Pattern Basics: Easy tiling patterns

Note: this is an older tutorial which I plan on updating.

I’ve been asked many times, “how do you make all those patterns?” So, here we go. All of my patterns are constructed in Adobe Illustrator. I’ve used Illustrator for years, and feel much more comfortable with it rather than any other vector package. So first off, boot up illustrator, open a new document and get ready.

Step 01
Step 01: Turn on the grid and draw a box. I usually use some vibrant color for the box shape; something I can trace against that I know is there just for reference. So grab the box tool, hold down shift, and draw a perfect box somewhere on the screen. Next, grab the line tool, go to the bottom right hand corner, and while holding shift, draw a line at a 45-degree angle from corner to top left corner, splitting the box. It should look something like figure A. We just split this box in two, and given ourselves a confined space to work in that will line up when replicated.

Step 02
Step 02: within that bottom half begin drawing your shapes and designs. Now, we want to keep in mind that our design will rotate and replicate on the bottom right hand corner, which is almost like our 0 xy point. Use a darker color of your choice to draw your shapes, using the underlying box as a guide. It’s easier to draw your design with the pen tool in a layer above your box shape. See figure B for an example. It’s also very important to line the elements up perfectly, or you’ll get little gaps in your design (unless that’s intended of course).

Step 03
Step 03: When you like your design, select the entire element, copy (control+c) and paste (control+v) it, and go to Object>Transform>Reflect and reflect on the vertical axis at a 90 degree angle. Next, rotate the object another 90 degrees, and line the two objects up to each other. You should have a mirror image of your original design lined up. See figure C.

If you haven’t already noticed, what we’ve done so far is design an 8th of the whole element, and copying and reflecting this element is a quarter of the finished element.

Step 04
Step 04: Now, copy the entire element, and paste it. Rotate it 90 degrees and line the elements up again. You now have half of your pattern element. Copy the entire thing again, paste it, rotate it 180 degrees, and line those back up. See figure D.There you go, you have your tile able pattern element. Now let’s color the thing, and make a pattern out of it.

Step 05
Step 05: Now copy the entire element, and boot up Photoshop. I still do all of my coloring in Photoshop, but I make sure to keep the original file at 300 dpi resolution, in case I ever need to print it. Now paste the entire element and play around with the colors. Once you get a look you like, start copying and pasting it like mad, and line each one up with one another. You should have one, big pattern. Now look for edges that line up, and crop the image for your tile-able background. Kind of like figure E.

That’s really all there is to it. Once you see examples of the process, it gets rather easy. The pattern you just created can tile vertical and horizontal, so next time we’ll focus on one axis.


  • Ben Lind July 13, 2009

    Very nice tutorial! I’m sure many people have trouble creating patterns (I know that I do), and that it will be helpful.

    One suggestion – you might want to go just a bit more in-depth on the last step of the tutorial (making it into a pattern. Currently you just say “look for edges that line up”, but I think some people might be confused by that.

  • I totally agree Ben. I’m in the process of redoing this tutorial and some others. I actually wrote this tutorial over two years ago, and have picked up a lot more since then. Stay tuned!

  • BenDesign July 14, 2009

    Nice Tutorial. 🙂

  • Natalia July 27, 2009

    I’ll stay tuned, you can be sure. Thanks a lot for all this information 🙂

  • wow nice tutorial..

  • clippingimages October 10, 2009

    Well defined tutorial. Thanks for sharing this nice post.

  • Youre talking about a Box Tool. I can’t find it…

  • Sorry, meant the square marque tool.

  • Sophie May 31, 2010

    I seriously admire your skills. Huaaaaahhhhhh! You made my day.

  • peace anklet August 16, 2010

    Great post.Thanks.

  • Great Tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks Evan, really helpful

  • theStoneMover October 23, 2011

    Thanks for the tutorial, its great. So when we should expect an updated version? Since you have said, you have picked up a lot after writing this tutorial, I am excited about the updated version.

  • WOW!! What a feature. It took up a bit of my time and was worth it!

  • What you do is great!
    Furthermore thanks for this tutorial.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *