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Create plaid patterns from scratch and based on previous samples

I've a team of designers right now who are using adobe illustrator, and just recently started using Photoshop CS3.

A major role of these designers is to receive physical (printed) samples of plaids and then be able to digitize them so that they can be altered in terms of colors and then sent out to clients for review.

Example: We'll get a sample plaid which has various widths of stripes in black, white and red. After sending it to our client though, they may want to see it in black, white and green instead.  At the moment, we need to have one of our designers "eye-ball" the printed plaid design and recreate it from scratch in illustrator and then color it in using the colors we want. This, of course, is terribly inefficient and time consuming. There has got to be a better way.

Is there an application or plug-in for either Photoshop or Illustrator that will allow us to scan these samples somehow and digitally recreate the plaid or design, with all its varying stripes and patterns and allow us to alter the colors as we see fit from there?

Secondly, we would also love to have the ability to create new patterns from complete scratch but I'm assuming that any software that does the above would also have functionality to do this as well.

Last of all, in your opinion(s) which is the better tool for this job? Photoshop or Illustrator? As I understand, Illustrator would be better for the creation of these plaid templates and then Photoshop would be better for the color manipulation/alteration.

Thanks so much in advance!
3 Solutions
Tough question without actually seeing the fabrics in question, but here is my gut reaction:

scan the fabric into photoshop. Using one of any # of techniques, try to remove the 'thread level' detail, leaving the color pattern. Posterize using any one of a # of techniques, and save out as a tiff. Place in illustrator, convert to vector art using Live Trace. Then, your designers can change colors very easily on the fly, especially if you create a library of color swatches.

I can elaborate, and I am certain some of my colleagues will have good pointers too, but thats what I would do, especially if this has to happen a lot.

<<As I understand, Illustrator would be better for the creation of these plaid templates and then Photoshop would be better for the color manipulation/alteration.>>

Not necessarily. You could do it all in Photoshop, and maybe most of it in illustrator, but I would use both.
I think BongSoo's solution would work. i would just like to add that you use a good quality scanner for the live trace to work better

I would use Illustrator to produce a sample that doesn't pixellate which i believe is important in your fabric details

one big difference between illustrator and photoshop is the vector imaging capability of illustrator
MalevoloAuthor Commented:
Could you please suggest one or two techniques for removing thread level and posterizing. I'm assuming these two effects will try their best to make the grainy/thread like scan of a cloth into more of a solid color/line type image for tracing/manipulation?

So If I do convert it into a vector art using live trace; how will I use this or edit it in photoshop if it doesn't support vector imaging?  Is live trace a tool that lets you trace over an image to stencil a template togther or does it try its best to automatically trace something? Some of our plaids could have 1/4" stripes which would be easy to trace, but then the same plaid might also have perpindicular stripes or lines only the width of one or two threads; Is this a practical solution for recreating complex plaids like that?

My hopes were for finding any automated application/plugin that would do the work for us but I will certainly pass on the ideas to my designers and have them give this a shot.
There are a couple of different ways to do it. You could try blurring (gaussian)  or even lowering the resolution of the image first, and then selecting a low # of colors when you do the Live Trace in Illustrator. Poster edges filter might help, not sure.

<<So If I do convert it into a vector art using live trace; how will I use this or edit it in photoshop if it doesn't support vector imaging?>>

I am not clear what your final output needs to be. For simplicity's sake, I would say it needs to be vector art. Therefor, any image editing should be done before you convert to vector in illustrator. The whole point even going to illustrator is to make it easier for you to change your colors.

There are no easy answers to your questions and certainly I don't know of any automated application or plugin. It is going to take some trial and error on your designer's part to learn what works best for them. All we can do is point you in the general direction when it comes to something like this.
I admit I'm out of my field here, but I'm pretty sure you can use Illustrator CS3 for this.  LiveTrace automatically creates a vector tracing of your image, which should work extremely well with plaids, and the new LiveColor feature in CS3 would allow you to perform alterations effortlessly while maintaining any design parameters you specify.  I wish they'd get Live color into Photoshop!!!

Check out this link to see what Live Color allows you to do with your illustrator files.

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