Easy repeat pattern making in Illustrator

Art editor Luke O'Neill runs through five essential pattern making techniques in Illustrator.

Once you've mastered the basics of object creation in Illustrator it's very easy to quickly fill a design with many vector elements and pattern creation is a great way of doing this. Whereas once this would have involved a lot of time consuming precision work, Illustrator now has a number of tools and tricks that make it easy to create precision patterns.

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Through the next five steps I'll run through my five essential tips and tricks that you need to know when embarking on pattern creation in illustrator, including the relatively recent addition of the powerful patterns panel.

01. Create radial patterns

Creating radial patterns in Illustrator is quick and easy. Begin by simply creating a shape/graphic of any shape or size, in this case a simple circle. With the circle selected hit 'R' for rotate and whilst holding alt click on a point that will act as the centre of your radial pattern.

In the following dialog panel enter a fraction, e.g 360/20, preview it then hit copy. Once back on the art board simply hit cmd + D to repeat the pattern. Simple.

02. Using pattern fills

The simplest but often overlooked way of quickly creating patterns is to simply draw a shape and drag it into the swatches panel. You can now draw any other shape and choose this as your pattern fill as shown above. The tricky part of this is when you want there to be spaces between the elements within your pattern.

03. Pattern panel

The pattern panel found under the window menu is where things start to get really interesting. To quickly jump to the patterns panel simply double click on the pattern swatch. You now have a multitude of options to choose from including the tile type, brick offset, spacing and number of copies.

Once upon a time all of this would have to have been done manually. When you're happy with your pattern you can save it or save a copy if you want to retain the original one.

04. Working with blends

The blend options can be used to quickly create repeating objects and can then be used within the pattern generator. Draw two simple shapes, in this case squares. Navigate to object > blend > blend options and select 'specified steps'.

Enter the number of steps you'd like your blend to be and then navigate back to object > Blend and select 'make'. You can drag then drag this into your swatches panel and use it in conjunction with the patterns panel to create some intriguing patterns.

05. Applying patterns to 3D objects

Once you have a pattern swatch setup its very easy to apply it to a 3D object. First start by creating a pattern fill on the art board and drag this into the symbols panel to be used later. We're going to make a cube so make it square. Now create a cube by drawing another square and navigating to 3D > Effect " Extrude and Bevel.

Hit preview to see how the cube will look and then click map art. In the symbol drop down, select your pattern swatch and apply it to one of the sides. Cycle through the different sides applying your pattern until you're satisfied with the results.

Words: Luke O'Neill

Luke O'Neill is art editor on T3 magazine.

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