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Bead pattern software roundup

Discover seven programs for designing and documenting bead illustrations
Turn a photo into a pattern.
Many beaders have no interest in using software as an aid in beading — they’d rather just sit down with their beads and start playing. But for those who are inclined, software can be a great help in designing graphed patterns for peyote, loomwork, and the like, and it can be immensely useful when you want to document your stitching paths, as we do in Bead&Button magazine, and as some designers do for tutorials and kits. For the most part, these uses really require two different types of software. This software roundup overviews seven programs that can make these tasks easier.*
Pattern_peyote graph
Graphed patterns

A graphed pattern is generally defined as a design or image that is worked into an otherwise plain piece of beadwork in a single stitch, like a straight, flat peyote bracelet or a loomwork wall hanging. No thread paths are shown in these graphs because they follow a basic stitch. Traditionally, these graphs have been made with colored pencils on graph paper. Graphing programs make the task easier by providing bead placement for a variety of stitches, colors that can easily be changed at the click of a button, the ability to convert a photo to a bead graph, and more. 

Functions of all graphing programs

  • Create original images by adding color to individual cells that represent beads
  • Convert photos to patterns at the touch of a button (while all three programs have this function, there is a strong correlation between the quality of this conversion process and the price of the program)
  • Customize canvas size and stitch type
  • Print and save patterns to a variety of formats (varies by program)
  • Flood option allows you to fill large defined areas with a single color
  • Eyedropper tool lets you select and change colors easily
  • Shape tools allow you to quickly create a handful of geometric motifs within the graph

The three programs here have many similar functions, though how they work within each program varies. Along with the price and website, some features unique to each program are listed.

Easy Bead Patterns 
Windows and Mac; Free;

  • Grids for loom/square stitch, brick stitch, flat peyote, two-drop peyote, and rosettes
  • Includes manufacturer color numbers for Miyuki 11/0 Delicas and hex-cut Delicas
  • Generates a shopping list for each project
Windows and Mac; $50;
  • Grids for loom and square stitch, brick stitch, flat peyote (up to 9-drop), tubular peyote, sacred gourd, and right-angle weave (1-, 2-, and 3-bead)
  • Free trial version available that lets you create patterns but does not allow you to save, print, or export
  • Includes manufacturer color numbers for 15 different types of beads (including Miyuki Delicas in four sizes, Miyuki rounds in six sizes, Toho Aikos, Toho Treasures, Toho rounds, and pony beads)
  • Helpful videos online demonstrate functionality
  • “Pattern” and “Palette” menus help you keep track of and search for colors and create a shopping list
  • Export Word charts as well as graphs
  • Create custom palettes

BeadCreator Pro 6 and BeadCreator Pro 6 Plus 
Windows**; $150–390;

  • Grids for peyote (up to 9-drop), loom, brick, RAW, fringe, herringbone, sacred gourd
  • Integrated bead inventory system
  • Includes Miyuki Delica manufacturer numbers as well as a robust color typing system called the Dewey Delica System
  • Collate patterns for e-publishing
  • Includes built-in file protection to limit the printing of your patterns if desired
  • Export Word charts as well as graphs
  • Create custom palettes
  • Single and perpetual licenses available
  • Professional Plus version includes access to a stock image database of approximately 60,000 images of public domain Old Masters paintings
Illustration programs
For diagrams that require a thread path illustration in order to see how to create a design, you may want to try a vector drawing program. These programs are not automated like the graphing programs in that you have to create and place bead shapes, choose generic colors (rather than colors associated with specific beads), and draw and edit thread paths manually. However, because you are basically using an electronic drawing program, you really have unlimited options for what you create. You can use standard geometric shapes or create any form you want, and once you learn how the program works, you have a lot of flexibility in terms of copying, rotating, sizing, moving, layering, etc.

Adobe Illustrator 
Windows and Mac; $19.99/month;
In the professional world, Adobe Illustrator is the go-to program of this type, for good reason (in fact, the figures in Bead&Button are created in Illustrator), but it is probably a more powerful tool than you are likely to need. It is also pricey, as Adobe has converted to a monthly fee for use of the program in the Creative Cloud. However, if you are planning on selling tutorials and have an aptitude for technical software, don’t be frightened off. Adobe Illustrator will be able to handle your most complex bead illustration needs.

Windows, Mac, and Linux; Free;
By all accounts, InkScape is very similar to Adobe Illustrator, and therefore may have more functions than you need. However, it is reported to be easier to learn and since it is free, there may not be any downside to trying this program.

Mac only; $20–139;
For Mac users, EazyDraw is a good basic program for creating relatively simple drawings, like beading diagrams. Our editors here at Bead&Button actually use EazyDraw to create “starter” drawings for our in-house illustrator, who then uses her deep knowledge of Illustrator to refine them and make them professional quality. In most cases, EazyDraw figures would probably be more than adequate for most people selling tutorials. The program is pretty easy to learn, so if you find InkScape to be more than you need or find it difficult to use, you might consider giving EazyDraw a try.

Perl’Art bead design app
iPad only; $39.95; Apple App Store

UPDATE, DECEMBER 2018: When we posted this article a year ago, this app was working the way we've described. However, we've heard from users that the company, Perl'Art, is no longer supporting the app. We're leaving this review up just in case something changes and they decide to update the software, but please be sure to do your research before purchasing! ~kk 

A recent and exciting introduction, Perl’Art is an app for the iPad only. It automates many of the functions of a vector drawing program. The app comes pre-loaded with 40 bead shapes, including seed beads, rounds, and bicone crystals. The beads are easy to select and place on your virtual work area, where you can adjust the color, size and rotation with your finger or stylus. After you get your beads placed for your pattern, add your thread, again with your finger or stylus. The software automatically smooths out the thread line and keeps it relatively centered within the beads. Patterns can be saved within the program or to the cloud, printed to a wireless printer, or they can be emailed or shared on social media.

In addition, Perl’Art also includes the ability to create graphed patterns, though it is clunkier than the graphing programs listed above. The scant instructions leave something to be desired (though if you know your way around an iPad, you should be able to figure things out), as does the fact that if you want to include beads or findings other than the 40 that come with the program, you need to see if they are part of one of the nine supplemental bead packs they offer as either free or low-cost ($1.99–$3.99 per pack) add-ons. If they aren’t, you’re out of luck (at least until they release the next add-on), and will have to make do with existing shapes. Having said that, this app is a good first step in automating the design/drawing process for beaders.

* Many more programs exist — some are online-only programs, others are downloads. I’ve included only the ones I believe to be most appropriate and widely used.

** Bead Creator can be installed on a Mac, but it requires an additional utility called Boot Camp that will segment your hard drive so you can install a legal copy of Windows.

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