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Pattern possibilities in Illustrator are endless and knowing them back-to-front can only be a good thing. The key lies in perfect tessellation and while there are several ways of achieving this, it needn't be more complicated than the following steps describe.
Final Image Preview
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Our editor Sean Hodge has created this video tutorial to compliment this text + image tutorial.
Step 1: Pattern Elements
Flowers are always a sound subject for patterns, so let's begin by making ourselves a template on which to base ours. With the Ellipse tool, draw a series of concentric circles. Next, with them selected go to View > Guides > Makes Guides. We can now create a series of floral objects based on this structure.
We don't want to give our flowers too much uniformity, so draw the petals etc. individually, keeping roughly within the guides.
Having made each of your floral elements, figure out your color scheme. In this case we're going with a retro color scheme. Also, you may find it useful to convert each one into a symbol. One by one, drag them into the Symbols palette and assign them names (if you're feeling super organized).
When you've finished, go to View > Guides > Clear Guides to remove the template circles.
Step 2: Your Tile
Turn the grid on (View > Show Grid) to help you with laying your tile out. Options for the way your grid looks can be found under Illustrator > Preferences > Guides & Grid.
Place on your Artboard a square of nicely rounded dimensions (mine is 225px by 225px) and set it's fill and stroke color to none. This square will specify the boundaries of our tile. Copy it (Command + C) and Lock it (Command + 2). Obviously we can't see this square, so it's pretty useless as a reference. In order to see what we're working with, paste the copied square back in place (Command + F) and then convert it into a guide (View > Guides > Make Guides).
Step 3: Composition
Having set out our tile and designed our pattern elements we now have to arrange some kind of composition. This bit is entirely up to you - grid like, chaotic, minimalist - it doesn't matter. Drag your flowers from the Symbols palette and splash them across your Artboard; take what I've done as inspiration if you want.
Step 4: Tessellation
All that remains to do is to turn our pattern into a repeatable tile. We need to ensure that each edge matches perfectly to it's opposite. This way, our tile will repeat seamlessly.
As demonstrated below, what we chop off the outside of edge A must be placed on the inside of the opposite edge (B). This applies to all four edges of our tile.
This can be done using several techniques to be sure of a perfect match. You may use guides, perhaps snapping to grid, maybe even just relying on your keen eyesight and steady hand. As far as I'm concerned though, there's only one fool-proof method which guarantees perfection: Object > Transform > Move.
Firstly, we need to know the dimensions of our tile; in this case 225px.
Secondly, we select everything which overlaps any given edge of our tile, copy (Command + C) and paste in place (Command + F). Now, go to Object > Transform > Move.. and elect to move your objects 225px in the correct direction. This will send the copied objects to precisely the right position on the opposite side.
Repeat for all four sides and, assuming you're happy with the result, your design is finished.
NOTE: pay attention to overlapping elements here, make sure you layer things correctly.
Step 5: Create Your Tile
Group all the elements together and then release the original square you drew (Objects > Release All). Make sure this (invisible) square is behind your grouped design (Object > Arrange > Send To Back..) and then select everything (Command + A).
Drag this all into the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches) and assign the newly created pattern a name.
Finished! You may now apply your perfectly tessellated pattern to object fills and strokes.
One last thing..
Here's a handy tip: Perhaps having now seen your pattern in all it's tessellated glory you've decided that the colors aren't what you were looking for. By selecting a patterned object and clicking the Live Color button you can rectify this without worry.
You'll see in the Live Color dialogue the four colors which are contained in my pattern, each one of which can be isolated and changed.
Click on the color you wish to alter and change it's values with the sliders underneath. Click OK when you're happy. A new pattern variation will be automatically created in the Swatches palette. Brilliant!
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