Create a seamless repeat pattern in Adobe Illustrator with MIMI!!!

Create a seamless repeat pattern in Adobe Illustrator with MIMI!!!

31st Mar 2019

How to create a repeat pattern, isn't something that comes naturally to everyone, so we asked one of our amazing Printed and co. designers, Mimi Hammill, who lives and breathes this stuff, if she would create a guest blog post on exactly how she goes about creating a repeating pattern in Illustrator. If Illustrator isn't a program you use, hold tight, we'll be doing one for Photoshop later in the series. 

So, we'll hand you over to the talented and lovely Mimi. You can also find lots more of Mimi's beautiful designer fabric designs here sold by the meter on any of our fabric qualities or bought as short run batch 'sewn up' accessories here or once you have designed your own amazing pattern, you can order fabric or your own sewn up products

So you know how to draw shapes and move them about in Adobe Illustrator, and you know it’s a powerful programme for pattern making… but you’ve never quite worked out how? Well then you’re my favourite kind of person to spend a morning with, because I love showing people how to make vector-based patterns in Illustrator.

We’re going to keep it really simple and make a basic repeat using nothing but rectangles. Hopefully, once you’ve done it a few times, you‘ll start to imagine how you can make patterns using more elaborate shapes, hand-drawn elements, lots of layers, textures… the possibilities are endless.

I assume you have the software and a basic knowledge of Adobe Illustrator, but I’ll try to explain what I’m doing very clearly so that it’s as accessible as possible. Also, I’m going to build this pattern the old-school way. Mainly because I think it explains the principles better than just clicking on the pattern tool and hoping for the best. Understanding these principles will enable you to build more complex patterns in the long-run too, as the pattern tool is a relatively blunt instrument.

OK, let’s get started. If possible, follow along and build your own pattern in Illustrator as we go.

1. Let’s start by creating a new document with a 20cm square artboard.

2. We’ll draw a quick two-minute doodle – I’ve just drawn a simple collection of shapes using the rectangle tool with a black fill. Nothing fancy. Select your shapes and group them together (⌘a, ⌘g).

3. Place the group of shapes somewhere over the top left-hand corner of the artboard – the precise positioning is unimportant – and duplicate it 20cm horizontally (Select the group using the selection tool and press ‘enter’. In the dialogue box that opens, type 20cm into the horizontal field and 0 into the vertical field and click Copy.)

4. If you look closely you will see that the point at which the group enters the artboard on the left-hand-side corresponds precisely with the point at which the group exits the artboard on the right-hand-side. This is the start of your seamlessly repeating pattern tile.

5. Now you have to duplicate the groups vertically. Select both groups (click on each object using the selection tool while holding down the shift key). Press the ‘enter’ key, type 0 into the horizontal field, 20cm into the vertical field and click Copy.)

6. Now the point at which the group enters the artboard at the top edge corresponds precisely with the point at which the group exits the artboard at the bottom edge.

7. The middle looks a wee bit bare, so we can fill that however we like. Let’s pop a few rectangles in there so that the finished pattern doesn’t have an unwanted gap.

8. We’ve done all the hard work now, but we have to tell Illustrator where the edges of our pattern tile are. We’re going to use the rectangle tool and draw a 20cm square.

9. Here’s the 20cm square, centred perfectly on the artboard. We’ll give it a blue fill just so that we can see it clearly.

10. We have to send the 20cm square to the back – imagine putting the piece of paper with the blue square drawn on it right to the bottom of the stack of papers. Select the blue square with your selection tool and click Object > Arrange > Send to back, or use the shortcut ⌘[

11. But Illustrator still won’t understand that we’re setting this as the size of the pattern tile. To do that the blue square MUST HAVE NO FILL AND NO STROKE. Set those values in your tools panel (or by selecting the square and using the shortcuts / x /) We’re going to refer to this as the pattern tile bounding box – it’s the most important bit of the pattern so it deserves a long fancy name. With no fill and no stroke, it looks like the square has completely disappeared, but it hasn’t (check in your layers panel, it’ll still be there) and despite being invisible and hidden away at the back, it’s the cornerstone of the pattern.

12. Next, select ALL the pattern elements on your artboard, including your bounding box (⌘a) and drag the whole lot over to the swatches panel. Just select it all, drag it over and release the mouse when your cursor is hovering over the swatches panel. You will see a new tile appear in the swatches panel. This is your pattern swatch – you did it!

13. Now it’s crunch time: you have to test your pattern swatch to make sure that it’s seamless. Zoom out a bit (⌘-) and in an empty bit of your workspace, use your rectangle tool to make a shape several times larger than your pattern tile. The dimensions and position don’t matter, you’re just testing the repeat.

14. We want to fill this big empty shape with the pattern. Using the selection tool, select the shape and (with your fill uppermost on the tools panel) click on the pattern tile in the swatches panel.

15. Ta daa! Now you’ve got to study it very carefully to check that it’s seamless. You might see some hairline white lines along the edges of the pattern tile. This could be a mistake (but you’re very good at this, so I doubt it), or it might be a digital artifact that won’t show up on your printed fabric. To check, zoom right in (use magnifying glass tool or the ⌘+ shortcut a few times) on the area where the hairlines meet. More often than not you’ll see that they disappear. If they stubbornly remain, you might have an error on your pattern tile (like a box with a stroke for example) that needs further investigation.

16. In this case, you can see that when I zoom right in close, the hairlines have disappeared. So it’s fine, no need to worry about it. We made a pattern! But it’s all a bit monochrome for my tastes, let’s MiMi it up a bit and add some more movement and some smoking hot SS19 colours…

17. Now we’re talking! From a simple two-minute sketch, drawn using only the rectangle tool, we’ve come up with a beautiful, colourful, digital, geometric pattern. A seamlessly repeating pattern tile that we can export as a jpeg and upload to the BeFabBeCreative website to print on any one of their lucious bases. It’ll be fabric in my hands within 10 working days!


* Any object that enters the pattern tile on the left edge must leave it at the exact corresponding point on the right edge. The distance between the two is the width of your pattern tile.

* Any object that enters the pattern tile on the top edge must leave it at the exact corresponding point on the bottom edge. The distance between the two is the height of your pattern tile.

* Illustrator recognises the edges of the bounding box to create your pattern tile, NOT the edges of your artboard. However, in this example I have kept the artboard and the bounding box dimensions the same. To avoid confusion I recommend that you do too, at least to begin with.

* If your pattern tile doesn’t fill correctly when you test it in a larger shape, the most common problem is with that all-important bounding box – the box that tells illustrator where the boundaries of your pattern tile are.

a) The pattern tile bounding box MUST be positioned right at the very back of the artwork (placed underneath all the other ‘sheets of paper’ or objects in your layers). Go through your layers panel carefully to find out where your bounding box is and send it right to the back.

b) The pattern tile bounding box MUST have no stroke and no fill.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed showing you how to create a basic repeat in Illustrator. If you have any questions, please feel very welcome to email me using the form here. Happy pattern making!

You can also check out some of the truly amazing scarves Mimi designs and prints with us on her website here.

Printed on our English woven Linen and made into one of our 'Sewn Up' Flat Pencil Cases

Have an idea for another 'How to' that you'd like to know more about, or maybe you have something you think would be great to share yourself? Let us know your ideas here and we'll get in touch!