Patterns in Illustrator allow you to easily repeat design elements across a canvas. Whether you want to create a unique print or complex background, customizing patterns gives you full creative control. Learning how to make and edit patterns takes some practice, but the process is straightforward once you know the steps.
What is a pattern in Illustrator?
A pattern is a repeating design that tiles across an area. Patterns are made up of one or more pattern tiles. These tiles repeat in a grid to create a continuous design. Patterns can be used to quickly add background textures, repetitive elements like polka dots, or complex seamless designs.
Why customize patterns in Illustrator?
Illustrator comes with a selection of preset patterns, but creating your own allows for endless design options. Benefits of custom patterns include:
- Unique designs – Make an original pattern in any style for your project.
- Completely customizable – Choose your own colors, shapes, sizes and repeats.
- Seamless patterns – Patterns tile so the edges blend together smoothly.
- Scale patterns easily – Increase or decrease pattern size without loss of quality.
- Reusable assets – Save custom patterns to reuse again and again.
How to make a new pattern in Illustrator
Follow these steps to create a brand new pattern swatch in Illustrator:
- Open a new document and create your pattern design on the artboard. Keep the design small – around 2 inches or less. You can use shapes, images and text.
- Make sure your design tiles seamlessly. The left edge should transition smoothly to the right.
- Go to Object > Pattern > Make to open the Pattern Options window. Name your pattern.
- Set any options like tile type, size and overlap. Select “New” swatch to save the pattern as a swatch.
- Click Done. Your new pattern swatch will appear in the Swatches panel.
How to edit an existing pattern
To customize one of Illustrator’s default patterns or update a pattern you made earlier, follow these steps:
- Open the Swatches panel and double click the pattern swatch you want to edit. This will open the pattern artwork.
- Make changes to the pattern tile design. For example, replace shapes, edit colors or resize elements.
- Go to Object > Pattern > Edit Pattern to save changes.
Tips for creating seamless patterns
The key to making patterns look continuous and natural is blending the edges so the tile repeats seamlessly. Here are some tips:
- Use shapes without outlines so edges fade together. Or use feathered edges and gradients.
- Make your design symmetrical so opposites sides mirror each other.
- Avoid identifiable edges that look cropped or distinct when tiled.
- Add elements that cross over from one tile to another.
- Use patterns strategically in your design. Busy patterns can overwhelm a composition.
How to use patterns in Illustrator
Once you’ve created your custom patterns, using them on your canvas is easy. Here’s how to quickly fill areas with a pattern:
- Select the area you want to fill. This can be a shape, text or anything on the canvas.
- Click the pattern swatch in the Swatches panel to select it.
- Go to Edit > Fill to fill the selection with the pattern.
You can also adjust the pattern’s scale and angle for different effects:
- Scale – Go to Object > Transform > Scale to enlarge or shrink a pattern.
- Rotate – Go to Object > Transform > Rotate to change the pattern’s angle.
- Distort – Use effects like Warp or Liquify to bend and twist the pattern.
Advanced pattern techniques
For more complex patterns, try some of these advanced techniques:
- Layer multiple patterns using transparency and blending modes for unique combinations.
- Use Graphic Styles to save appearance attributes like scale and color. Then easily apply styles to patterns for quick effects.
- Blend between two patterns to morph from one design to another.
- Add varying elements like circles, dots and icons within a pattern for depth and interest.
- Incorporate rasterized images into patterns like photos or scanned textures.
Troubleshooting pattern issues
Here are some common pattern problems and how to fix them:
|Edges don’t blend seamlessly||Use feathered or faded edges. Make the design symmetrical.|
|Pattern looks blurry or pixelated||Create your design at actual size in a high resolution document.|
|Pattern tiles aren’t lining up cleanly||Adjust the position options when creating the pattern to change alignment.|
|Pattern overlaps itself||Reduce the overlap amount in the pattern options.|
|Pattern doesn’t fill the whole area||Check that there is no transparency locking the fill. Adjust scale as needed.|
Example patterns to get started
The best way to get comfortable making patterns is to practice! Try recreating some basic patterns like these to start:
- Polka dots – Simple circles in rows
- Stripes -colored bars in alternating hues
- Plaid – Crisscrossing straight lines
- Houndstooth – Angled black and white shapes
- Geometric shapes – Repeating blocks, circles and triangles
- Floral – Stylized repeating flowers and leaves
Use these quick example patterns to understand the process. Then get creative making your own designs!
Save your custom patterns
Don’t lose your hard work! Here are some tips for saving custom patterns:
- The pattern swatch is automatically added to the Swatches panel in that file. Click the menu arrow to save the swatch library.
- To reuse a pattern in other files, drag the swatch from the Swatches panel to the Creative Cloud Library.
- Open the pattern options and click New Artboard to save the design to your project.
- Click New Swatch in the pattern options to save directly back to the Swatches panel.
Where to find more patterns
Want to skip creating your own patterns? Try these sources:
- Adobe Stock – Thousands of high-quality pattern designs are available on Adobe’s stock site.
- Creative Market – Download unique patterns designed by artists.
- Graphic design marketplaces like Etsy often sell pattern packs.
- Photoshop document patterns shared online. Many free sites offer pattern downloads.
- Scanned textures like fabric, cardboard, paint, etc. make great patterns.
Customizing patterns gives limitless options for creating unique designs in Illustrator. Follow the process to turn any repeating design into a seamless pattern swatch. Save custom patterns to reuse endlessly. With a little practice, you’ll be filling projects with your own creative patterns in no time!