NEW YORK — The recent CAD Expo gave potential users of computers in design a chance to get a taste for a variety of systems, but it was a panel of CAD users that offered up some of the most helpful information.

“Potential CAD users often hear only the sales pitch from vendor sales reps,” commented panel moderator/CAD consultant Alison Grudier. “What we wanted to do here was let you know what people out in the field think.”

Panelists included Holly Henderson, designer, Federated Department Stores; Katy Chapman, CAD system supervisor at Springs Industries; Richard Malachowski, director of research and engineering at Cranston Print Works Co.; and Peter Appleyard, vice-president at the Bibb Co.

Malachowski, who must take designs produced on CAD systems and print them on fabric, said designers must be conscious of the processes by which their designs become fabrics. He said an understanding of printing and engraving will give designers the ammunition to speed their designs through the production process along with a better feel for how their designs will look when they are finally printed.

“CAD is well accepted at and integrated into design studios,” he said. “With CAD, designers can develop much cleaner artwork that is ready to go to the manufacturer. Designers must have an understanding of the final product and all the steps it takes to get to that product — that includes an understanding of the engraving process.

Malachowski said designers must pay special attention to the resolution of their designs. That way they can ensure that engraving proceeds smoothly. “Consider the resolution you are going to develop your design in so it moves along quickly once it gets to the engraver, and keep in mind that the design will look different when it is produced than it looks on screen.”

He added that designers must also understand “exactly what the printer or the weaver had to do to produce their design.

“Front-end CAD and digitizing influence the look of the final product and the speed at which it is produced.”

Federated’s Holly Henderson also spoke directly from her area of expertise: knitwear design — a topic she said is often overlooked in discussions of CAD.

Henderson said CAD systems are becoming more sophisticated in their presentations of knits.

“Each pixel on the screen represents a stitch,” she said. “So you get a realistic representation — a sort of paper swatch if you will.”

Henderson said the images are so realistic that they are commonly used to seal orders from buyers.

“For a long time, buyers didn’t want to see CAD output,” she said. “Now, we do most of our presentations via CAD a year before we deliver the final product. Textured mapping is especially realistic. You can create textures and images so realistic looking they seem to pop right out of the CAD system. And those fabrics don’t even exist yet.”

Bibb’s Appleyard focused on the cost of bringing CAD systems into companies.

“CAD seems to come in $50,000 chunks,” he said. “Manufacturers always ask why they can’t just go and buy a system at CompUSA or 47th Street Photo.”

Appleyard argued, however, that investments in CAD systems geared towards the specific needs of manufacturers and designer are justified — provided a company makes sure its employees accept the technology and work with it.

“You can lose money with a CAD system,” he said. “There are always people in organizations who resist CAD and hold back the total benefits. If those people don’t work with the technology, you can end up in a situation where you’ve laid out a lot of money for CAD but aren’t getting a return on your investment.”

Appleyard said younger people are usually quicker to accept the technology than older people, but added that the latter do adapt to the systems once they accept the idea of using them.

He said companies considering purchasing a CAD system should focus on the software performance and the stability of the CAD vendor.

“Software is what drives a CAD system,” Appleyard said, adding, “Pick a company that is stable and will continue to offer support.”

Unlike Appleyard, Katy Chapman of Springs Industries advocates using off-the-shelf software for at least some applications.

“I recommend off-the-shelf software like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop,” she said. “They can fulfill your needs without going to great expense. Go to software retailers often and to art supply stores to see new software.”

Chapman, however, said such packages work best as additions to commercial CAD systems. “Load them into your vendors CAD systems to do specific things,” she said.

Chapman is especially excited about image-archiving software. Such software allows users to create a computerized database of previous designs that can be accessed easily. She also said work-flow software is helpful, as it allows companies to manage collaborative efforts of many individuals on specific projects.