DIYdiy projects

How To Make A Repeat Pattern by Julia Rothman

by Grace Bonney

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:

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  • Thank you for making this so clear and easy(seemingly) to do! I’m excited to try and make my own fabric out of one of my designs and now, at least, feel like I can do it!

  • Hi!! I was wondering what version of illustrator to use, where to get it, and how to color a design in illustrator? Thanks!

    • I don’t think it matters what version of illustrator you use, but in order to colour the design in illustrator, once you have scanned it in, you will first want to image trace the design. Once traced, you need to select the whole trace and go to object – live paint – make. This will then let you use the live paint bucket to fill the trace with paint.

  • Fantastic! I never really understood how it was done. Thanks for sharing it with you. You should start your own wallpaper collection! Or is there any already?
    Good luck!

  • Great post and explanation, thanks! Surprisingly it seems to be very doable for all and I’m eager to learn more of these handy tips which leads to doing it! Thanks again!

  • I just have one question:
    Does the repeat always have to be a square? Can it just be a rectangle? Thank you for your answer in advance.

    • It can be whatever, square or rectangle. Repeats (for fabric/fashion screenprinting) typically can stretch as far across the width of the fabric as you want and are limited in height – typically 24″ or 36″ being the max. You can do any increment in-between that is divisible by 24. As in, 12″ because 2×12=24, or 8″, because 3×8=24. You get the picture.

  • Wow! So many people have made this all so difficult but this has made it so easy! Can’t wait to show my year 9/10 class this next year. I’ll use the time to make some samples. Thankyou!

  • Thanks so much for your tutorial! Any tips on stitching them up in Illustrator? I seem to be out by millimetres which is so frustrating!!

  • Hello, would you be so kind as to explain how I would set out my own drawings to create on standard width cotton fabric a repeat pattern using my drawings ? Would it make a difference if I used jersey as well as cotton ? Looking forward to your reply. Thank you.

  • Hi!!! I am currently trying to do my own design for printing on fabric. The printer said I need 300 by 300. When I asked 300 what by 300, they did not respond. LOL

    Do you know what they mean?

    Thank you

    • Hi Suzanne. They are definitely not asking you to make something 300 pixels by 300 pixels!

      1. The printer is referring to the “dpi” of your image file. DPI stands for “dots per inch” (pixels per inch) because it refers to the density of dots/pixels in your image. It basically means the resolution quality of your image. The higher the number, the higher the resolution. 300dpi is the standard for high quality printing. 150dpi is for newspaper quality. 72dpi is the standard for online images (like the images on this webpage, which look great on a screen but if you wanted to print them as a poster they would be distorted (‘pixelated’) and not look great. (As a side note, there’s no point in going higher than 300dpi when you’re setting up a file, as that’s basically the maximum resolution that printers can mechanically reproduce anyway; go larger than 300dpi and you’ll just make huge unwieldy files that are a pain to work with and slow down your computer!)

      ****Set your dpi at the beginning, before you create your image.**** What you intend to do with your image dictates what you set the dpi at (and if you’re not sure, you may as well go for 300dpi since that leaves you the option for a high-res print later). When you create a new file in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Inkscape, GIMP etc, you will see a box where you can change the dpi number (google how to do this if you can’t find it). Like I said, you can always reduce the dpi later for other uses if you feel like it (e.g using your 300dpi image you could generate a smaller image that was 72dpi for putting on your website to make it load quicker instead of that big ole 300dpi image, and it will still look fantastic. You can do this in any program you’re using; Photoshop for example has a handy button in the menus that says ‘save for web’).

      ****You can take something big and go small, but you can’t take something small and go big (without low quality consequences).**** So you can take a high-resolution file and reduce its dpi, and still get good results. But you can’t take a low-resolution file and increase its dpi — I mean, you can change the dpi in the settings of your image, but you won’t magically get more pixels per inch because they weren’t there to begin with. In other words, once you’ve discarded resolution, you can’t get it back. If you take an image that is 72dpi and just jack up the dpi to 300, it will still look like a 72dpi image when you print it because the original only had 72dpi (unless your image is a vector instead of a raster, but I don’t want to overburden you with info at this piont! Creating vector images is definitely next level stuff, so I’d say don’t worry about it for now. If you want more info on vector vs. raster there’s some good info here: https://modassicmarketing.com/understanding-image-file-types. For the purposes of my answer here I’m assuming we’re working with a raster image since that’s the most common for non-industry folks.)

      I’ve definitely tried to ‘rehabilitate’ images that were 72dpi and make them higher res later on, and some of you might be in that same boat. It’s not easy and the results are so-so. Better to save yourself headaches by starting out with a canvas that is suitable for what you want to do with image later on.

      2. Image dimensions — this is the other key component of your image file that you should decide at the outset. DPI is only meaningful when combined with the image’s physical dimensions (e.g. the actual size you want to print it out as). Think of it like the size of the canvas that your image is on. If you have a 300dpi file with 1″x1″ dimensions, that’s best for printing out as a teeny tiny image, like a one inch button. If you try to print that teeny image into a huge poster, it’s going to look terrible.

      ****Like dpi, you should set the dimensions of your image before you start drawing.*** So for example, if you intend to print something onto a standard letter size piece of paper, then set your dimensions to 8.5″x11″. You can definitely crop your image later on if you want to make it square instead of rectangle for example. And the printer you send it to will be able to adapt the file to your requested output dimensions. Just remember the same principle applies: you can make something smaller after you’ve created it without losing resolution, but if you make it bigger after the fact, you will definitely lose resolution.

      And again, let’s say we have two images with different dimensions: a 8.5″x11″ image, and a 1″x1″ image. If we created them with the possibility of printing in mind, we should have created them both at 300dpi.

      There’s a much more in-depth article here http://proshooter.com/article_whatisa300dpiJPeg.htm

      I hope this is helpful and not too confusing!

  • Thank you for making this so much easier to understand! I’ve looked at a ton of tutorials and videos on this and haven’t had good results so far. I’m going to give this method a shot it Clip Studio Paint, which is the program I do a lot of my art in now.

    • Wow! you have changed my art life forever with this. Thank you for such an easy and comprehensive tutorial.

  • Thank you for the directions. I have done a few oil painting tessellations and I now know how to proceed. I will take a photo and cut around the perimeter to make white space. I thought I could copy and stamp, but that is beyond me.

  • This is amazing, how beautiful works it is. I think you had to used your brain and think a lot. I love your such a creative works. thank you for sharing these.

  • Awesome! Grace you done very well. Thank you so much for explaining this technique to make a repeat pattern. You make it more easy to design patterns.

  • Theresa, BC we had do draw in black in on paper, then cut that just like this tutorial and paste it up in the corners and draw in the middle and edges to match as you see here. When that was done, it was put under tracing paper and the whole thing was redrawn again for first copy. If you were lucky, maybe you had a light table to trace. I think you get the picture, and clearly the process took forever.

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