Different Types of Plaid and Checks that Every Designer Should Know: A Fabric Series

types of plaid, plaids versus check patterns

Plaids vs Checks: What’s the Difference?

Various types of plaid and checks can be found in every wardrobe, but few of us know the difference between a buffalo check and a tartan plaid. In fact, many designers use the terms “plaid” and “check” interchangeably, but these are two totally different types of surface patterns.

Plaid and checkered patterns are both stacked and square, but here’s how they are fundamentally different.

  • The term plaid refers to patterns inspired by Scottish “tartan” plaids. Tartans were the original type of plaid, but today we have several dynamic variations. Modern-day plaids consist of crossed horizontal and vertical lines of two or more colors; but unlike tartans, the plaids don’t have to be perfectly even– meaning vertical stripes patterns don’t have to match the horizontal stripe patterns. Plaids have many variations of bandwidths, repeat, and colors.
  • Check patterns are much simpler than plaids—think checkerboards!  Checks are always symmetrical, consisting of crossed horizontal and vertical lines that form equally sized tiles. So, while plaids create a cross-hatched look, checks resemble miniature boxes.

Commonly Used Types of Checks


Gingham is perhaps one of the most iconic check patterns, usually consisting of a white background and one other color. Vertical and horizontal stripes are always the same color- lying on a white background. Dorothy’s iconic blue and white checkered dress in Wizard of Oz is a memorable example of gingham!

Buffalo Check

Much like gingham, the Buffalo Check is as American as apple pie. Originally worn by lumberjack due to its striking visibility, this large two-toned pattern resembles your household checkerboard. Black is also typically one of the two colors.

Shepherd’s Check

Almost resembling gingham, Shepherd’s Check is easily distinguished by its twill weave. Shephard’s Check is usually produced in a flannel or suiting material, making it a great choice for light outerwear.

Houndstooth Check

Though Swedish in origin, houndstooth is a derivative of Shephard’s Check– except the squares are notched and pointed, resembling a canine tooth. This check is traditionally seen in black and white during fall seasons, but it’s now found in varieties of colors that work year round!


Mini-check is a small check pattern that resembles gingham, but much smaller. Mini-checks are commonly seen in suiting fabrics.

Pin Check

Pin checks are the same concept as mini-checks but even tinier. In fact, the squares that form in this pattern are so small they resemble tiny dots. This subtle pattern makes an excellent accent as pin checks are rather understated, yet sophisticated.

Graph Check

The Graph Check resembles…. graph paper! This pattern consists of pencil thin, single-colored lines that cross evenly, forming individual squares. This check, along with window pane and tattersall, has such thin lines that the boxes in the pattern appear open instead of “filled-in” like the checks listed previously.

Window Pane Check

Window pane checks resemble window panes, but they’re also starkly similar to the graph check, but a little larger. Both window pane and graph checks carry a minimalist appeal.


This check is very similar to graph or window pane; except the lines alternate in color, making it a little more visually dynamic. Also, tattersall stripes are usually darker than the base color. This is a great pattern for summer and spring, usually spotted in lightweight suiting fabrics.

Commonly Used Types of Plaid

Tartan Plaid

Tartans were the original plaid and are representative of their Scottish origin. You can distinguish a tartan plaid from another plaid by looking at the pattern itself. In a tartan plaid, both vertical and stripe patterns have to match evenly- creating perfectly symmetrical patterns.

Royal Stewart Tartan Plaid

The Royal Stewart is the most recognizable of the tartans, known by its red base color with contrasting stripes of bright yellow, blue, green, and white. The Royal Stewart is the pattern you see when you think of traditional Scottish kilts and British monarchy.

Black Watch Tartan Plaid

Black Watch is another tartan type and it’s easily identified by its black, navy, and hunter green tones.

Glen Plaid (aka Prince of Wales)

Alternating light and dark colored stripes cross and form patterns of varied checks- creating a mixture of houndstooth and pin-checks throughout. This twill-patterned plaid is most commonly found in suiting and office attire.

Madras Plaid

This special plaid is named after the Indian City of Chenna (formerly known as Madras), which explains its powerful use of color! Madras plaids are usually spotted on airy, light-weight fabrics making it perfect for high summer seasons! This pattern resembles a quirkier, off-kilter tartan, as it’s known by the asymmetry of its stripes.

Which types of plaids and checks do you like the most! Comment below!

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