How to create a seamless repeating pattern in Illustrator.
Okay, I have finally gotten round to putting together a basic tutorial explaining how to go about creating a seamless repeating pattern similar to my Reggtro pattern.
Before I start I would just like to say, as with most things, there are many ways to achieve the same result and this is just one of them. I encourage you to explore for yourself the different possibilities, and if anyone would like to share their techniques or would like to know how I achieved any of my other patterns please don’t hesitate to add it to the comments below.
I have used Illustrator CS2 for this tutorial but you should be able to recreate this in almost any version of the program.
For those of you proficient in Illustrator here is the basic breakdown. Read on for a more detailed explanation.
- 1. Create a new 400px by 400px document
- 1a. Select in the Appearance panel pull down menu.
- 2. Create a straight vertical path from the top of the artboard to the bottom and place it 50px on the X axis. Give it a 5pt stroke
- 3. Apply a Zig Zag effect with the settings of Size 40px, Ridges per segment 1, and smooth points.
- 4. Apply a Transform effect with the settings of One (1) copy, Reflect X, Move horizontal 100px
- 5. Apply a second instance of the Transform effect and use these settings One (1) Copy, Move 200px Horizontally.
- 6. Draw out an ellipse centred on the bottom left corner of the artboard
- 7. Apply a Transform effect to the ellipse with these settings. Two (2) copies, Move 200px Horizontally.
- 8. Apply a second instance of the Transform effect with these settings. One (1) copy, Move 400px Vertically.
- 9. Make a duplicate of the ellipse we just created and set its centre point to 100px on the X axis and 200px on the Y axis
- 10. Because we duplicated the ellipse layer, it will have the same two transform effects applied. Delete one of the Transform effects and change the other one to these settings. One (1) copy, Move 200px Horizontally.
- 11. Crete a 410px square with a fill of your choice and no stroke centred on the artboard. Send it to the bottom of the layer stack
- 12. Apply your choice of strokes and fills to the ellipses
- 13. Create a 400px square with no fill or stroke and send it to the bottom of the layer stack.
- 14. Select all and drag everything to the swatches palette.
- 15. Hide layer 1, create a new layer and create a shape. Select its fill and apply the newly created swatch to apply your pattern.
- 1. Create a new 400px X 400px document
You can use any size document really. The reason I use a 400px square document is just so it is easier to keep any maths straight in my head, without having to resort to the calculator.
- 1a. Select New Art Has Basic Appearance in the Appearance panel pull down menu. If this is not selected, when we draw the ellipse at step 6, it will contain the zig zag and transform effects from steps 3 – 5.
- 2. Make sure SMART GUIDES are turned on.
This makes it as easy as possible to align you paths.
- 3. Create a straight vertical stroke going from the top to the bottom of the artboard.
Click on the top of the artboard and hold shift wile dragging to the bottom to constrain the line to a perfect vertical. You should see the endpoint snap to the edge of the artboard as you get close.
- 4. For the sake of this tutorial, give your path a stroke of 5pt so we can see it easily.
You can use any sized stroke(s) and combination of strokes in your own design, this is just so you can follow along.
- 5. In the context sensitive toolbar at the top of your screen, make sure your path is 50px on the X axis, 200px on the Y (assuming your transform anchor point is set to center) Has 0px width and is 400px High.
- 6. With the path still selected, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag… Set the size to 40px, Ridges per section to One (1) and turn on smooth points.
Feel free to use your own settings here, just be aware that to make the pattern tile, you must use odd numbers for the Ridges per section setting, this way the path will enter at the bottom in the same place it left the top.
- 7. With the Path still selected, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform… Set the settings to
One (1) copy, Reflect X, Move horizontal 100px
You can play around with these setting too. Try moving the Horizontal setting to 50px, now you will have an overlapping path giving you a twisted look.
- 8. Again, with the path still selected, apply another instance of the Transform Effect. Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform…
You might get a warning telling you that you already have a Transform Effect applied, select apply new effect and enter these settings. One (1) Copy, Move 200px Horizontally.
- 9. Now we have the basis of our pattern. To add the other details we will start by creating an oval centred on the bottom left corner of our artboard.
With the Ellipse tool selected move your cursor to the bottom left corner of the artboard and you should see the word intersect appear next to it. Click and drag while holding Option (alt on a PC) to draw the shape from the centre. Draw out an ellipse like the one shown below. The size isn’t important, just make sure it is centred on the corner of the artboard.
- 10. Now we need to make our copies of our ellipse. With the Ellipse still selected go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform… and apply these settings.
Two (2) copies, Move 200px Horizontally.
- 11. Apply a second instance of the Transform effect with these settings. One (1) copy, Move 400px Vertically.
- 12. Create a new ellipse or copy the one we just made and place it inside the wavy lines. The centre point should be 100px on the X axis and 200px on the Y axis
- 13. Apply a Transform effect with these settings, One (1) copy Move 200px Horizontal If you copied the original ellipse you will need to delete one instance of the transform effect and change the other instance to One (1) copy Move 200px
- 14. We are now ready for some colour. For our background we simply draw out a box that is larger than the artboard. It doesn’t matter how much larger as any excess will be trimmed when we generate the pattern, just make sure it extends past the boundary of the artboard. A 410px square centred on the artboard would do fine. Give it a fill colour of you choice and no stroke. Move this layer to the bottom of the stack.
- 15. You can colour the ellipses any way you want, I used a combination of different sized strokes set to inside as well as a fill. You can see my settings in the screenshot below. You can see that I have also used a dashed line for one of the strokes.
- 16. If you have made it this far well done! We are only one step away from generating our pattern. We need to define which part of our design will be used to create the pattern. To do this we create a new square shape the same size as the artboard (400px X 400px) and make sure it has no fill or stroke and is at the very bottom of the stack. This is the layer that tells Illustrator where we want the edge of our pattern to be.
- 17. To actually generate our pattern it is as simple as selecting all our layers by clicking on the radio button next to layer 1 and then clicking and dragging everything to the swatches palette.
Alternatively you can select all by holding down command (control on the PC) and hitting A and then selecting EDIT > DEFINE PATTERN
To make it easier to see I have deleted all the unused swatches before dragging in our new pattern.
- 18. If everything has worked we should now have a pattern to apply as a fill to whatever we want. Hide layer 1 by clicking on its eyeball icon and create a new layer. Make sure the new layer is selected and draw out a shape, make sure you have its fill selected and click on our new pattern swatch to apply.
I have applied our new pattern to a 400px square.
To alter the pattern you need to make sure your Transform palette is visible WINDOW > TRANSFORM (or shift F8) Click on the small button on its top right corner and select Transform Pattern only.
- 19. Now by using the transform palette we can resize and move the pattern as well as rotate and shear it. I have entered 200px in the Width panel to half the apparent size of the pattern which shows us how it looks when tilled.
Congratulations! You have now created a perfectly repeating pattern. Now that you know how its done, go and get creating. I would love to see any work that this tutorial has inspired so please drop me a Bmail to let me know what you have created, or better yet, post a copy of your work here for all to see. Admittedly this tutorial is pretty messy as it is my first one. If anyone has had trouble following my instructions or has any related questions or suggestions please don’t hesitate in commenting below. Happy patterning.