Making seamless patterns in Illustrator

Posted on May 2, 2011 in adobe, design, tutorial | No Comments
Making seamless patterns in Illustrator

Making a pattern in Illustrator can be as simple as dragging any object or objects to the Swatch panel and you have got a pattern so to speak. But that is not what is called a seamless pattern where the pattern repeats itself in all directions.

To make a seamless pattern in Illustrator one needs to make the base pattern with in a square of any size. It’s convenient to start from the corners. An object placed on a corner has to be in every corner so that one-fourth of the object is inside the square. Objects on the side edges have to have a copy placed on the opposite edge. Objects that don’t touch the edges can be positioned anywhere. If you have an object on the

This may sound a bit complicated when you read this but this diagram explains this visually. On the right side the final pattern is shown.

illustratorpattern2

To define this simple pattern as an Illustrator pattern we have to have a square at the same size as the guidelines. This square has to be behind the pattern and it must NOT have any fill or stroke applied. It’s of the same size as the guidelines shown. It will make the boundaries of the seamless pattern. When this is ready, drag the whole thing into the Swatch panel and you got your pattern. Illustrator only uses what is inside this colorless square.

Instead of dragging into the Swatch panel you can go to Edit > Define Pattern… and it will add the pattern as a new swatch.

This pattern we just created is these gray crosses with transparent background and any background will show through. If we want a specific color fill we have to have an additional color square inside the pattern in the first place. This color square has to be below the crosses but above the colorless definition square. Make it a little bit bigger than the invisible square like this:

illustratorpattern3

Note that the fine white lines you may see in the pattern will not print. If you find it is irritating, you can get rid of them by turning off the Anti-Alias in the Illustrator Preference.

Now we got a very basic pattern done fairly easily and you should know by now what makes this tick. But there are a few things I would like to add to this process which will in the long run make it easier to do more complex work.

Move with precision.

To start with, make the square of a certain and even measurement. In this case I used a square of 60 by 60 millimeters. You can use any size you like. But what you gain by this is that when you place the first cross you can send a copy using the Move command and using the exact measurement.

You can access Move dialog box in at least three ways. While the object is selected, double click either the Selection tool or the Direct Selection tool (the black or the white arrows).

Shift + Cmd + M on the mac (Shift + Ctrl + M on a pc) will also present you with the dialog box.

Object > Transform > Move… is the third method.

Global Colors.

Use Global colors when you are making a pattern. This will give you a far greater control over your patterns because you can adjust the pattern colors after you have made it without having to redefine the pattern.

First select or define the colors you want you use in your pattern and drag them into the Swatch panel. Then make them Global by double clicking each color and check the Global checkmark in the dialog box that opens.

globalcolor3

You can also start by making a few boxes to match your colors and when you are satisfied you can make a Color Group by clicking the Color Group icon at the bottom of the Swatch panel. In the dialog box that opens be sure that Convert Process to Global is checked.

colorgrouppattern

Use Transform Effect.

Sending the objects of the pattern to a precise position using the Move command is great. If you are making patterns on a regular basis you would definitely benefit from using the Transform Effect. That way you only have to use one object as a basis and the effect will make copies in all directions you need. Let’s try this out.

Put one object over the upper left corner. In this case you don’t have to put the center of the object on precisely over the corner. We need to put the effect on the object three times, one for each copy direction. It sounds like more work and it is for the first time, but I will show you that this is worth it because we will get greater control and this is reusable for further pattern making.

So, with the cross or your own object selected we go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform.

distortandtransform

You may notice that I have put a keyboard shortcut for this because I use this effect a lot.

Put Preview on and for the first effect fill in like this:

1 Copy

Horizontal: 60 mm

Vertical: 0 mm

trasformeffectinuse

Have the Appearance panel open. It’s the gateway to all effects and if you need to edit the effect you do it through the Appearance panel.

Select the object again and apply a second Transform effect. Illustrator will give you a warning, telling you that you are applying the same effect again. Ignore this and keep on going. The warning is however useful and you should not turn it off. Some effects, like the 3D effect can be really CPU intensive if used more than once on the sam object and it is only good to get the warning.

For this second effect use the setting:

Horizontal: 0 mm

Vertical: 60 mm

This will put a copy in the lower left corner and also copy the upper right object down to the lower right corner.

For the third effect, the center object we use:

Horizontal: 30 mm

Vertical: 30 mm

This puts a copy of the object in the center but will also copy everything else too outside of the square area. But that is just fine although it’s not doing anything with our design.

Define the pattern by dragging to the Swatch panel or Edit > Define Pattern… (ignore the big cross overlapping the pattern)

transformeffectpattern

This setup allows you to edit just the object in the upper left corner and everything you do with it will be reflected to the other objects instantly. Try to scale the object, rotate it or what ever and make a new version of the pattern. Try also to change the number of copies just to get the hang of this method. Then apply the pattern to some box or circle and edit the colors that are already defined by double clicking them in the Swatch panel. Powerful? Yes, it is. But wait, there is more.

Graphic style.

To make all our effort reusable for later patterns we can save the setting as a Graphic Style. First select the object in the upper left corner and drag the Appearance icon of the object to the Graphic Style panel.

graphicstyles

Now, placing any object over a 60 by 60 mm square and applying the Graphic style it will add the same effect to that object. You will however have to edit the color. Use the Fill sector in the Appearance panel to do that. That is the obvious place to do this editing.

Scale and rotate.

Having made a patterns or series of patterns it’s now time check out a few ways to edit a pattern after it has been made.

I already mentioned that by using Global Colors you can change the colors inside the pattern This can save you a great amount of time.

We made the pattern in one size and that size may have nothing to do with the size you need to use in your artwork. There are few ways that a patterns works. To start with, a pattern is like an endless wallpaper inside the object you apply it to. There are a few ways Illustrator treats the pattern and there are settings you can use to change it.

To start with there is a setting in Illustrator Preferences > General that says: Transform Pattern Tiles. With it turned on any changes you make to an object using the Bounding Box will affect the pattern too. Scaling will distort the pattern and if you move the object the whole pattern move with it too. However, if you have this setting turned off, the pattern will stay in it’s place like a wallpaper while the object is moved or scaled.

If you want to scale or rotate the pattern or even move it slightly within the object the best tools are the Scale tool, the Rotate tool and the Move command. You can actually use anything in the Object > Transform menu.

Using the Scale and Rotate tools (and the other related transform tools) requires you to hold down the Alt/Option key and click to get the dialog box. At the bottom of these dialog box you can uncheck the Objects check box but check the Patterns check box and that way only transform the pattern. Remember that you can put your cursor in the percentage or degree fields and use the up and down arrows to modify the numbers and that the Shift key will multiply the number movement.

Yet another trick, that will most likely knock your socks off, is that you can directly transform the pattern only, within an object, bypassing the dialog boxes, by selecting the object, selecting the Scale tool as an example (hit the S key) and then hold down the Tilde key. Now drag with the mouse to transform. This is a blasting performance first time you see.

Redefine a pattern.

One way to learn about how fancy patterns are made is to see how others have made them. Illustrator has a great selection of patterns which you can open by going to the Swatch panels fly out menu down to the Open Swatch Library… and go to Patterns.

If you want to learn more about a pattern you can drag its icon to your artboard and check out how it’s built. The invisible square comes with it and you will see that many of the patterns extend the square. Taking a pattern like that to the artboard also gives you the opportunity to make changes to it and make a version of the original. Not only that, but you can Alt/Option-drag the changed pattern over the original one and by doing so, redefine the original one. Everything in your artwork that had already been colored with the pattern will instantly get the updated pattern applied to it.

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