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May 20

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator

2008 at 04.33 pm posted by Veerle Pieters

Sometimes when I create a pattern background in Illustrator I don’t end up with a Pattern Swatch. Instead, I create a Symbol of the repeating element and I create a whole background repeating this Symbol: duplicating 1, then 2, 4, 8, 16 and so on. It’s just not always that simple to create perfectly seamless patterns, especially with geometric forms. Today I’ll show you how to create a geometric pattern shape and fill a background with it using the method I just described.

Inspiration

I found this beautiful pattern on FFFFound and I thought, this is perfect for a tutorial. It's a beautiful geometric form with an interesting twist. It might look very simple at first glance, but it is a bit misleading. There is the mirrored effect, plus there is the vertical brown line to consider as well. After a bit of analyzing, I came up with the following method.

Creating a hexagon shape

Select the Polygon Tool from the Toolbox and draw a hexagon. Hold down the Shift Key while dragging the shape.

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Creating a hexagon shape

Give the hexagon a dark red fill and brown border of 75 pt. Open the Appearance Panel, select the brown Stroke of 75 pt and click the Duplicate Selected item icon at the bottom of the panel to add a stroke on top of the brown one. Give it an orange color and a thickness of 25 pt. This way we have a hexagon with 3 strokes with the exact same width: brown orange brown

Rotate the hexagon

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Rotate the hexagon

Select the Rotate Tool from the Toolbox and click in the right corner of the hexagon to us as rotation point. Hold down the shift and rotate the hexagon 90° as shown in the image above. You might want to turn Smart Guide on for this exercise. Use command/control + u to switch Smart Guides on and off.

Add a vertical line to the hexagon

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Add a vertical line to the hexagon

Make sure your Rulers are turned on: go to View > Show Rulers or hit command/control + r. Drag a vertical guide from the rulers to the middle of the hexagon. If you have Smart Guides turned on you should automatically notice where to release your mouse and it should also snap to the point. Select the Line Tool from the Toolbox and draw a vertical line by holding down the Shift key. Give the line the same dark brown color and a weight of 25 pt.

Turn strokes into fills

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Turn strokes into fills

Hit command/control + a to select everything. Go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke to turn the strokes into filles. Chances are the tick stroke of 75 pt is not turned into a fill. Select your object and go to the Appearance Panel select the 75 pt stroke from the panel and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke again. The reason why I turn the strokes into fills is because in the next stage I need to be able to make the object snap around its borders to make a perfectly seamless pattern background. Plus, I also need to tweak a little bit to make this pattern work.

Tweak the brown border

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Tweak the brown border

Select the Direct Selection Tool (white arrow) from the Toolbox and click the top corner point of the hexagon. Hold down the Shift key and drag the point down till it intersects with the inner brown border as shown in the image above.

Duplicate and rotate 180°

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Duplicate and rotate 180°

Select the Rotate Tool from the toolbox. Hold down Alt/Option Key and click somewhere to the top right of the hexagon just above the top right side of the orange hexagon as shown in the image above. In the window enter a value of 180 and click the Copy button to duplicate the object.

Move the duplicated object in place

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Move the duplicated object in place

Click and drag the bottom right corner of the orange hexagon using the Selection Tool (black arrow) and move the object until it intersects with the intersection corner of the inner brown hexagon and vertical brown line as shown in the picture above. Make sure Smart Guides are turned on so the object will snap to this point. It should be perfectly placed in that spot, that's why you need to turn on Smart Guides on and why we converted the Strokes into Fills. It makes the job much easier.

Create a pattern symbol

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Create a symbol

We're almost there now :) The shape we have now is the pattern that gets repeated to create a pattern background. Smart thing to do now is to create a Symbol of this. This way we keep our file size low and if we decide later to change something about this pattern. Add a Stroke, change its colors, change the shape or whatever, the whole pattern background will get updated. Make sure the Symbols panel is shown. Go to Window > Symbols to reveal the panel on your workspace. Hit Command/Control + a to select the entire object and drag it in the Symbols panel. Give it a name and hit the OK button.

Create pattern background from a pattern symbol

Creating geometric patterns in Illustrator - Create pattern background from a pattern symbol

The object is now turned into a Symbol including the one still on your canvas. Now you can create a whole background with this pattern Symbol. Duplicate and move the Symbol by holding down the Alt/Option Key and Shift Key. If you have the 2nd pattern in place, select both and do the same so you have 4 in a row, or column, depending how you've moved/duplicated them (horizontal or vertical). Then do the same again by duplicate 8 symbols, 16 and so on and on. Then duplicate in the other direction until you have your canvas covered in a pattern background as shown in the above image.

Create a Photoshop pattern

Create a Photoshop pattern

Maybe you've created a pattern that you would like to use in Photoshop or you need this pattern for your homepage. So you need to extract a rectangle fragment that will create a seamless pattern background. I've opened my document in Photoshop on 72 dpi. To define this geometric pattern you need to make sure that the bottom edge matches the top edge and the left edge matches the right edge.

Update: To create a pattern swatch in Photoshop, select the your pattern fragment and go to Edit > Define Pattern.

So there you have it. Hope you enjoy this exercise. Don't forget to experiment and be creative ;)

Want to learn more?

