illustration

How to Design Repeating Patterns

August 18, 2014

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I’ve never really done a “How to” or DIY post before, mostly because I just don’t feel like enough of an expert on anything to clog up the internet with yet another DIY. However, making patterns is something that differs enough artist-to-artist that I thought it would be fun to share my favorite technique and maybe inspire someone to try something new. :)

This is a pretty well-known technique for designing a seamless, repeating pattern. I remember how much it totally blew my mind the first time I learned it! In my opinion, this is the easiest way to design a really complicated pattern–although what I’m sharing today is pretty simple.

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Start out with a drawing or shape you want to use in your pattern.

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Once you have your starting image, you want to divide it in half horizontally and flip each half upside down. You can do this digitally or on a good old fashioned piece of paper. It’s important to make sure both halves touch the edge of your canvas exactly.

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Now we’re going to repeat that step, but vertically. So select each half and flip it vertically. If you’re working with paper, you’ll need to first tape together the pieces you cut in the previous step. Make sure you line up the edges exactly.

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Now you have this kind of scary looking, sliced up image. The next step is to just fill in that empty space with the rest of the drawings/designs you want. I love this technique because you can kind of make up a pattern as you go. Since you’re filling in blank space, you can kind of see where the drawing takes you and add things organically.

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I went with this simple, easy diamond pattern.

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Voila! You can save your pattern and tile it to see how it looks in action.

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I love that you can flip it in either direction. So fun!

If you’d like to see another artist apply this technique, check out this amazing tutorial on Design*Sponge by Julia Rothman! Hers is a great example of just how intense and detailed you can get.

Do you have a different method you like to use when designing patterns? I love seeing what others make!

  • So helpful Michelle! <3

  • For some reason no matter how many times this is explained to me, I don’t seem to get it, but since you used a larger pattern, I think it’s a lot easier to see what’s going on! Going to have to try it!!!! Also the pattern you made for this is SUPER SUPER CUTE omg ;o;

    • Thank you, Jessie!! :’) <3

      Haha, seriously, it blew my mind the first time someone showed me and I was like "whaaatt?!" Every time I do it myself I have a moment of panic as I'm flipping things like "Umm, did I do this right?" It helps to try it on paper and physically cut and paste. It makes it easier to wrap your brain around it.

  • Kerry

    Wow – this is so helpful! Thank you for the easy to follow explanation. Now I have another project for my to do list :)

  • Erika_K_M

    I love this design! And the dog looks like a dachshund! :)

  • cool! I love making patterns. my favorite way is to make a main focal point piece and stagger smaller pieces around it. Illustrator CS6 has a really awesome pattern tool that makes it so much easier to create patterns, it’s kind of addicting :)
    and wow the link you attached for the elaborate pattern is crazy awesome!

    • I do it that way a lot, too, Kim! I know I should use Illustrator more for this kind of thing since that’s its specialty, but my comfort zone is always Photoshop first. Haha. :S

  • Awesome tutorial!! Going to mess with some patterns soon. c:

    Harlynn
    mindyourmadness.blogspot.com

  • Great post! What a helpful tip!

  • LOVE THIS!!

  • Love it! This is super helpful, as I’ve always wanted to design my own backgrounds for my blog and Twitter, but never really looked into how to make repeating patterns and such. Also, your drawings are adorable. Those girls have great style.

  • Wonderful idea! I love upside-down element of some of the tiles. THANK YOU! I’d loooooovr more DIYs and design tips :)

  • Marisa Lather

    I love this article!! Great way to share your secrets. ;)