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How to Create an Illustrative Vector Pattern Design

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Read Time: 10 mins

This tutorial will walk you through the creation of an illustrative pattern design. It'll cover how to create your own pattern, details you need to be aware of and limitations of patterns in Illustrator.

You can find the Source files in the directory labeled 'source' that came in the files that you downloaded. You may wish to look through them briefly before we begin.

Step 1

Our industry may be digitally driven but ideas are still best developed in analog form. In other works a solid well crafted creative process should still start with simple thumbnail sketching. This is a lost art form and too many today jump on the computer looking for design rather than exploring ideas and conceptualizing their work before hand.

Develop good creative habits of drawing out your ideas and isolating strong designs before you try to build anything. In other words know what you're going to build before you attempt to build it.

This is my rough thumbnail sketch. I captured the raw essence of a floral motif.

(FYI: Patterns in Illustrator don't have to be a mere square tile it can also be a rectangle. The only limitation as of CS4 is it has to have 90 degree sides in order to seamlessly tile into a pattern. I picked a square just because I wanted mine to be a square shape rather than a rectangle.)

Step 2

Now that I know what I want to do, I refine my thumbnail, and develop a tight pencil rendering. This will act as my guide, blue print if you will of what I'll build in vector form.

Don't skimp at this point, spend the necessary time to refine your drawing so you know what your art will look like before you even build it. The tighter the drawing - the less guess work during building - the easier it'll be.

Since this design is symmetric, I only need to draw half of the design and only a fourth of the flower. That means less work in the build stage for obvious reasons.

Step 3

I scan my refined sketch in, place it on it's own layer and lock it. On a layer above the scan I begin to create my vector shapes. Since this design is so geometric, I didn't worry too much about getting my refined drawing of the blossom super precise because it'll be created using circle shapes and rotated mathematically so it wasn't necessary. But the remainder of my art is very organic and for that I'll adhere to my drawing very closely as I build.

To help me figure out the math behind this shape and guide me in my building I created a starburst shape and the green circle acts as my snap point for rotating the petals of the flower.

Step 4

Once I create the first petal I copy it and rotate it into place using my orientation for rotating based on my green circle. I repeat this until I have all my petals.

Step 5

I use the same process to create the remaining petals.

Step 6

Using the Pathfinder palette I minus out the background petal shapes using copies of the foreground petal shapes.

Step 7

Using the Pathfinder palette I minus the foreground petal shapes using a copy of the central shape of the flower art.

Step 8

The core shapes of my flower are now complete. I can now begin building the rest of my core shapes for the pattern design.

Step 9

When I build free flowing organic shapes like this leaf, I first lay down a rough vector path paying close attention as to where the points are located. The shape as you can see is sloppy at this point, but all you're after is the general shape. Don't worry about how precise it follows your drawing just yet.

Step 10

This shows a close up of the leaf path. I'll use a great Illustrator plugin called "Xtream Path" to form my final shape. This plugin works better then Illustrator's own tools and speeds up build times. In other words, it will pay for itself over time because it'll save you a lot of time.

Step 11

This shows the leaf shape after I finish using the "Xtream Path" tool.

Step 12

The base leaf shape is now complete.

Step 13

In order to create the other aspects to the leaf shape, I'll continue to use the Pathfinder palette. I draw out the interior leaf detail and select both shapes.

Step 14

Using the Pathfinder palette I intersect them.

Step 15

The resulting intersected shape finishes off my leaf shape. I use this same method to create all my leaf shapes and detail. If you get in the routine of thinking in shapes, then the Pathfinder palette will become your best friend in vector building.

Step 16

This pattern will have to seamlessly tile into a pattern so on this design that means the top and bottom have to align. I make sure my shapes are built this way by snapping to points. Smart guides helps you do this with ease.

Step 17

Now that I have my core vector art finalized, I copy and flip it since this is a symmetric design.

Note: I don't worry about colors until I have form worked out in it's entirety. I have found over the years that keeping the two compartmentalized keeps your focus precise and helps you pay attention to details better without being distracted.

This is all part of a systematic creative process.

Step 18

I now begin to colorize my shapes. All I focus on at this point is color theory and exploration of coloring. This shows the colors in their flat format.

Step 19

This shows the colors with subtle gradient detail added.

Step 20

I now have my general base colors worked out (At least I thought I did).