VECTORTUTS+ Vector Tutorials and More A good and not expensive source to learn more about Illustrator, Photoshop, or web design is by joining the Tuts+ sites. You get access to the source files for just $9 a month. So your ONE membership gives you access to members-only content for ALL the Plus sites. I've written a tutorial for the Vector Tuts section.


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permalink this comment Phil Tue May 20, 2008 at 06.03 pm

Excellent tutorial on a classic pattern.  Creating patterns like this has always eluded me and it’s very helpful to have some steps to follow in figuring it out.


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permalink this comment Stephane Tue May 20, 2008 at 07.50 pm

Excellent tutorial Veerle, though you obviously need to watch The Shining!


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permalink this comment KevBurnsJr Tue May 20, 2008 at 09.24 pm

Reminds me a of my tattoo!


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permalink this comment Niels Tue May 20, 2008 at 11.33 pm

Hi Veerle,

Thank you for making me spend another four hours at m pc playing around with illustrator. Thanks!


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permalink this comment Foliosus Wed May 21, 2008 at 04.57 am

That’s the exact pattern I’ve got on my dining room wall!  Great tutorial.


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permalink this comment maluo Wed May 21, 2008 at 06.36 am

awesome tutorial veer. amongst the tutorial blogs that I visit your stuffs is never dissapoiting. thank you veer. keep it up.


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permalink this comment ezuk Wed May 21, 2008 at 08.15 am

Wonderful! A very nice tutorial. Thank you.


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permalink this comment Bryan Wed May 21, 2008 at 11.34 am

Another great tute Veerle.  Thx :>


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permalink this comment DazzleCat Wed May 21, 2008 at 12.44 pm

top class tutorial!


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permalink this comment Andrew Thu May 22, 2008 at 03.40 am

Really useful tutorial, thank you so much!


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permalink this comment Joan M. Fri May 23, 2008 at 08.46 am

My favourite way of making vector patterns is using the tile clone tool in Inkscape. You just select a shape and indicate the kind of geometry you wish. More or less what you do with some Illustrator plugins like Symmetryworks or Tessella.
You can control everything in these tiles, from randomness of colour to transparency, tilt, scale… and you can even trace a bitmap with the pattern you generate.


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permalink this comment marieke verbiesen Fri May 23, 2008 at 09.00 am

goeie tutorial veerle, dankjewel


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permalink this comment michael Fri May 23, 2008 at 09.44 pm

Hi Veerle,
Thanks ! This is reaaly great tutorial !


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permalink this comment Gary Spedding Sat May 24, 2008 at 02.53 pm

Joan M. Care to give a hint on the Clone Geometry tricks in Inkscape? I just downloaded this free app and would like to try your suggestions.

Gary.


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permalink this comment revy Mon May 26, 2008 at 04.41 pm

Very cool pattern creation. I really dig the shapes and colours. I’ll be giving this a try soon! Cheers.


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permalink this comment Oliver Blake Tue May 27, 2008 at 05.34 pm

Nice tutorial, thanks for the tips. Will come in handy with my designs.


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permalink this comment Anna Thu May 29, 2008 at 05.12 pm

Really great stuff, but what id really like to know is how to create a pattern and apply it to a brush, can you help!


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permalink this comment Amanda Fri May 30, 2008 at 05.21 am

Good tutorial. Weird that its the exact pattern and colors of the carpet from The Shining.


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permalink this comment Oliver Blake Fri May 30, 2008 at 08.56 am

Really good tutorial, thanks.  Something new I can try with Illustrator and possibly use in the future.


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permalink this comment Veerle Fri May 30, 2008 at 09.42 am

Anna said:

Really great stuff, but what id really like to know is how to create a pattern and apply it to a brush, can you help!

Pattern brushes can only be applied on strokes and not fills, so not ideal for this exercise. I always achieve weird surprising results when I try to use pattern brushes. That’s why I hardly ever use them. Most of the time, when I use Brushes, I use the Scatter Brush or Art Brush now and then. For patterns I try to create pattern swatches or I try this method here.

Amanda said:

Good tutorial. Weird that its the exact pattern and colors of the carpet from The Shining.

Weird? It’s not weird. It’s the purpose of this tutorial all along. That’s why I linked to the picture of The Shining in the beginning of my article. What I call weird is that you didn’t see *that* ;)


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permalink this comment Samir Souza Reis Sat Jun 7, 2008 at 05.00 am

I was afraid nobody would mention the carpet from “The Shinning”. I did a replication myself from this pattern for a t-shirt project that didn’t work out the way I imagine.


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permalink this comment Ralf Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 06.12 pm

Great art and a fantastic tutorial.


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permalink this comment Germán Wed Jun 11, 2008 at 07.50 pm

Nice tutorial!
Maybe you can change the last step (Illustrator or Photoshop) by making the repetition module and: Edit > Define Pattern to fill any shape with that pattern :)
Greets!


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permalink this comment Veerle Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 12.53 pm

Germán said:

Maybe you can change the last step (Illustrator or Photoshop) by making the repetition module and: Edit > Define Pattern to fill any shape with that pattern :)

It’s added ;) You’re right I should have added this as well, now it’s more “complete”.


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permalink this comment Germán Thu Jun 12, 2008 at 01.22 pm

:D


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permalink this comment Andrey Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 08.18 pm

Excellent tutorial Veerle. Thanks and greetings!



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