by dmohan


May 2, 2013

Creating Patterns with Adobe Illustrator

In this post, we’ll cover the basics of pattern creation as well as some tips and tricks.

First, a  brief history of patterns in Illustrator. Before Adobe® Illustrator® CS6 we used to create patterns by dragging art on to the Swatches panel or by choosing Edit > Define Pattern. There were limitations to this approach, such as not being able to like we cannot edit the patterns, did not have any options to create variations, see the patterns live while we create them etc. These limitations were the building blocks around which we started the feature discussions and eventually came up with the idea of this whole feature.

Let’s see how we create a pattern in Illustrator CS6. Here is the step by step process:

Step 1: Select the art which you want to use to create a pattern and then choose Object>Pattern>Make. This will enter you to a new Pattern Editing Mode (I’ll call it PEM) having a pattern tile. You can also enter PEM by simply choosing Object>Pattern>Make without selecting any art to start with a blank pattern.

Step 2:  In PEM you can edit your artwork and perform different operations. We have also introduced a Pattern Options panel (snapshot below) using which you can customize your pattern and choose from different tile types. You can use ‘Pattern Tile’ tool (at the top-left of the panel) to adjust the pattern tile. In PEM, you can also save a copy of the existing state of the pattern by clicking on ‘Save a Copy’ button in breadcrumb.

Pattern Options














Step 3:  Once you are done with the customizations, click on ‘Done’ button in breadcrumb to accept the changes. This will exit you from the Pattern Editing Mode and the Pattern Options panel will also close automatically. Your newly created pattern can be found in the Swatches panel.

Any pattern can be edited by double-clicking over it from the Swatches panel to enter PEM.

Panel Options

Pattern Tile tool: This tool is used to adjust the bounds of the tile. When selected the tile bounds shows tile widgets on corners and edges which can be used to adjust the size of the tile. Additionally, if the Brick tile type is selected, brick offset widgets are shown on the tile which allows user to change the brick tiling offset.

Shift and Ctrl/Cmd modifier keys can also be used with the tool to constrain the size proportions.

Tile Type: User gets 5 tile types– Grid, Brick by Row, Brick by Column, Hex by Row and Hex by Column. Selecting the tile type actually represents how the tiling will happen in the pattern.

Brick Offset: This option gets enabled when tile type is set to ‘Brick by Row/Column’. You can change the offset of brick tiling using this option. Brick offset can also be adjusted on the tile directly using the pattern tile tool.

Width/Height: Tile size can be changed using this option.

Size Tile to Art: When this option is turned ON, tile is resized to fit the artwork bounds and H/V spacing field is enabled with default value as 0 pt. When this option is turned ON, any art drawn in the pattern will always show specified H/V spacing with the copies by resizing the tile. Also, if any of the art in PEM is scaled such that the complete artwork bounds change then also the tile is resized to maintain the artwork bound spacing with the copies.

H/V Spacing: This is the horizontal and vertical spacing between the art bounds and the copies on each side. This value can be negative too, representing that the art is overlapping the copies.

Move Tile with Art: If this option in ON, then the tile will also move on moving all the contents inside PEM.

Overlap: This option shows how the copies will overlap the art from top/bottom or left/right. You can observe the overlap if the artwork bounds are greater than the tile bounds.

Copies: This represents number of copies/repetitions of the artwork being shown inside the PEM. This shows how the pattern will actually look when applied to an object.

Dim Copies to: It shows by what value the copies are being dimmed. Dimming the copies actually lets you focus more on the art. Unchecking this option shows how the actual pattern will look like.

Show Tile Bounds: Turning this option ON shows the tile (a solid line) on the artboard. Tile type can be grid, brick or a hexagon. Pattern Tile Bounds tool is used to adjust the tile. Tile basically represents how the layout of the overall pattern is. You can adjust the width and height of the tile to get the desired result.

Show Swatch Bounds: Turning this option ON shows the swatch bounds (a dotted line) on the artboard. To distinguish it from tile, always remember-
i) Swatch bounds are always square so at one side the pattern tile can be a rectangle with height may be half of the width, at the other side swatch bounds is always squarish.
ii) The second most important thing about the swatch bounds is that the repetitions for an object in the pattern are shown only if an object is inside the swatch bounds, overlapping the swatch bounds or touching it. Anything outside the swatch bounds is deleted when you exit the Pattern Editing Mode. So, this bound also acts as a demarcation line between the scratch area and the pattern definition area.
iii) If the tile is squarish Swatch bounds are same for a grid type pattern but it spans a greater area if the tile is rectangular such that height is approximately half of the width and vice versa. For brick and hexagonal tile, swatch bounds are still squarish and bigger than the tile bounds.


a) To keep the Pattern Options panel open and start the pattern creation process from the panel itself follow these steps:

  1. Do Window>Pattern Options to open the panel.
  2. From the panel flyout menu, uncheck the ‘Auto-Close on Exiting Edit Mode’. Unchecking this option will stop the panel from getting closed on PEM exit.
  3. Now, select any art and choose ‘Make Pattern’ from the panel flyout menu to enter PEM.
  4. There are various other options available in the flyout to speed-up your pattern creation process.

b) Keep a copy of the existing pattern if you want to edit any existing pattern.


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