How To Make A Repeat Pattern by Julia Rothman

hello hello. thank you Grace for having me this week! I am very excited to be here. Besides introducing you to some cool artists, giving sneak peeks and before and afters of some friends homes, and sharing my favorite new product finds, I thought it would be nice to share some of the things I have learned along the way of being a illustrator/pattern designer.

One of the questions I frequently get emailed is -how do you make a repeat pattern? I thought it would be fun today to do a little tutorial showing you how simple it is even with a very complex drawing. And you don’t even need a computer! (I usually do my repeats on the computer but today I’m doing it the way I was first taught.) Here’s the old fashioned way of making a tile-able design:

On a clean piece of paper draw a design in the middle of your paper without letting any of the drawing touch the edges- this is very important. (I am going to draw lions and vine-y things- an influence from last months visit to the American Folk Art museum in nyc.)

Once you finish the middle space as much as you want you are going to cut your drawing in half- scary I know- but that’s why computers are helpful. Once you have the two pieces flip them and tape your drawing back together. Put the tape on the back of the paper so it doesn’t obstruct your drawing at all later. Also try to tape your drawing back together as perfectly lined up as possible. It’s hard to see that I’ve even taped mine since I’ve lined it up so well.

Next you are going to cut your drawing in half again the other way- (yikes!) and flip those pieces and tape them back together. Now your design should be on all the edges only and you have a big middle white space. Now fill this space with the rest of your design. Remember again- do not draw to any of the edges of the paper.

Once you finish filling in all the parts you want to fill in you now have your repeatable tile. You could color this tile and then xerox it many times and line up your design- plaster it on your walls and make wallpaper. I am going to cheat and do the final coloring steps in the computer to finish up my design. I am going to scan my drawing, take it into Adobe Illustrator, color and repeat it there.

And here’s my finished design:

  1. francesca says:

    my compliments!! I’ve never understood it so well as now! Very clear!

  2. Cecilia says:

    hi, who would I call to have a drawing made into a fabric? thank you:)

    1. Thuy says:

      Cecilia, have you checked out

    2. Renee Dillon says:

      Search for Spoonflower. They make print-on-demand fabric, wallpaper and other stuff using your own designs.

  3. meka says:

    That’s good drawing

  4. Liz says:

    You have completely demystified this conundrum, and in such a charming way. Many thanks!

  5. toni scott says:

    excellent guidance. thank you!

  6. This is exactly what I was looking for! Very informative!

  7. Clio says:

    This is life changing! I have been baffled by how to do this for way too long considering how simple it is. Thank you!

  8. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for sharing! I have been searching for soo lang (months) how to do this! Neven thought it was so easy!

  9. Mirna says:

    Thank you sooooooooo much Julia! Extremely helpful!

  10. Shelly says:

    How do you change your drawing to vector?

  11. Katerina says:

    So simple and yet so helpfull!!!Thanks for sharing :)

  12. Robin says:

    I know you said to not draw to the outside edges, but what if I want to have all over color, without the white? I want to make a watercolor painting into fabric with a seamless repeat. Is this even possible? Thank you!

  13. superheru says:

    thank you for the tutorial, it’s help me so much

  14. superheru says:

    how about to make it digonal patern?

  15. Linda Weeks says:

    I’ve always wondered how William Morris created his repeating patterns – might he have used this technique as well? I mean, but for the copier and computer, etc. That is awesome! Thank you!

  16. milika says:

    very good, I finally get a better understanding about

  17. Nice post. After reading the article I just remember William Blake. His sense of art was great. I think Grace Bonney has also great concept.

  18. Shariyah says:

    Thank you for sharing your process, but am I the only one who is wondering where the lion in the center of your fifth image came from? It’s not the same lion shown on your original centered drawing (second image) and I’m a little baffled at how your fourth photo turned into the fifth photo (ie; all of the lines/art fitting together perfectly)…I feel like I am missing a few steps? I have gone through your article word for word trying to piece this together so that I can apply it to my own design but for the life of me can’t figure it out! Any help would be greatly appreciated, thank you!

    1. Tempy says:

      @Shariyah – I think what she actually did was draw a new image that fit inside the space that was left after cutting and taping the paper. That way when copies are made and pages are laid side by side the images will all flow as one continuous design. I think… the only way to know for sure is to try for ourselves! Cant wait :-)

  19. Kim says:

    Hello! and wow! that is so simple to understand. I usually try to make it all on Adobe Illustrator and fail miserably. Plus it always end up looking too repetitive. This really takes the time to slow things down and make an original and very seamless pattern design. Thanks you Julia Rothman! Love your work!

