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Nov 19

Creating seamless patterns in Illustrator

2007 at 02.11 pm posted by Veerle Pieters

One of the frequest questions I get from readers is how you create seamless patterns in Illustrator. Today I’ll explain how I create such patterns and how you can scale and rotate them using different settings in the Scale tool options.

Draw your pattern

First we start by drawing a square. Select the Rectangle tool and draw a sqaure holding down the shift key. With the square still selected, hit command/control + 5 to make a guide from the square (View > Guides > Make Guides). Make sure guides are on so you see the square. Go to View > Guides > Show Guides (or hit command/control + semicolon). This square guide is the placeholder for our pattern swatch.


Create an illustration inside the square to be used as basis for the pattern. I've chosen for an ornament (see image on the left) which I'll use as central element for my pattern swatch. In the top left corner I have also a smaller ornament to make the pattern more interesting.

Reflect the corner ornament

You probably don't see this in the picture, but in the very top left corner I've used a quarter of a circle. If I have a quarter of a circle in each corner of the square, I'll get a perfect circle once the pattern is ready and applied.


First make sure Smart Guides are turned on. Go to View > Smart Guides and make sure you see the check mark (use command/control + u to switch Smart Guide on or off). Select the ornament in in the corner and select the Reflect tool from the toolbox. Hold down the alt/option key and click precisely in the center of the square. With Smart Guides on you'll see the word 'center' if you are in the right spot. In the Reflect options window, make sure Preview is checked. Select Vertical as Axis and click Copy to duplicate the corner element. Double check if the corner is precisely positioned. Zoom in and correct if needed. With Smart Guides on this should go pretty easy. This double checking is important and needed if you want your pattern to be absolutely prefect. If the corner is not 100% perfectly placed on the guides, the pattern will show a tiny little gap or other imperfections in the circle. So this is absolutely crucial.

Reflect again and rotate the center ornament

Select both corner ornaments and alt/option click in the center of the square again. Select Horizontal Axis and hit Copy to duplicate and reflect both corners vertically.


Now select the central ornament and select the Rotate tool from the toolbox. Alt/option click in the center of the square. Enter 180 degrees in the Angle field and check preview. Hit the copy button to rotate and duplicate the ornament. Again, double check the corners so they are absolutely perfectly placed in each corner.

Create variations


It's hard to tell what the actual result will be once the pattern is applied. So I've created a variation of the first one just to have a bit of choice. The 2nd one has bigger ornaments in the corner and the central ornament is smaller.

Create a pattern swatches


Select all corners and central ornaments by dragging a selection around the square. Now drag the selection into the Swatches palette. Now you have created a pattern swatch.

Pattern applied

Draw a big rectangle and give it the pattern fill you've just created.


Above you'll see the end result of the 2nd pattern.

Scaling a pattern


You can scale a pattern within an object, or you can scale the object without scaling the pattern.

Rotating a pattern


The same goes for rotating. You can rotate a pattern without rotating the object or you can rotate the object without rotating the pattern. Of course you can scale or rotate both pattern and object together as well.

That's it ;) Hope you've enjoyed this one again and learned a thing or two ;)

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.




permalink this comment pommatt Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 03.04 pm

It really good tutor. I love it. i hope you will have a good tutor more. thank you



permalink this comment qureyoon Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 03.42 pm

lotsa good tips here ! thank you for sharing :D



permalink this comment Tim Van Damme Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04.17 pm

When you were a small girl, did you happen to fall into a large pot of magic potion? Because I believe these are true super-powers!



permalink this comment revy Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04.24 pm

nice! I was wondering how to do something like this in illustrator, but i have always shied away and stuck with photoshop.



permalink this comment Sergio Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04.44 pm

that was amazing Verlee! great stuff, ill make my own patterns ;)



permalink this comment Misty Beier Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 04.55 pm

Hi Veerle!
Great tutorial. I can’t wait to try it out. Maybe it will help me create some designs or even some design ideas for my new web site.



permalink this comment Humberto Oliveira Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 05.07 pm

Hi Veerle, I’m a huge fan of your tutorials, all of them have a superb quality!

Thanks once again for sharing your tips with us humble designers!



permalink this comment gumail Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 05.31 pm

Great job! I Followed the Tutorial but using Gimp ( The best free image editor in my opinion). Now some tips: Save the pattern with ‘pat’ extension inside the ‘patterns’ folder. Close and Open the Gimp, and the pattern is ready to use!



permalink this comment Stijn Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 06.19 pm

Thanks Veerle. I’ll suggest this article to my teacher when we’re reviewing Illustrator tomorrow afternoon. It’ll sure won’t be easy to create a pattern as good as yours, but I’d gladly take that challenge. :)



permalink this comment ballookey Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 08.14 pm

I found your dynamic business card tutorial extremely helpful for making seamless patterns. I create a square, draw in much of the artistic detail, group them, then use the Transform effects as described in your tutorial to make a 3 x 3 swatch of the repeating pattern. Then I edit the original (central) swatch, watching all the duplicates update so I can make a really pleasing pattern that isn’t too grid-like, or obviously predictable. Then I delete all the effects and use the original square to make a swatch tile.



permalink this comment Karl Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 10.45 pm

Nice tutorial. This could actually be cool for my walls I’m renewing. Love the grey/gold color.



permalink this comment Kelly Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 11.02 pm

Hi Veerle, thanks for sharing this great tutorial! Looking forward to some more tutorials. :)



permalink this comment Ali Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 12.25 am

