best for you then the colours in the patterns need to be softer and smokier.

6. Stylised or Natural.  Again this is a preference that comes down to your personality.  Some people will prefer prints that are stylised (dramatic, creative personality types), whilst others will prefer a more natural look to their patterns (relaxed, feminine).

What’s the Personality of Stripes and Checks?

Personality of Stripes and checks

So when we look at Stripes and Checks which are more traditionally patterns associated with the Classic and Relaxed personality type – you can see from this picture that even they can be created in different ways which moves them into other personality styles.

  • Classic –  narrow, lower contrast, finer, even
  • Relaxed – slightly wider, not so controlled or even, variegated
  • Dramatic – big and bold, high contrast
  • Creative – lower contrast, uneven

What are the Elements to Consider When Choosing a Print?

So you can see that prints and patterns have many elements that need to be taken into consideration.  And what you choose will come down to:

So now you know a little more about interpreting prints and patterns and the different elements of them, tell me, when you look in your wardrobe and look at the print or pattern garments you love the best – what are their elements?
Why not download my guide to mixing prints here too – it’s free!
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  • Hello, I’ve been reading for about a year, but never commented before. I just wanted to say that you are amazingly good at analysing this stuff. No one else comes close. Thanks for sharing it.

    • I have worked out that the reason I always seem to be drawn to florals, is not because I love florals, it’s because I’m more likely to find the muted, low contrast colours( with not too many colours involved at once, that I need to wear). In my experience, other prints tend to be brighter and starker and more of a contrast. But then, because I don’t want a romantic look, I have to be really careful about the elelents of the print, even if the colours are right. For example, a lot of dense florals can end up looking too ‘cottagey’ for me, and the more natural florals can look too ‘sweet’. I have a couple of pieces of fabric with very large, sparse flowers, which I love, that I am about to sew into a dress. I was interested to read what you said about placement. Do you have any tips regarding this? thank you so much

      • You can sometimes find abstract prints in low contrasts – maybe now you know that’s what you like then you can keep your eyes open for them. Stylised may be better for you than the cottage style floral as it’s more modern. As far as placement goes you need to see the garment on, and it’s often worthwhile when selecting a sparse pattern garment to take a few of the same style into the change room as you’ll discover that the placement of the print will differ from one to the next and one will be better for you than the others.

  • I love this! So often I know stuff just looks right (or wrong), but understanding the theory why just has to make shopping more efficient. Especially in these on-line shopping days. I tend to only buy brands and styles I know on-line, but this helps to understand the failures even with that system.

  • Great post…really interesting…i too have been reading for awhile but first time i posted…as i found this really intriguing ..thanks for being so passionate on this subject, it really shows!

  • Great points, I hadn’t thought of analysing prints like that before. I tend to keep prints to a minimum in my wardrobe as they’re so memorable. Low contrast or smaller prints are easier to wear again and again in different outfits, I think.

    England is crazy for cute prints of things like bicycles, baby deer, foxes, mustaches etc. but I’ve kind of avoided them as they feel a bit young and cutesy for my style.

    Another thing I don’t do is buy ‘that dress’ from a chain store where everyone will know ‘Oh, she got that from there and it cost that much…’. I don’t want to look like I’m just jumping on the band wagon.

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