  20. Isabel says:

    Excellent step-by-step guide…I have been wondering about this for years…Thanks!!!!!

  21. Hiroki says:

    awesome guidance Thank you so much!

  22. rob says:

    Thanks, that’s a perfect explanation of something I’ve been wondering how to do. Cheers ☺

  23. Jenni says:

    Thank you so much! This is really helpful, and easy to understand!! Awesome tutorial!

  24. Lexi says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! Just the clear, illustrative guide I was searching for! I’m doing my first ever fabric design with my creatures and was so puzzled on how to do a complex repeat tile like this.

  25. SunflowerHeart says:


    Thank you :)

  26. Jake Ward says:

    Excellent informative blog, simply ingenious and I may be missing something but can this be translated into drop patterns as I see you created a straight match?

  27. Tara Nair says:

    Thank you so much Julia. This is the first ever process I came across which doesn’t involve too much of digitization. I love it!! My deepest gratitude to you for sharing this; super kind you are :)

  28. creativeurge says:

    Thank you so much Julia! I have a stupid question: what would you use if you didn’t do the final colouring in the computer? Thanks again!

  29. Basil says:

    That was exactly what i was looking for, thank you so much!

  30. jeremiah says:

    Is there a free website where you can use an existing image to create a repeat / wallpaper design (other than spoonflower…they won’t let you save the pattern without copyright plastered all over it)?

  31. Raeesah says:

    love this! thanks for this valuable info.

  32. Kris says:

    Thank you so very much! Very clear guide. I study fashion design, and I have to design a repeat print. I also love your print, its beautiful! I did a floral pattern :)

  33. JP says:

    F*CK you made it so clear and easy! I spent all day trying to make a pattern in AI and just wasn’t coming out right. I hand-drew all my elements separately, so I think I’ll have to redraw but I don’t care; your technique makes it look like a natural pattern, and – much easier to deal with on the hand-drawn part. Wish i woulda Googled earlier. Anywise, thank you for sharing the knowledge! -JP

  34. Sarabeth says:

    Julia, thank you for the clear explanation, this is so beautiful! I have a question: The pattern you made here is linear- aka, if my eyes go down horizontally I will encounter the same motif repeating itself there. But online, I see that some patterns kinda go at an ANGLE… like, the elements drift diagonally across the pattern, instead of up-down. And sometimes I see patterns with INVERTED elements…

    How does one create patterns like these? What are they called in design lingo, because I’ve searched Google and can’t figure out how to phrase the question. “Diagonal patterns” is yielding me… diagonal patterns. Are there different terms for different kinds of repeated patterns? Thank you!!

    1. Matt says:

      Hi Sarabeth
      This glossary of pattern design might be useful
      Please post again if you find the answers to your questions.

      Good on you Julia for demystifying the art with this concise demo!

  35. Dani says:

    Oh man I’ve been trying to master this process but when I go into photoshop with my scan and try to tile them up it just won’t align. :/ no matter how careful I am to tape and the seams show which makes for sooooooo much clean up! Help!

  36. Mrs Varley says:

    I think this is a very clever yet simple way to create a repeating pattern. I am going to use this post to help teach our Year 2 children how to design one. :)
    I’ll let you know how they get on!

  37. Catherine says:

    Soooo helpful! The only thing that confused me was the bit about not drawing to the edges….

  38. Jacob King says:

    All of the tips are really very handy and useful. Just going to bookmark this page and will be back again when required.

  39. Louise says:

    This is great! I can’t wait to try. Very clear instructions, good pictures and good tips.

  40. masha says:

    Woow it is such a nice experiment.. Thanks for sharing with us you are such a nice tutor please!
    I would love to learn more about fabric and fashion designs please..

  41. Jeannette says:

    This is wonderful. It is the best and most simplified example I have seen on this topic And I Get It!!!!! Thank you. I just shared this url with my arty friends on Facebook.

  42. Fabulously informative! (And I even graduated from an Italian fashion design school where we were taught pattern repeat, j not as simply.) Thanks!

  43. Also, I absolutely love your work! Where can we see more of your designs?

  44. The learning lab is providing the best Maths and English tutor in Sydney and if you are looking for maths tutor for your child contact us now!

  45. Mary says:

    Thank you so much.
    Please tell me how to make half drop pattern repeat

    1. Lu Harris says:

      How do I find places to print my design on fabric other than Spoomflower?

      thank you, Lu

  46. Rosalee says:

    thank you so much. what a great and easy to understand tutorial with fab art.

  47. Kim says:

    Brilliantly simple. Why I have been doing it the hard way for so long. Thanks for sharing.

  48. Sandra says:

    A superb tutorial, thank you so much!


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