Creating repeating patterns is a really fun aspect of design and can be used across homewares, product design, clothing and more.
Designer and illustrator Steven Bonner knows a thing or two about repeating patterns, and recently created some graphics for the official Scottish event hotel at this year’s Commonwealth Games. These designs were used to dress the hotel, appearing on everything from cushion covers and curtains, to press conference walls.
It quickly became apparent to Steven that designing the graphics as a repeating pattern was a more practical solution than simply producing a large panel. He set about designing a tiling pattern based on well-known Scottish icons and ornate decoration, tapping the feel of Damask woven fabrics.
In this tutorial, Steven details the techniques he used to create his patterns, using the theme of creative ‘career progression’, and shows how to reach the top of this chosen field.
Time to complete
Adobe Illustrator CS3 or later, Adobe Photoshop CS3 or later
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First, we’re going to create a set of curving steps in Illustrator that will form the main graphic element in our pattern.
Switch on Smart Guides in the View menu (
Cmd/Ctrl + U). Draw a circle using the Ellipse tool ( L), and using the Line Segment tool ( \), draw a line from the top anchor point on the circle to the bottom.
Copy and paste the line in front (
Cmd/Ctrl + F), then rotate it 90 degrees. Select both lines and duplicate the process until you have a split circle – as shown. Next, select everything and using the Pathfinder palette, divide everything into separate sections.
Select all (
Cmd/Ctrl + A), then Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel in the top menu. Enter the values 79°, 0°, 0°, with an extrude depth of 20pt. This flattens out the circle and raises the steps for a convincing effect.
Group all the parts into their individual step shapes and begin arranging them in ascending order. The Extrude & Bevel filter did the 3D work for us. All we have to do is create the feeling of height by nudging each step up a few notches, until we’re happy with the result.
Once you have one side of steps arranged in the way you want them, group them together. Duplicate this, then use the Reflect tool (
O) to flip the group horizontally. You should now have two sets of steps.
Don’t worry about colours at this stage. All we need is enough contrast in the shapes to give us clarity. We’ll look at our colour schemes later.
We should now add some people climbing the steps, so we need to source some photography to use as a base, from which to draw. I used some images from Shutterstock (
bit.ly/bemU1P, bit.ly/9d23Cp, bit.ly/bCV3iZ and bit.ly/9zTnlS). If you don’t have an account, you could do a Creative Commons search on Google, or simply go out and take your own pictures – they don’t need to be of high resolution, but just enough to give you the correct positions.
You can be as true to the base image as you like, or add in your own details, like portfolio cases and different clothing. I’ve retained a few simple details in mine by using custom brushes, as opposed to going for straight silhouettes. These brushes are included in the download supplied at the start of this tutorial.
Once your people are drawn, we need to start creating our Damask assets, from which we’ll build our main graphic. As before, look for some images of Damask to get a feel for the sorts of shapes it traditionally contains, and keep them handy as a reference.
With your reference to hand, use the Pen tool (P) to draw various Damask shapes, keeping in mind how they will fit together further down the line. Typically, shapes on Damask fabrics have leafy elements with decorative swirls that surround a centrepiece, so try to design your elements to fit that ideal. The ones I used are included in the download, if you want to use or adapt them.
Once you have your Damask assets drawn, it’s time to create some art icons. We’ll mix these in with the Damask shapes to give the pattern some obvious purpose and reinforce the ‘career progression’ theme. Again, use the Pen tool (
O) to create simple representations of whatever you like – I’ve drawn a iMac shape, a calligraphic pen nib and some french curves.
You should now have a good bank of assets to use in the final composition. Start arranging them into a more traditional Damask crest – using your reference to make sure you keep it looking authentic.
In this case, I’ve integrated some of my art shapes into the design to give it that ‘second look’ factor. Don’t be afraid to hide these parts a little in the design as it adds interest for the viewer and gives them something to discover.
Now you have a complete shape, it’s time to start creating the repeating pattern.
First, create a new Illustrator A4 document, and place your finished crest in the centre. When making patterns, make sure to use the Align tools to get perfect alignment – never by eye.
Make a copy of your crest, and align it in the centre of the left-hand-side edge of the canvas, then again to the top edge. Make another copy and align it to the bottom edge, making sure you use Smart Guides to ensure perfect placement.
Once you’re happy with the result, do the same on the right-hand edge of the canvas. You should now have a rough pattern that will repeat to infinity.
You can quickly test this by drawing a rectangle the same size as the canvas, and masking your pattern with it. To do this, select everything, then hit
Cmd/Ctrl + 7. Drag a copy to each repeating side to check it tiles correctly. If not, make the necessary adjustments – a nudge or two – and test again.
Once you’re happy with the way your pattern is tiling, you can build up a colour scheme for it. I’ve chosen a monochromatic palette of blue and green shades to give the finished pattern a subtle, classy finish.
At this point, the pattern is looking a little bare, so I’ve decided to add in some extra details in the form of pinstripes and a wave pattern that surrounds the crest. Again, the principles of making a tile mean you need to ensure that whatever leaves the left-hand pasteboard, will match up on the right-hand side. This is very easy when dealing with straight vertical or horizontal lines, but more difficult when using angles, so practice with something like this first.
When you’re happy with the final design, draw a mask (as when testing the tile). Mask the pattern tile, then export it as an EPS file. If you try to copy and paste the masked tile straight into Photoshop, it will include the masked elements as part of the information that will have to be deleted.
Open the EPS file in Photoshop. Go to
Edit > Define Pattern. Name the pattern ‘Damask’, and click OK. The pattern is now part of your pattern library within Photoshop and can be used anytime.
Finally, test your pattern by creating a new document at a size larger than A4, and select
Edit > Fill > Custom Pattern, then click OK. You should now have a seamless Damask pattern that can be applied to anything from fabric to wallpaper.