Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Create beautiful repeating patterns

If you look closely at a true repeating pattern you can see the 'repeat square', the area of the image that repeats along vertical and horizontal seams where one section flows into the next

Patterns are everywhere. Look around and you’ll probably see one right now. It might be a pattern on a tie, a shirt, trousers, a paper cup, bathroom tiles, an umbrella, on a bag, a sofa, wrapping paper… the list goes on and on.

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Patterns add decoration and beauty to many consumer products. If you look closely at a true repeating pattern you can see the ‘repeat square’, the area of the image that repeats along vertical and horizontal seams where one section flows into the next.

In this tutorial we will use vector elements to create a four-way repeating pattern swatch in Adobe Illustrator and then mask the pattern into several mock products. So, let’s get started!

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Step 1 The key to a four-way toss are the seams of the ‘repeat square’. By arranging elements within a square making sure the top/bottom and left/right seams match, Illustrator can generate a flawless repeat pattern swatch.

Basically, anything that overlaps each side (I’ll be calling the sides ‘seams’ from now on) of the square must also cross the opposite seam of the square in the exact same spot. I’ll refer to these doubled elements as ‘mates’. The file included with this tutorial shows the seams of a repeat square with basic shapes. You can use that square and the shapes as a guide for creating your own repeat with your art.

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Step 2 The success of this project has everything to do with exact precision, so take a deep breath, try to remember all those geometry lessons from school and say to yourself “the grid and guides are my friends”. You’ll see that this is very important in a few steps. In Illustrator choose File > New. Pick a size you feel comfortable with, I like 44cm so I have space around the square. Turn on the Grid and unlock the guides.

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