Build Your Business:

Call of the Wild (Patterns)

Animal prints are trending, so don’t be afraid to uncage your product offerings by exploring current options.

By Jennifer Foy, Contributing Writer

Figure 1

June 9, 2020

Animal prints may lead you to think of a racy leopard-print jacket or something more reminiscent of the 1980s, but times have changed. Similarly, so has what is considered an animal print or pattern.

While some uses and patterns can be more traditional, there are even more spin-offs and creative uses than before. They aren’t just intended for apparel or adults anymore. Animal patterns can be used for home décor, including wall pieces, jewelry, office organizers, pillows, totes, aprons and more. Even websites like feature leopard-print bag tags with a monogram.

When decorating with animal prints, use common and well-known patterns first — zebra, leopard, giraffe, jaguar, cheetah and tiger. Lesser-known patterns that still sell well or may be frequently requested include snakeskin, crocodile or cow. While these patterns can be used in their traditional hues, non-traditional color schemes also are being applied to these patterns to create a more vibrant, colorful and fun modern spin on the animal prints.

Look to Pantone’s 2020 spring and summer palette to get started with fresh color variations to these patterns. Try using Biscay Green and Coral together for a bright and colorful combination. Pantone offers more than 10 colors in this seasonal palette to work with or be inspired by, as well as its color of the year for 2020: Classic Blue. If you have access to metallic inks, replace the black or brown in an animal pattern with a bit of gold and combine with Classic Blue.

Design Versatility
Animal prints aren’t limited to fur patterns. Take the animal itself and repeat it on a colored background. Depending on the style and colors used, a pattern may have more of a light-hearted, youthful look that’s perfect for a kid’s bedroom or something a bit more universal. For example, use a panda-head design repeatedly across a blue polka-dot backdrop to create a pattern.

Another example is a tropical plant leaf combined with a leopard to create an alternating pattern. This can be ideal for serving trays, picture frames, aprons or adding a wild touch to a coffee mug.

You also can use an animal pattern or print with another in a design. For example, the buffalo-check pattern remains hugely popular even after the holidays, where it often was seen in a red-and-black color combination. With the season change, buffalo check continues to have staying power, yet is now more commonly seen in black and white.

Place an animal print next to a buffalo check pattern, use shapes, type or lines to separate them as part of your message. Figure 1 shows a fun “Class of 2020” design that can be added to a shirt, mug, keychain or picture frame. It was done in Adobe Photoshop; a chunky font was selected for the year, allowing for more of the pattern to show within the numbers. The rest of the process included:

1. I filled it with white then added a black stroke to the numbers.

2. I pulled in a buffalo-check pattern and selected a dotted animal print to contrast against the more rigid linear shapes within the buffalo check.

3. I then made the numbers an active selection and added a mask to each layer to have them fit within the numbers. This quick shaping method used for placing the patterns within the numbers also can be used for other shapes when working in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

Home Décor
Expanding on working with patterns within a shape, try a wall panel for a home décor piece using an animal pattern inside a shape — such as a heart — or a monogram to add personalization with just a touch of animal print. Need to tone down the color for a more calming decor effect? Convert the pattern to grayscale or lower the color saturation in your graphics software.

Then, use the calmer color scheme as a background to frame out an image or within a heart shape. Fill the background color to be a softer shade of blue, gray, pink or even a neutral beige. Just keep the background a lighter hue to maintain subtlety. The result could be a perfect design that could be a part of an animal-themed baby nursery.

Sourcing Animal Patterns
Finding animal patterns in a vector or graphic format may be the next challenge. Stock-photography websites have commercial options and you also may find free files online. Always check to ensure the art is permitted for commercial use and resale within or on products so you can sublimate the design and sell the resulting decorated items.

Unless you have other plans, you don’t need to worry about digital resale if you don’t share or sell the digital files. Always check the site and ensure it is one from which you are comfortable downloading images. No one wants a leopard-print pattern that contains a computer virus. If you’re not sure of a specific website, check online forums or Facebook groups to ask other industry experts if they have had good or bad experiences with it.

Hopefully, these ideas on how to harness the animal-prints trend provide some guidance on how such patterns can give your dye-sublimation product offerings a breath of fresh air. There are lots of different options and ways to tip-toe — or dive headfirst — into this realm. Download a few animal prints, apply them to some samples and show them to your customers. Gauge their level of interest and, if it’s significant, you can start offering a wild take on decorated products.

Jennifer Foy is the creative director for Unisub and SwitchCase brands at Universal Woods Inc., a manufacturer of blanks for dye sublimation. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at or visit