Top 5 Flowers for Surface Pattern Design

Flowers are a staple in the textile and surface pattern design industry. They never go out of style. The scale, illustration style, or color palette might change, but the flower is always in demand. Buyers are constantly looking for new interpretations of this classic pattern category—this is where us, as designers, come in.

When I started working as an assistant textile designer, I was surprised to learn that not all flowers are created equal in the mind of art directors. Although this isn’t a hard-fast rule, flowers such as orchids and lilies just aren’t as popular in the fashion industry, which is where I was working. I had a difficult time accepting this fact and constantly proposed designs with tiger lilies, which was my favorite flower. These concepts got shot down repeatedly. Our art director wanted “happy flowers,” and apparently tiger lilies were not in the happy category. So, if some flowers are beautiful yet remain unpopular, which flowers are commonly used in surface pattern design? That’s what we will explore in this post.

Here are the top five flowers found to be effective for surface pattern design (in no specific order):

Roses

Connie Floral Print Crop Skinny Jeans

Roses are a popular option for all markets. Their layers of rolling petals are an opportunity to bring softness and movement to a pattern. You’ll see roses illustrated in both realistic and simplified styles. When creating rose patterns don’t forget to include other motifs such as leaves and rosebuds. These smaller motifs are a lovely accent to large roses and tend to “ground” the flowers within the layout.

Trends to explore: Detailed vintage, furnishing-style rose patterns
Tools to consider: Adobe fresco, gouache paints

Daisies

Mari Print Long Sleeve Turtleneck Mesh Body-Con Dress

If you are looking for a happy flower look no further. Daisies are popular for home decor, stationery, fabric, and children’s markets. You’ll see some designers exploring layers of petals in their illustrations, while others choose to simplify the motif down to just a few petals. Daisies are cute in super simple, set layouts and more complicated allover patterns with lots of layers and motifs.

Trends to explore: Retro florals in bright acid color palettes
Tools to consider: Paper cutout and collage

Hibiscus

Left: the mighty hibiscus flower, Right: An example of a bright and slightly abstracted floral trend from Halogen

All hail the mighty hibiscus. After working in the swimwear industry for several years, I have lost track of how many hibiscus flowers I have drawn. Hibiscus patterns are always popular and in-demand in the fashion and home markets. When creating hibiscus patterns don’t be afraid to include other tropical motifs such as palms, monstera, and plumeria.

Trends to explore: Bright, painterly, or slightly abstracted through scale or application
Tools to consider: Diluted acrylics or photoshop brushes to create a soft transition between bright colors

Dahlia

Dahlias are a showstopper. Like roses, they are so fun to capture in surface pattern design because of their seemingly endless amounts of petals. Layers of beautiful folds and curves, it’s a great opportunity to capture the attention of the consumer and temporarily transport them to a more romantic state of mind. Dahlias can be big and bold, so don’t be afraid to include companion plants, such as small flowers and leaves within your layout. Ideas include nasturtium and flowering sage.

Trends to explore: Dahlia’s have recently been illustrated in very bold and graphic styles, so try mixing it up with naively hand-painted motifs.

Tools to consider: Acrylics

Cosmos

The cosmos flower is a popular choice because it has a more simplified silhouette—while remaining adventurous for color palettes. Some cosmos petals feature bold contrasting colors, which blend in such a beautiful soft way. It typically has a more symmetrical feel and is fun to use in layouts on their own, or when paired with other wildflowers such as white yarrow ,farewell-to-spring, and baby’s breath.

Trends to explore: Take a softer approach to cosmos and focus on capturing the nurturing and healing effects of nature.

Tools to consider: Soft watercolors

Additional Resources

With over 400,000 flowering plant species to explore nature provides us with an endless amount of inspiration. Consider some of these resources when looking for new flowers to use within your artwork:

Vintage flower prints such as this reprint of an Adolphe Millot’s illustration from 1909 r. ‘Fleurs’ .

Flower books such as this Flower Color Guide by Michael and Darroch Putnam. This book showcases stunning photographs of flowers which are organized by color, with an emphasis on seasonality and creative color schemes.

What are your favorite flowers to illustrate? Let me know in the comments below! You can also explore more floral patterns here.

    1. I believe that they do Elizabeth. I find the quilt industry to be more accepting of some of the other flowers that I mentioned, Irises and Lilies. I think Irises are so vertical that they can be difficult to wear. I’m not saying that they are never used in apparel, just not as often as some of the rounder flowers.

      1. My personal favorite is peony, looks a lot like a rose, so would probably work. I have seen a lot of Crysanthemums in Japanese style designs

  1. Hi Michelle 🙋🏾‍♀️
    This post is confirmation for me as I have recently created a list of florals I plan to use in designs. These top five mentioned are among the flowers I have on my list.

    Thank you for this artcle❤

  2. Hi Michelle,
    I totally agree with this list. I also like to illustrate peonies and Dogwood (which is actually a tree – but the flower is beautiful. And, tulips with their many different shapes (parrot) and the multiple colors you can find on the inside of the flower.
    Thanks.

  3. I spent many years in Textile Design working for fabric houses and Textile companies. All of it was in painted florals. I did flat pattern as well as hand painted fabric. I love this site and enjoy seeing all the wonderful patterns. I still freelance.

  4. Was just sitting down to design a set of floral scarves and saw this amazingly timely article. Thanks for the wonderful writing and the excellent research!

  5. Hi Michelle,Thank you so much for sharing this amazing article and the excellent research! I love illustrating all kinds of flowers mostly peonies, dahlias and hibiscus!..And the article is really helpful 💜😊🙏🏻

  6. I was surprised to see daisies on the list. I think I’ve always liked the leaves more than the bloom on the standard daisy. The Gerbera daisy however, is one of my favorites. The color saturation is just so delicious. I managed a flower shop a little over thirty years ago and now when create floral designs I can still remember how each flower, leaf and stem smelled and felt.
    I’m new to TDL but have found so much value in all of the articles, courses and tutorials.
    Thank you, Michelle!

  7. Thank you for this wonderful article. It has really helped me gain some understanding about what the industry is looking for. Every opportunity I get I visit botanical gardens and collect an ever growing collection of floral photographs to draw on when developing patterns.

  8. Loved this! 20 some yrs ago, in my first interview for a textile designer position, I was asked to draw 3 of the flowers you list here (rose, hibiscus and daisy). While my portfolio got me the interview, my poor flower drawing skills lost me that job. I have since learned to draw flowers! 🙂

  9. It is great to see the florals in action. I am always taking pictures of flowers, guess it is time to delve up the ones with roses and mix them in with patterns.

  10. I did a pattern with orchids recently and realised there aren’t many orchids illustrated out there, maybe it’s not a ‘happy’ flower 😅.

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