illustrator tutorial: create a seamless folk pattern

In this tutorial you will learn how to create a seamless pattern composed of simple folk-flavored flowers. In the first part we will create an individual flower. In the second we will focus on constructing a pattern and define a seamless Illustrator pattern swatch.

You can download the source file. This tutorial was prepared with Adobe Illustrator CS4 but the source file is back-saved to CS2.

Step 0

We will use five colors for our flowers: white, black, blue, beige and red as well as some brown background color. In the image below you can see the RGB values of the colors I used.

Part I – Create an individual item of the pattern

Step 1

Choose the Polygon Tool (you will find it under the Rectangle Tool in the Tool Panel). Option/Alt-click and in the dialog box set the Radius to 25px and the number of sides to 22.

Keep your polygon selected and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat… Set the slider value to 70%.

(1) Copy Cmd/Ctrl+C the bloated polygon and paste it to front Cmd/Ctrl+F. Go to the Appearance Panel and uncheck (or delete) the Pucker & Bloat Effect.
(2) Hold down the Shift-key and Option/Alt-key and enlarge a little bit the polygon.
(3) Select the bloated shape (the one beneath) and go to Object > Expand Appearance.
(4) Select both shapes and choose Intersect in the Pathfinder Panel.

Step 2

Choose the Polygon Tool and set the Radius to 33px and the number of sides to 11. Fill the shape with red, no stroke.
Again go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat… This time don’t bloat your shape that much, set the value to 21%.

Go to Object > Expand Appearance. Don’t deselect and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform… Create a rotated copy of your flower shape (Note that if you rotate your flower by 360/11 degrees the shapes will overlap, that’s why we choose 1/2 x 360/11. Note also that Adobe Illustrator makes the calculations for you!)

(1) Select the two copies, go to Object > Expand Appearance.
(2) Choose Unite in the Pathfinder Panel.

Step 3

(1) In the Layer Panel put the red shape below the beige one. Align them centering horizontally and vertically.
(2) Copy Cmd/Ctrl+C the beige shape and paste it to back Cmd/Ctrl+B then immediately send it to Back Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+[ (or go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back). Don’t deselect, with the Shift-key and Alt/Option-key hold down enlarge it a bit, my shape is 95px x 95px. Change the fill color to blue.
(3) Keep the blue shape selected, go to Object > Path > Offset Path and set the offset to -1px.
(4) Select the outer shape and delete it. Now the arms of the star-like shape are a little bit thinner.

Step 4

(1) Option/Alt-click with the Polygon Tool and set the Radius = 66px and Sides=12. Fill the polygon with black, no stroke.
(2) Bloat it (Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat…) of 17%.
(3) Go to Object > Expand Appearance.
(4) Go to Object > Offset Path… and set the Offset to -0.5px. Delete the outer shape.
(5) Send it to back Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+[. Select all shapes and center them horizontally and vertically.

Step 5

Select the beige star-like shape so that you could easily determine it’s center point. Go to View > Show Artboard Rulers (or use the keyboard shortcut Cmd/Ctrl+R). Drag the Guides so that they intersect in the center of the beige object.

With the Ellipse Tool (L) and the Shift and Option/Alt hold down create a tiny circle starting from the point on the vertical guide as in the image below (the diameter of mine is 5,2px). Fill it with white, no stroke.
Choose the Rotate Tool (R) and Option/Alt-click in the center point of the flower (the point where the guides intersect). In the dialog box set the Angle to 360/22 and choose Copy.
Repeat Cmd/Ctrl+D (or go to Object > Transform > Transform Again) until you have all 11 white dots.

Step 6

Select all the white dots. The fastest way to do that is to select one then to go to Select > Same > Fill Color.
Group them Cmd/Ctrl+G (or go to Object > Group).
Copy Cmd/Ctrl+C and Paste to Front Cmd/Ctrl+F. With the Shift-key and Option/Alt-key hold down rescale it down a bit as in the image.
Repeat the same enlarging the circle of dots and changing the fill color to red.
Select all Cmd/Ctrl+A and group Cmd/Ctrl+G.

Part II – create a seamless pattern

Step 7

Alt-click with the Rectangle Tool (M) and set the size to 900px x 900 px. Make sure the square is on the very bottom of the layer (send it back with Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+[) and has no fill and no stroke. Copy it Cmd/Ctrl+C and paste to front Cmd/Ctrl+F, set the fill of the copy to the background brown color.
Lock the two rectangles.

Place the flower in the upper left corner of the rectangle, you do not have to be very exact. With the flower selected go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform… and create five copies as in the image.

Go to Object > Expand Appearance and then ungroup immediately Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+G (or Object > Ungroup).
We will recolor the four inner flowers.
Select the second flower and go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork…
By default, this method preserves white and black so we have to update the settings. Click the symbol as in the image, access the Recolor Options and uncheck White and Black.
To recolor the object click the button marked in the image. This way you will randomly change the color order (note that with five colors that we use we might have 120 different flowers). Each time you click, the color order is randomly changed. Choose OK once you are satisfied with the outcome.

