Great-looking patterns are an often-overlooked part of the designer's tool kit. While it's easy to dismiss patterns as mere decoration, they can often be the vital ingredients that complete your design.
Patterns can enhance illustrations and provide the seed for complex graphic design projects. A subtle pattern effect can enliven flat web builds, while more eye-catching designs can stand alone as abstract artwork for when an illustration or stock art just won't cut it.
Making seamless patterns that look the part can be a challenge, though, even with Photoshop or Illustrator to do much of the heavy lifting. With these fantastic free tools, however, you'll quickly be able to create gorgeous patterns that are suitable for all manner of creative projects. Need some great typography? See our roundup of the best free fonts.
Repper's a paid app with prices starting at £4.99/month for personal use, but it offers a 14-day trial that anyone with an eye for creating patterns is going to want to try. It makes it astonishingly easy to make beautiful patterns that tile seamlessly; just feed it a source image and play with any of its 28 tiling settings, and you'll quickly be able to generate any number of gloriously abstract patterns.
There are also some great effects to experiment with; we're particularly fond of the Metamorphosis tool, which enables you to instantly make fabulous MC Escher-style designs.
If you're looking for a simple pattern to use as a background for your website, Patternify by Sacha Greif could be the solution. It's a CSS pattern generator; just paint some pixels on a grid (up to 10x10 in size), and Patternify turns it into either a PNG file that you can download and tile, or Base64 code that you can paste into your site's source. The results aren't hugely sophisticated, but it's an excellent tool if you want to build a background for a retro site.
We love this leftfield approach to pattern generation. Mazeletter isn't so much a tool as a collection of nine free fonts that are designed to enable you to build complex, infinitely tiling maze patterns, by simply typing out a bunch of letters.
It's the work of Paul Cronan at Fathom Foundry, and it's inspired by his lifelong love of mazes; each of the nine fonts has its own distinctive look, and whether you build your own patterns by hand or simply play around by typing letters into the Mazeletter site, you can swiftly build some incredible-looking labyrinthine designs.
For creating colourful repeat patterns with plenty of control over each element, Sergiy Yavorsky's Patterninja is a brilliant tool. You can build patterns out of ready-made icons that can be scaled, positioned and rotated to create just the right look, and you can also upload your own images to use as pattern elements.
Once you've created the perfect pattern, it's the work of seconds to download and share your creation.
If you like stripes then you're going to love Patternizer. It's another simple but brilliant tool that's all about building patterns out of stripes or criss-crossing plaid; you can add as many as you like in stacked layers, setting the colour, rotation, opacity, width, gap and offset for each one.
With a bit of experimentation you can soon create quite complex patterns out of the most basic elements, and when you're done building, you can export your pattern as CSS, ready to be added to any website.
Similar to Mazeletter, GeoPattern is another tool that enables you to generate abstract tiling patterns by typing a load of random letters. Rather than building maze-like designs, GeoPattern instead creates colourful SVG patterns that can be saved and used on your website. It uses Secure Hash Algorithms to turn text into colours and shapes, and even if you don't understand the process, the results speak for themselves.