About patterns

Illustrator comes with many patterns that you can access in the Swatches panel and in the Illustrator Extras folder on the Illustrator CD. You can customize existing patterns and design patterns from scratch with any of the Illustrator tools. Patterns intended for filling objects (fill patterns) differ in design and tiling from patterns intended to be applied to a path with the Brushes panel (brush patterns). For best results, use fill patterns to fill objects and brush patterns to outline objects.

When designing patterns, it helps to understand how Adobe Illustrator tiles patterns:

  • All patterns tile from left to right from the ruler origin (by default, the bottom left of the artboard) to the opposite side of the artwork. To adjust where all patterns in your artwork begin tiling, you can change the file’s ruler origin.

    note: Ruler origin in CS5 is different from that in CS4. As a result, the appearance of tiling patterns may not match when you copy-paste objects from CS4 to CS5. For such objects, tiles can be transformed using the Transform panel to match the CS4 appearance.

  • Fill patterns typically have only one tile.

  • Brush patterns can consist of up to five tiles—for the sides, outer corners, inner corners, and the beginning and end of the path. The additional corner tiles enable brush patterns to flow smoothly at corners.

  • Fill patterns tile perpendicular to the x axis.

  • Brush patterns tile perpendicular to the path (with the top of the pattern tile always facing outward). Also, corner tiles rotate 90° clockwise each time the path changes direction.

  • Fill patterns tile only the artwork within the pattern bounding box—an unfilled and unstroked (non-printing) rectangle backmost in the artwork. For fill patterns, the bounding box acts as a mask.

  • Brush patterns tile artwork within the pattern bounding box and protruding from or grouped with it.

Guidelines for constructing pattern tiles

Follow these general guidelines for constructing pattern tiles:

  • To make the pattern less complex so that it prints more rapidly, remove any unnecessary detail from the pattern artwork, and group objects that are painted with the same color so that they are adjacent in the stacking order.

  • As you create your pattern tile, zoom in on the artwork to align elements more accurately, and then zoom out from the artwork for the final selection.

  • The more complex the pattern, the smaller should be the selection used to create it; however, the smaller the selection (and the pattern tile it creates), the more copies are needed to create the pattern. Thus, a 1‑inch-square tile is more efficient than a 1/4‑inch-square tile. If you are creating a simple pattern, you can include multiple copies of the object within the selection intended for the pattern tile.

  • To create simple line patterns, layer stroked lines of varying widths and colors, and place an unfilled, unstroked bounding box behind the lines to create a pattern tile.

  • To make an organic or textural pattern appear irregular, vary the tile artwork subtly for a more realistic effect. You can use the Roughen effect to control variations.

  • To ensure smooth tiling, close paths before defining the pattern.

  • Enlarge your artwork view and check for flaws before defining a pattern.

  • If you draw a bounding box around the artwork, make sure that the box is a rectangle, that it is the backmost object of the tile, and that it is unfilled and unstroked. To have Illustrator use this bounding box for a brush pattern, make sure that nothing protrudes from it.

Follow these additional guidelines when creating brush patterns:

  • When possible, confine artwork to an unpainted bounding box so that you can control how the pattern tiles.

  • Corner tiles must be square and have the same height as side tiles to align properly on the path. If you plan to use corner tiles with your brush pattern, align objects in the corner tiles horizontally with objects in the side tiles so that the patterns tile correctly.

  • Create special corner effects for brush patterns using corner tiles.

Create pattern swatches

  1. Create artwork for the pattern.
  2. (Optional) To control the spacing between pattern elements or to clip out portions of the pattern, draw a pattern bounding box (an unfilled rectangle) around the artwork you want to use as a pattern. Choose Object > Arrange > Send To Back to make the rectangle the backmost object. To use the rectangle as a bounding box for a brush or fill pattern, fill and stroke it with None.
  3. Use the Selection tool to select the artwork and bounding box (if any) that will make up the pattern tile.
  4. Do one of the following:
    • Choose Edit > Define Pattern, enter a name in the New Swatch dialog box, and click OK. The pattern displays in the Swatches panel.

    • Drag the artwork to the Swatches panel.

Create seamless geometric patterns

  1. Make sure that Smart Guides are turned on and that Snap To Point is selected in the View menu.
  2. Select the geometric object. For precise positioning, position the Direct Selection tool on one of the object’s anchor points.
  3. Begin dragging the object vertically from one of its anchor points; then press Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option+Shift (Mac OS) to copy the object and constrain its movement.
  4. When the copy of the object has snapped into place, release the mouse button and then release the keys.
  5. Using the Group Selection tool, Shift-click to select both objects, and begin dragging the objects horizontally by one of their anchor points; then press Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option+Shift (Mac OS) to create a copy and constrain the move.
    Selecting both objects (left) and dragging to create a copy (right)
    Select both objects (left) and drag to create a copy (right).

  6. When the copy of the object has snapped into place, release the mouse button, and then release the keys.
  7. Repeat steps 2 through 6 until you’ve built the pattern you want.
  8. Use the Rectangle tool  to do one of the following:
    • For a fill pattern, draw a bounding box from the center point of the upper left object to the center point of the lower right object.

    • For a brush pattern, draw a bounding box that surrounds the objects and coincides with their outer boundaries. If the pattern is to be a corner tile, hold down Shift as you drag to constrain the bounding box to a square.

