Have you ever wanted to add a quarter inch seam allowance around applique shapes or paper piecing patterns? There are several ways to do this in Illustrator.

I posted one of those ways earlier today, and as soon as I posted it, Rodney offered up a quicker workflow by suggesting that I offset my path instead of expanding a half inch stroke.  Three cheers for Rodney!

I couldn’t leave the old way up knowing there was much better approach. Rodney said I could share his suggestion here. If you’re familiar with Illustrator, here’s a quick description:

  1. Trace your shape with the pen tool in a new layer
  2. Object: Path: Offset Path
  3. type .25 inches or 18pts in the offset field
  4. Click the preview box and increase your miter limit until all of your points are complete (This is important if you have long, pointy parts of your shape.)
  5. In your stroke window, check the dashed line box and add your preferred settings – I have a 3pt dash and a 3pt gap.

If you’re new to Illustrator or use another program to draw appliqué shapes, read on.

You can draw your shapes in a several different programs. There are options in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.  There’s Paint. And Microsoft Word. I’ve seen people use Microsoft Power Point to draw shapes and diagrams. Touchdraw is handy on the iPad. You can also find shape outlines on the internet that you might want to print and cut out to applique.  If your file name ends with a .jpg, .pdf or .png (among many others), you can place that image in Illustrator and put a quarter inch seam allowance around it.

If you don’t’ have Illustrator, see if a friend has it, or see if your local university or community college has Illustrator installed on their library computers. These are usually open to the public. You may find that you can do the bulk of your work in another program, and then head to the library for the last step of easily adding an accurate seam allowance to your shapes.

One more note: we’re gong to be using the Pen tool in Illustrator to trace your shape. For the purpose of this tutorial, I’m not going to go into how to use the Pen tool to make curves. If you’re practicing along with this video, be sure to pick an angular shape or practice making curves with your pen tool before you follow along here.

I used this pineapple file and the CS6 Mac version of Illustrator in the video.  The video will take you from the very beginning when you open Illustrator to saving and printing your image using Adobe Acrobat.  If you’re new to Illustrator, I hope this 8 minute video helps you work through the process.

I hope this has been helpful! Of course, if you’d like to put a half inch, or a 5/8″ seam allowance around a shape, you can easily enter that amount in the offset path box.  I encourage you to leave comments – I’m not an Illustrator expert, and I’m always looking to improve my workflow.  Now go put seam allowances on everything!


If you’d like to see another way to get an accurate seam allowance around a shape, I’ve left my old seam allowance video up on you tube.  My old method expands a half inch stroke, releases the compound path, ungroups the paths, deletes the inner shape, and sets the stroke of the outer shape to a dashed line.  Yep, Rodney’s way is faster!


  1. Pingback: Video tutorial: Easily add seam allowance to shapes in Illustrator 6 – Sewing

  2. Debbie D

    It actually can be done in Photoshop (I have CS2) also.. maybe not get those points you did with the liter limit..
    I used the pen tool to outline and created a work path. The on a new layer I “Make Selection” from the Paths tab. I used Select > Modify > Expand and expanded 27pixels, then Stroke : 1pixel : Center. I may not be the prettiest, most perfect or efficient means but it can be done. I have Illustrator but HATE working in it and never installed it the last time I had to redo the hard drive 🙂

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