Becoming a great shade sail designer doesn’t happen overnight - you have to walk before you can run. First, learn the basic do’s and don’ts. There is a reason we compiled this list and it’s not to stifle your creativity. We put this list together so that you don’t make the same mistakes we made in the beginning.
After you have a few projects under your belt you can start to throw in some options. Observe how they turned out, what your customer liked or didn’t like and before you know it you will be an expert.
You will also need to learn some form of visualization tool. Most people in the U.S. are not familiar with shade sails. To close the sale you will need to show them what the project will look like. Learning one of these programs goes hand in hand with learning design.
Once you have the basics of shade sail design down, you can begin to get creative with your designs. The design options are endless!
A kiss point is where two sails meet in the middle. This is a nice example of form following function. The reason for the kiss is to close the gap between two sails creating more shade.
Doing this creates a unique and unexpected interaction between the sails resulting in a look only found in shade sails.
Custom Curve Percentage
You can specify a custom curve depth or percentage on one side of a sail. This comes into play when going around a spiral staircase or the corner of a building.
Measuring for a custom curve is treated like measuring for a hole. We need the regular outside dimensions, plus dimensions from the anchor points to the center of the custom curve.
Edge Style Combinations
You can choose your edge style from cable, webbing, lace-on, flat bar pocket, or A-rail. Each style has its own benefits and restrictions. Sometimes the perfect shade sail design is a combination of more than one edge style.
For example, you may have a roof edge where the typical shade sail curve will let in too much sun. The best design might be an A-rail along the roof edge so that the gap is completely covered and no sun gets through. Combine this with cable on the other 3 sides and you have a custom solution with the appearance of a shade sail and the function of an awning.
The key to a successful combination sail is the transition from one style to the next. This is usually a high-stress point and needs to be done correctly. Give us a call if you have questions on a combo design and we’ll be happy to walk you through it.
Shade cloth does not easily accept normal graphics like silk screening. We can, however, sew different colors of shade cloth together to create basic logos or graphics.
We cut the graphics out of shade cloth on our plotter/cutter and then sew them on top of the shade sail. We then cut out the shade sail material on the bottom leaving a graphic that can be seen from above and below. The graphic can often be seen as a shadow cast on the ground on a sunny day.
What do you do when you want your sail to end at a certain point, but the only attachment point location is several feet away?
Extension cables are the answer.
Examples of when to use Extension Cables:
When your connection point is through trees or other obstacles, and you don’t want to have the sail rub against the branches.
To reduce the size of the sail when trying to keep costs down. For example, rather than extending the sail all the way to the attachment point, install an extension cable, thus reducing the square footage of the sail while keeping the function nearly the same.
A single post can be used for 2 or more sails. Typically, one sail will attach at the top and another sail will attach lower on the post.
This saves on the cost of steel and concrete vs. using 2 different posts, but keep in mind that this single post will need to be stronger since it carries the forces of 2 sails.
Posts are not usually thought of as attractive, so limiting the number usually contributes to a better design.
T-Posts are used to spread out the attachment points using a single footing. Sometimes you want the sails to overlap rather than share a single attachment point.
If it doesn’t make sense to use 2 posts, you can often weld a crossbar onto the post creating 2 attachment points.
This can be a dramatic design element while also reducing costs.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with the look of your posts.
Check out this example where the posts are made to match the cacti in the surrounding area.
Sometimes you can’t have posts installed where you want them. So, it’s time to improvise and get creative with custom posts!
You always want a little bit of an angle to the posts so that they don’t appear to tip in. We recommend at least ½ a bubble on a level tipped out away from the center of the sail. You can take this post angle up a notch by angling out 10-15 degrees or more. This can dramatically change the appearance of a shade sail project.
Consider placing the attachment points several feet down from the top of the posts giving the project a grand scale attracting more attention.
Cross cables span between 2 attachment points creating a floating attachment point for the sail. This is usually done when it is difficult to locate a post in line with the center of the sail. The forces on a cross cable are multiplied, requiring high strength attachment points.
The sail attaches to the cross cable using a shackle and cable clamps to maintain position. Keep in mind that the cross cable will always angle in towards the shade sail, it will not end up straight. You can approximate this deflection by pulling the cross cable in the direction of the sail using a ratchet strap. Tighten the ratchet strap to the same tension that you would tighten a sail and use those measurements to order the sail.
Typically, residential designs include a patio area just outside the back door. On a one-story house, this means placing the sail as close to the eave as possible. A roof bracket may be the best solution to providing a high attachment point.
This bracket is listed in the “hard” category due to the risk of causing roof leaks and damage to the house. Make sure when installing a roof bracket that you follow the instructions to the letter, take your time, and don’t get distracted.
Webbing perimeter sails are very popular in Australia. These can be ordered with covered webbing or exposed webbing that is sewn on the underside of the sail.
By using contrasting colors, you can really make a sail pop. This is a useful way to put corporate colors into a sail project.
Hems Up or Hems Down
You have the option to choose hems up or hems down. It is mostly a matter of personal preference.
Some people like the clean look of hems up which hides the stitching on the top of the sail where it can’t be seen. Others like hems down so that there is no lip to catch and hold leaves or debris.
In this blue sail, you can see that Hems Up has the hems folded on the side facing towards the sky, so they are less visible from underneath.