    Bounding box for a fill pattern (left) compared to the bounding box for a brush pattern (right)
    Bounding box for a fill pattern (left) compared to the bounding box for a brush pattern (right)

  9. Paint the geometric objects the desired color.
  10. Save the geometric objects as a pattern swatch.

Construct irregularly textured patterns

  1. Choose View > Snap To Point.
  2. Draw a bounding box. If you are creating a brush pattern, skip to step 13.
  3. Draw the texture with the objects or lines that intersect only the left side of the bounding rectangle.
  4. Using the Direct Selection tool, select the texture and the rectangle, and place the pointer on the lower left corner of the rectangle.
  5. Drag the rectangle to the right; then press Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option+Shift (Mac OS) to create a copy and to constrain the move.
    Drawing texture on the left side of the bounding box (left), and then copying texture and rectangle (right)
    Draw texture on the left side of bounding box (left), and then copy texture and rectangle (right).

    When the upper left corner point of the copy snaps to the upper right corner point of the bounding box, release the mouse button, and then release the keys.

    Note:

    If you know the exact dimensions of the bounding box, you can select only the textures and use the Move command to specify a horizontal move the width of the rectangle. Be sure to click Copy instead of OK in the Move dialog box.

  6. Click outside the rectangle to deselect it.
  7. Select the right rectangle, and delete it.
  8. Continue drawing your texture with only the objects or lines that intersect the top side of the rectangle.
  9. When you finish with the top side only, select all of the lines or objects crossing the top side and the bounding box; then press Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option+Shift (Mac OS) and drag downward to create a copy and to constrain the move.
    Drawing texture on the top side of the bounding box (left), and then copying texture and rectangle (right)
    Draw texture on top side of bounding box (left), and then copy texture and rectangle (right).

  10. When the upper left corner point of the copy snaps to the lower left corner point of the rectangle, release the mouse button and then the keys.
  11. Deselect everything.
  12. Select the lower rectangle and any objects that don’t cross the top rectangle, and delete them.
  13. Using the Pencil tool, fill the middle of the rectangle with your texture. Be careful not to intersect any of the rectangle edges. Paint the texture.
  14. Save the artwork and rectangle as a pattern swatch.
    Defining artwork and rectangle as a pattern (left) compared to filling an area with the pattern (right)
    Defining artwork and rectangle as a pattern (left) compared to filling an area with the pattern (right)

Create corner tiles for brush patterns

Corner tiles lend special border effects when applying brush patterns. You can create corner tiles from scratch, or you can use a brush pattern’s side tile as the basis for designing complementary outer and inner (reflected –135°) corner tiles.

  1. Choose File > Open, locate a brush pattern file (supplied with Adobe Illustrator) that you want to use, and click Open.
  2. Choose Window > Brushes. Select the tile you want to use, and drag it to the center of your artwork.
  3. If the tile does not have a square bounding box, create a box that completely encompasses the artwork, the same height as the side tile. (Side tiles can be rectangular.) Fill and stroke the box with None, and choose Object > Arrange > Send To Back to make the box backmost in your artwork. (The bounding box helps you align the new tile.)
  4. Select the tile and the bounding box.
  5. To create an outer corner tile, use the Rotate tool  to rotate the tile and its bounding box 180°. Skip this step to create an inner corner tile.
    Pasted tile (left) compared to the same tile rotated 180° (right)
    Pasted tile (left) compared to the same tile rotated 180° (right)

  6. Using the Rotate tool, Alt+Shift-click (Windows) or Option+Shift-click (Mac OS) the lower left corner of the bounding box. Enter a value of 90°, and click Copy to create a copy flush left of the first tile. This tile becomes the corner tile.
  7. Using the Selection tool, drag the left tile down by the top right anchor point, pressing Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option+Shift (Mac OS) to make a copy and constrain the move so that you create a third tile beneath the second. When the copy’s upper right anchor point snaps to the corner tile’s lower right anchor point, release the mouse button and Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option+Shift (Mac OS).

    You use the third copy for alignment.

    Rotating 90° and copying left tile (left), and then Alt‑dragging (Windows) or Option-dragging (Mac OS) a corner tile to make a copy beneath it (right)
    Rotate 90° and copy left tile (left), and then Alt‑drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) a corner tile to make a copy beneath it (right).

  8. Select the artwork in the right tile. Drag it to the left, pressing Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option+Shift (Mac OS) so that the right-tile artwork overlaps that in the corner tile.
    Copying (left) and moving upper right tile over corner tile (right)
    Copy (left) and move upper right tile over corner tile (right).

  9. Edit the corner tile so that its artwork lines up vertically and horizontally with the tiles next to it. Select and delete any portions of the tile that you do not want in the corner, and edit the remaining art to create the final outer corner tile.
    Deleting unnecessary elements (left) to produce a final outer corner tile (right)
    Deleting unnecessary elements (left) produces a final outer corner tile (right).

  10. Select all of the tile parts including the bounding box.
  11. Save the new pattern as a swatch.
  12. Double-click the new pattern swatch to bring up the Swatch Options dialog box, name the tile as a variation of the original (for example, use the suffix “outer”), and click OK.

Modify patterns

  1. Make sure that nothing is selected in your artwork.
  2. In the Swatches panel, select the pattern swatch you want to modify.
  3. Drag the pattern swatch onto your artboard, and edit the pattern tile on the artboard.
  4. Select the pattern tile, and Alt‑drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) the modified pattern on top of the old pattern swatch in the Swatches panel.

    The pattern is replaced in the Swatches panel and is updated in the current file.

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