Create a rapport with your illustrations

Alex Sheeny pieces together the process of creating your own pattern from scratch with Photoshop and Illustrator CS5.

Patterns nowadays can consist of much more than simple repetitions. With the growth of digital textile printers, Illustrator and Photoshop have become some of the most powerful tools available for developing complex and colourful designs. They also give creatives the ability to experiment and achieve a large range of results in a very short time.

In this tutorial, I will present the process from scratch, selecting a theme, illustrating the elements that will be on the canvas, then building the repetition pattern (called 'rapport' in the fashion industry). As well as on fabrics, your pattern can be used in many other ways; such as within web designs and interfaces and as wrapping paper or posters.

pattern graphic

pattern graph

01 Before you do anything, first look for a theme for your pattern and find some reference images. This is the most important step because the elements and how they will be displayed on your canvas will depend on it. In this case, I've chosen a space exploration theme and found some great related images to use as reference material.

ref images

ref images

02 After selecting your reference images, choose the elements that you want to use in your pattern and start to sketch them, either on paper or in Illustrator. The number of elements can range from three to however many you like. I've chosen to use an astronaut, spaceship and satellite.

pen blobb tools

pen blobb

03 Once you have your basic form drawn, start adding some depth and details. I've done this by painting with different tones of grey, using the Pen and Blob tools for smaller details.

new file photoshop

new file photoshop

04 When you've finished the elements, open Photoshop and create a new file (File>New). The size doesn't really matter, but in this case I've created an A4 file at 300dpi.

smart object

smart object

05 In Illustrator, select the image, click Copy, then click Paste to paste it in Photoshop. You'll see a dialog box with some options, choose Paste As: Smart Object. This way, you can play around with your illustration size without losing resolution before you rasterise it.

arrange elements

arrange elements

06 After copying all the elements into Photoshop, start arranging them. Make sure your elements don't touch the side of the canvas, otherwise the repetition will be compromised.

merge elements

merge elements

07 Once you're done with this first arrangement, merge your elements in order to apply the filter that we're going to work with. You can do this either by selecting all the layers and pressing Cmd/Ctrl+E, or selecting the layers, and Ctrl/right-clicking, then choosing Merge Layers.

rulers centre

rulers

08 Press Cmd/Ctrl+R to show your rulers, then place two guides in the vertical and horizontal centres.

nav offset

nav offset

09 Now that the layers are merged, navigate to Filter>Other>Offset. A dialog box will open showing a range of options. Select Undefined Areas: Wrap Around, and let the values remain at 0.

images corners

images corners

10 Drag the dialog box outside the canvas, click in the centre of the canvas (marked with the rulers), and then drag it to any corner. You'll only see the image placed on the corners once you release the mouse button.

fill blind spot pattern

fill pattern

11 You can see what was previously the blind spot of the pattern. Fill this area with the objects in order to make the pattern seamless.

off set cross

off set cross

12 You'll have noted the 'cross' shape of blank space that has appeared. To fill the holes that will appear in our repetition, offset (Filter>Other>Offset) some other single elements at the sides.

depth shadow merge

depth shadow

13 The placing of the elements is now complete, so it's time to give the piece a bit of depth. Select the layer you merged in step 7, and add a smooth drop shadow.

define pattern visable

define pattern visable

14 Now that the design is done, let's define a pattern (Edit>Define Pattern) and test its repetition. First you need to merge all the layers, so go to Layers>Merge Visible. Next, go to Edit>Define Pattern, give your pattern a name, and click OK.

layer styles list

layer styles list

15 Once the pattern is defined, it will appear in the Layer Styles list. To display the pattern, create a new layer, fill it and then go to Layer Styles> Pattern Overlay. Choose the pattern in the list, drag it from the canvas, and move and scale it for the percentage you want. Remember that the lower the percentage, the more it repeats.


Alex Sheeny 22-year-old Rio de Janeiro-based designer Alex graduated with a graphic design degree, but has worked with fashion and textiles since the age of 15. Alex is a member of the worldwide design collective Keystone Design Union, and you can check his portfolio out at www.alexsheeny.com