Repeat the same individually for three more flowers. Than select the whole row and group it Cmd/Ctrl+G.

Step 8

Don’t deselect and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform… and create a copy of the row as in the image.

As you did previously, go to Object > Expand Appearance and ungroup Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+G.
Select the second row (it will be grouped but it will not be grouped with the first row).
Go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork… and change the color order of the whole row.

Now, select both rows and group them Cmd/Ctrl+G.

Step 9

With the two rows selected go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Transform… and create three copies as in the image.
Once again go to Object > Expand Appearance, then ungroup Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+G.
Now, all ‘double rows’ are grouped together. With Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork… change the color order for the second and the third group.
Note that you do not change the colors of the last group. In order to create a seamless patterns the objects located on the opposite edges of the no-fill, no-stroke rectangle have to be identical.

Step 10

Your pattern is ready. Unlock the rectangles created in Step 7. Select all flowers and the rectangles and drag them to the Swatches Panel (or go to Edit > Define Pattern…)

22 thoughts on “illustrator tutorial: create a seamless folk pattern”

  1. Perhaps I didn’t do the correct document set up because my pattern shows the white gaps. What did I do wrong? I love it and want to use it.

    1. Thank you :)
      First of all make sure that (1) you’ve created a no stroke, no fill rectangle, (2) this square is on the very bottom, (3) once you are about to create the pattern (drag it to swatches or via Edit Panel) make sure that this square is also selected (in particular it’s not locked).
      Also the numeric values that you enter in the Transform Panel have to correspond with the size of the rectangle (as in my tutorial).
      Hope these tips solve your problem. If not don’t give up and contact me, we will find out what you did wrong ;):)

  2. Wowww! that’s really nice and helpful. I learned a lot. Thanks very much for sharing your creativity with us.

  3. Thank you for sharing your knowledge & skills with us. I really enjoy reading your blog & will be adding it to my Google Reader :)

  4. Really lovely tutorial.

    I got the white gaps as well??

    there is no stroke, but rather, it’s counting the white space around the background that some of the flowers are sitting on.

    Were we meant to use the pathfinder tool at some stage to bring in a perfect square to the swatches?

    1. Thank you..

      Are you sure you haven’t missed any “make sure that ..” from my comment above? Twice?

      Also check the source file to compare – that might help.

      And if still no, don’t hesitate and send me your ai file? I’ll try to find where the problem is.

  5. White Gaps:

    I not sure if this step was forgotten, or if this is how you would do it, but I had white gaps, and the way I got rid of it was…

    after all the steps, pre dragging the pattern into the swatches panel…

    1. paste the brown square on the top (com/ctr F)
    2. then select eveything
    3. using the pathfinder tool, use the Crop button
    4. this should leave a square with the pattern inside
    5. drag this into your swatches panel.

    Hope this works for you Katie.

  6. What I think everyone is missing is the *most* important step in this tutorial. Setting up the two 900px squares (one empty, one solid, grouped) in the very beginning is what allows you to drag the entire composition into the swatch pallet without getting white gaps, or cropping and eliminating your exterior elements. This is HUGELY important, because when you’re working on complex patterns that require testing and finessing, you don’t want to have to keep undoing your exterior clean up. I don’t know why this works but it’s an incredible time-saver, and no other tutorial has shown this step. So thank you PeHaa!

    1. what corianton wrote is the most important feedback on here, everyone who didn’t follow the tutorial correctly should
      check that comment before getting too hung up on trimmimg patterns and removing the editability from their work! this ossify a cool tip, I can’t believe I’ve NOT been doing this for si many years!

  7. 1. paste the brown square on the top (com/ctr F)
    2. then select eveything
    3. using the pathfinder tool, use the Crop button
    4. this should leave a square with the pattern inside
    5. drag this into your swatches panel.

    I’ve tried what Kim said but unfortunately, I got ugly gaps or seams, whatever it is. Is there anything I’m doing wrong? Is there anyway I could avoid these obstacles? Please let me know. Thanks.

  8. AWESOME tut – thank you so much for taking the time to write all this out!! I had never used the recolor tool – didn’t even know it existed! Also learned several other new-to-me techniques, so THANK-YOU!!

  9. I just want you to know that this is one of the best tips i have ever see! Can you imagine that i was cropping the art instead of using that transparent shape? Many times I drag the original illustrator patterns to artbord and was just imagining: How are these shapes preserved outside the tile area?

    Thank you so much!

  10. I must say – wow ! You are best, patient and a great teacher designer
    Thank´s a lot for all your hard work trying to make me and other understand illustrator.I have made a nice folk…. flower.

  11. i have just started playing around with photoshop and illustrator and this is one of my fave tutorials so far, nicely written and the outcome was amazing I like your style, thanks a bunch helped me lots :-) !

  12. Hi Pehaa. I have a question. In the part 2 Step 8 when i do the same as you have shown.. why is my 2nd row of flower pattern going up not in the same manner of place as yours? However when I change to 150px without the negative the flower pattern is the same place. I don’t understand where I am doing wrong. Please advice. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks so much!

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