Awesome Tutorial! Thanks Veerle



permalink this comment Heather Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 02.02 am

Awesome! I’ve been meaning to learn this in the newer version of AI, and I’ve never taken the time. (I guess I haven’t had a client need something like this in a while!)



permalink this comment firewalker Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 05.56 am

I found your tutorial easy to understand! Thank you very much for the knowledge.



permalink this comment Dwight Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 09.42 am

Hi Veerle,

thanks for this great tutorial (as always). I use Illustrator quite often but got stuck most of the time because I’m pretty used to how things work in Photoshop. Thanks to you, I’ve got things cleared up :-)

Ps. misschien kan ik beter in Nederlands typen, dat Engels gaat me niet altijd goed af :-p



permalink this comment Jean Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 11.00 am

since I found your website, Illustrator is not a big question mark anymore!
thank you!



permalink this comment Polo Tue Nov 20, 2007 at 11.18 am

Great tutorial as usual, thank a lot !



permalink this comment Mach Wed Nov 21, 2007 at 04.49 am

great ;you’re good.i’m learning a lot with your tutorials;keep em coming…thanks a lot



permalink this comment Chamara Wed Nov 21, 2007 at 07.12 am

Wow this is great, we have more to learn, thanx for such awesome tutorials!!!



permalink this comment Glen L Graham Thu Nov 22, 2007 at 03.41 am

I really like your blog it is very clean .The content is great keep up the good work.



permalink this comment emol Fri Nov 23, 2007 at 12.21 am

wow simple but great tutorial…



permalink this comment srinoo Fri Nov 23, 2007 at 08.50 am

wow very nice tut.. can i use this bg for my blog? :)



permalink this comment Jennifer Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 10.13 am

hey verlee great tut (like everytime ;-) thank for sharing your knowledge in a so extensive step by step article.



permalink this comment Lee Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 04.36 pm

Great tutorial. Your site is a great resource for Illustrators - especially beginners as your tutorials are so easy to follow



permalink this comment Jeremy Newton Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 09.40 pm

Hi Verlee,

As an illustrator nut myself, it is nice to see somebody putting forth such great tutorials. As everybody knows there is more than one way to fry a fish. This is also true in illustrator.  There is always at least 2 ways to achieve the same result.  I enjoy reading tutorials such as yours to improve my skills within the program and see if you are doing things the same way or a more efficient way.  Thanks for the great tutorials and keep up the good work.



permalink this comment Nebogo Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 10.34 pm

Thanks. Good idea.



permalink this comment Amber Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 12.00 am

Awesome tutorial, veerle! :0)



permalink this comment Gordon Mackay Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 06.50 pm

Thanks very much for all the tutorials you publish, they are always interesting and up-to-date!



permalink this comment Antoine Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 09.51 am

Wow, very nice one Veerle, thanks a lot for this tuto!!




permalink this comment LéanneC.E. Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 11.17 am

Great tutorial, and well explained. I haven’t worked with Illustrator yet (only the trial), so I’m looking forward to testing this tutorial out, when I purchase the software.



permalink this comment James Fri Nov 30, 2007 at 07.32 pm

Keep the great advice coming



permalink this comment Steve Tue Dec 4, 2007 at 12.31 am

Thanks, for so simple tutor.
Realy great



permalink this comment ties Tue Dec 4, 2007 at 03.46 pm

Hee Veerle,

Thanks for all the Illustrator tutorials. I learn a lot from them, some of them are usefull for my students too. Keep them coming.



permalink this comment Blondini Mon Dec 10, 2007 at 09.26 pm

So cool! & serendipidously timely.



permalink this comment Amanda Vlahakis Tue Dec 18, 2007 at 12.20 am

That is a fantastic tutorial, I only scan read it and still learned to how to do something new within a minute.

I do have a question though. I’ve noticed the pattern seems to loose it’s vector qualities (does it?) when swatch format. I mean the swatch square no longer seems to have layers, just one layer.

Can I use the swatchs I create for print quality images for print layouts without quality issues?




permalink this comment Veerle Tue Dec 18, 2007 at 11.33 am

Amanda Vlahakis said:

I’ve noticed the pattern seems to loose it’s vector qualities (does it?) when swatch format. I mean the swatch square no longer seems to have layers, just one layer.

No it doesn’t loose quality, it’s still vector based and can be scaled or transformed in any way without loosing quality.

Can I use the swatchs I create for print quality images for print layouts without quality issues?

Yes you can. You can always opt to expand the pattern, so they become paths again, but normally you don’t need to.



permalink this comment Amanda Vlahakis Tue Dec 18, 2007 at 12.06 pm

Thanks :)



permalink this comment laladias Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 12.04 am

Hi Veerle,

I am a newbee graphic designer and still learning the tricks. I simply loved this line illustration for this tutorial! But I wonder how you make the curvy rounded vertical shapes so smooth? Is there a tutorial on how to make curved lines?
It would be very appreciated.
By the way, thank you so much for sharing all these information in your blog. It is a great help but above all, very inspiring.



permalink this comment Veerle Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 10.02 am

laladias said:

But I wonder how you make the curvy rounded vertical shapes so smooth? Is there a tutorial on how to make curved lines?

I’ve first sketched them on paper, scanned it and then used the Pen tool to draw these. Some things are a bit hard to explain. It just takes time to learn. You can read about my Swirly curls article to use the Spiral tool for the curls and there is my article on Illustrator Pen tool exercises as well. This should give you a good basis to start.

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