Quick and Easy Guide to Creating Custom Illustrator Patterns

By Esben

Making a pattern in Illustrator is an excellent tutorial for beginners. Not only does it help you gain some familiarity with the Illustrator tools, but patterns can also be applied across all kinds of different projects, including posters, websites and flyers. Today everyone can find a large numbers of patterns on the web, even pattern generators, but making your own custom pattern has a certain sense of satisfaction and of course, you get some great practice in with Illustrator.

Creative Curio with Pattern Texture

There are a few approaches to making your own pattern.

1. Find some vector images, play around and make something you like.

2. Some fonts come with ornaments that can be useful. dafont.com is one resource if you don’t have professional fonts that include ornaments.

3. Drawing it yourself.

Let’s draw to get a feel for this:

Draw a Mickey Mouse symbol and align the two top circles so they just touch each other (it doesn’t need to be too precise). The bottom circle is the important one; it indicates the middle of the shape.

With the two “ears” selected, go to the Pathfinder panel and click the “Add to shape area” button (remember to hit the Expand button, too, or check out this great tip from Vectips!). http://vectips.com/tips/simultaneously-expand-when-creating-compund-shapes/

Step 1: "Mickey Mouse" head

Now you have two circles as one shape, and it’s time to start molding it into a new shape. We only need to make one shape because we can duplicate it for the other sides.

Tip: Select “show grid” and “snap to grid” from the View menu, if you want more precision (shown in images).

Morphing the Shapes

The figure above, was made in 30 seconds… really simple! Just use the Direct Select tool (white arrow, A) and pull those handles and anchors around, until you get something you like.

Completed Shape

Copy the shape to the other sides. Don’t worry if they are not aligned; we will look into that later. Now make the center circle smaller, since it’s too big and overpowering for our delicate ornament.

Copy Shapes to All Sides

Draw another circle, then bend it and expand it, to fill the gap between the shapes (the oblong teardrop shape in between the funny shapes we just made).

Secondary Shape

Align the whole ornament you just made with the center in position 0,0 on the canvas (lower left corner); it just makes it easier to align everything else.

Use the Alignment panel to make the shapes align perfectly centered.

The ornament shape is done. You can always add more detail, depending what your goal is.

Completely Ornament

If the pattern will be the central theme, then details to the shape might be advisable, but if it’s for the background on a webpage, then make your shape simple, since it will hardly be visible and you don’t want to draw too much attention to it.

Tip: if you like your shape and want to use it for different things, you can easily turn it into a Symbol!

Making the Pattern

Copy the whole shape 4 times, so that you have five all together. Draw a rectangle (no stroke) and place it beneath the first shape you made. Place the other 4 shapes in the corners of the rectangle with their middles on the very corner.

Creating the Pattern, Step 1

Use the Transform palette to align the ornament shapes so they fit exactly in the corners. This is important!

Select all the shapes—except for the middle shape—and in pathfinder, hit “Divide”. The middle shape disappears, but don’t worry, it’s just placed behind the rectangle.

Creating the Pattern, step 2

With the Direct Selection tool (white arrow), delete the parts outside the rectangle. Be careful you do not accidentally delete anchors inside the box. Use “outline mode” (cmd/ctrl y) if you want to be sure everything is deleted. Bring the middle shape back up above the pattern square using the Layers panel.

Deleting Excess Paths

Give the shapes and rectangle colors as you see fit.

Using and Aapplying Your New Pattern

Select the whole rectangle and the ornaments. Drag and drop them into the Swatches panel, and there you have it! You can draw circles, rectangles and so forth and give them a fill with your new pattern swatch.

Export the single patch for web and save it as a gif (size should be 30-60px). Import it into Photoshop, InDesign or Flash.

Tip: You can also drag and drop the pattern into the Brush panel to make a new pattern brush. The options are really limitless!

Second Tip: You can divide your middle shape into four sections and use those sections as borders/corners for a square, like in the picture at the top of this post.