Light Side Up or Down
Some fabrics have a different appearance on the top vs. the bottom.
GALE Pacific has a two-toned fabric called DualShade with different complementary colors on top and on the bottom!
For Alnet fabrics, the top is the smooth, lighter colored side and the bottom is the rough, darker colored side.
Some customers prefer to see the lighter side while under the sail. In this case, you would specify “Light side down” on the order form. You can also customize the sail even further by specifying “Light Side down” and “Hems down” which will highlight the edge of the sail when viewed from underneath.
How do you show your customer what the project will look like?
My very first design was a cardboard box that I cut out and hot glued scraps of fabric for the sails. The next phase was welding pieces of steel to the top of my welding table, again hot gluing scraps of fabric for the sail. I would take photos from different angles to show the customer what it would look like.
Thankfully, times have changed and there are several options to create designs on your computer.
Design Do's and Don'ts
PoliciesAll custom shade sail orders must: Complete & Sign the Order Form before the order is considered PLACED. Per our policy we ask for a 50% deposit upon ordering and the remaining balance plus shipping costs upon shipment. Packages will not be released until final payment has been received. All packages are shipped via FedEx where tracking will be provided via email.
Lead TimeWholesale Shade offers 2 options for delivery, standard & 3 day. Our standard lead time for custom products is 10 business days. For 3 day service you are able to receive an order with a 3-day * some restrictions apply
Returns**Custom shade products are non-refundable no matter the circumstance unless authorized by Wholesale Shade. If authorized, expect to receive a refund within two weeks from the date the item was shipped back to our facilities, however, in many cases the refund will be released quicker. This time period includes the transit time for us to receive your return from the shipper (5 to 10 business days), the time it takes us to process your return once we receive it (1 to 3 business days), and the time it takes the bank to process our refund request (5 to 10 business days).
ShippingProducts are shipped via UPS or FedEx ground with signature required to ensure safe arrival. In removing the signature requirement per customer's request the customer agrees to assume all responsibility if the package is lost or stolen. Note: we do not ship to international destinations. Estimated shipping cost is not available until the product is packaged and ready to ship. Shipping rates for many items are weight-based. The weight of any such item can be found on its detail page. To reflect the policies of the shipping companies we use, all weights will be rounded up to the next full pound.
Visualization tools are an important part of the shade sail design process. Getting your customer to see your vision (and making sure that it matches theirs) is crucial to having a happy customer at the end of the day.
There are many options available to you, including several from MPanel, SketchUp, and Awning Composer. In this section, we cover some of the best options out there today, so that you can choose what works best for you.
MPanel InSite (Interactive Site Designer) is a world’s first shade sail design tool that provides your sales team the ability to design sails in real-time, directly on the site, in 3D, and all in just minutes.
Import a .PDF or top-down image background which shows the site that you need to design sails for – this could be from an architect’s drawing, a satellite view or drone image of the site.
After setting up the site background you simply add poles, walls, and sails where you need cover. You can freely move poles around or change their heights to fine tune the design – the sails automatically stay connected to the poles.
Turn shadows on and off and adjust for any day, time, and geographic location to show the client that the sails not only look good but also do the job they're intended to do; provide shade.
Automatically generate printable reports and build specifications for the poles, all on custom looking reports complete with your company’s name and logo.
Learn more about MPanel InSite here: https://mpanel.com/products/mpanel-insite/
You can also watch InSite tutorials and find out more about MPanel InSite on their YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS2JEmx7eFc
MPanel Shade Designer provides a step-by-step wizard interface that virtually walks the user through the process of creating a three-dimensional model and an accurate flat fabric pattern of a shade sail structure.
Utilizing the same powerful tools found in the popular MPanel Pro design and pattering software, MPanel Shade Designer features options for including seam allowance and material compensation (to plan for the stretch in the material) as well as a fully dimensioned pattern in a printable, production ready report, all with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Support for the user to create and save custom databases of different shade cloth materials and various corner hardware & connection methods are also included.
Learn more about MPanel Shade Designer here: https://mpanel.com/products/mpanel-shade-designer/
You can also watch Shade Designer tutorials and find out more about MPanel Shade Designer on their YouTube channel at:
MPanel MPCALC is a simple to use web-based application for any smart-phone, tablet or PC with an Internet browser. It provides a mobile platform that allows a user to enter connection point measurements and dimensions directly from the site and then check them for accuracy before you leave the project location. If a measurement error is detected, you’ll know right away allowing you to find and correct it before you leave the site. If everything is accurate, you can simply enter your email address and have all of that collected data sent instantly back to your computer where it can be opened with MPanel Shade Designer. No more re-typing in hand-written numbers off the back of a napkin; instead they are automatically entered into the correct form locations as soon as the file is opened in MPanel Shade Designer.
Learn more about the MPanel MPCALC application here: https://mpanel.com/products
SketchUp is useful from the earliest stages of design to the end of construction. Programming, diagramming, design development, detailing, documentation, RFIs—wherever you need drawings, you need SketchUp.
Awning Composer includes several example shade sail models and also features seamless integration with MPanel Shade Designer, a separate application that lets you design shade sails based on site measurements and other parameters.
You can launch MPanel Shade Designer from Awning Composer and have the created 3D model automatically loaded into Awning Composer.