Step 21

At this point, I begin to work in more refined details to give the art more depth and richness. This is before adding detail.

Step 22

This show the additional of subtle gradients, shadowing and blossom texturing.

Step 23

A powerful aspect to Illustrator is Blend Modes, many of the same ones in Photoshop can now be found in Illustrator. Not all of them but many. You'll find them in the Transparency palette.

I decide to add a nice glow behind the blossom to punch it out a bit in the pattern. I create my radial gradient fill using a shape the same width as my overall pattern.

Step 24

I move my new radial gradient so it's behind my floral motif and on top of my background color, then I set the Blend Mode to Multiply.

Step 25

I now have my final pattern artwork completed.

Step 26

The more I looked at this design I felt it was too light over all, it needed deeper colors in the background so I decided to alter the coloring. I'm now ready to start using it as a tile pattern.

Step 27

I group my artwork and drag it into the swatches palette. This creates a pattern swatch using my art now. Double-click the swatch to name it. I named mine "Floral Pattern (Blue)." Isn't that original?

Step 28

To start using your pattern just draw a shape (any size or form) and fill it with your new pattern swatch to see it tile out. It's that simple.

Note: There is still a re-draw bug in Illustrator so you'll notice the fill pattern looks like it has seams where the pattern repeats. Don't worry about that, it's just the screen playing head games with you. It won't show when printed and will work fine. Adobe does need to address this though.

Step 29

Once you have your shape filled with your new pattern there are several ways you can work with it and customize it. This image shows how you can use the rotate tool to adjust the angle of the pattern fill.

Make sure you uncheck Objects in the dialogue window.

Step 30

Another way you can work with it is to use the Scale tool. Size it as small or large as you like. You can even skew it but why would you do that? Doing that is what I'd call a Hack maneuver. The art wasn't created with the intent to skew so why mess with it? If you wanted it skewed, you would have drawn it that way to begin with right? OK, rant over.

Remember you need to uncheck Objects and Scale Strokes & Effects in the dialogue window.

Process Review - Step 1

In the next 11 steps we'll quickly review how to create your own pattern whether it's illustrative, like the floral motif pattern, or as you'll see in the following images a more graphic pattern design. Either way the fundamental process is the same to create a seamless pattern.

Start off creating your base form, in this case it's a square. But remember it can be a rectangle too. I then build my first element in this pattern, which I am calling "Single Cell."

Process Review - Step 2

I place my element on my base pattern shape. Any time the art overlaps and extends beyond the background pattern shape it comes in on the opposite side.

Process Review - Step 3

This applies to the top, bottom as well. I'm also varying my elements shapes so the overall pattern will be more irregular too.

Process Review - Step 4

Anything on the interior is free floating and all you have to worry about is balancing those forms so they fit together nicely.

Process Review - Step 5

Once I have my shapes done I create one compound path. I select a copy of the background shape and my elements and using the Pathfinder palette I intersect them.

Process Review - Step 6

The result of my intersect is my finalized tile pattern.

Process Review - Step 7

I now begin to work out my coloring.

Process Review - Step 8

I copy my pattern design and rotate it 180 degrees.

Process Review - Step 9

I colorize my copied pattern elements.

Process Review - Step 10

I set the copied pattern elements blend mode to Multiply. My new pattern design is now complete. All I have to do is drag it into my swatch palette and start using it.

Process Review - Step 11

My "Single Cell" pattern tiled out.

This pattern is part of a new book I created called "Drip.Dot.Swirl - '94' Incredible Patterns for Design and Illustration." I have included my "Single Cell" pattern file in the sources download for this tutorial. To see other examples and download additional FREE pattern designs visit my blog.

Final Image

Over the past year I have created over 120 original patterns. If you're like me, once you do your first one you'll be hooked, and you'll want to do more. The process isn't too hard and the possibilities are endless.

In researching my my book, I read a lot about patterns both historically and mathematically, and one interesting facts is that there is a total of 14 different kinds of tessellations. Illustrator only supports one type of tessellation as it stands right now ,and that is limited to a square or rectangle shape as I mentioned earlier.

If you want to do the other type of tessellations in Illustrator you can but it'll cost you a nice chunk of change to buy the plugin software which is catered for the textile industry. Currently there is only one and it's called "Symmetry Works by Artlandia." I've used it and the learning curve was painful. Let's just say it's not very intuitive and leave it at that.

If you'd like to learn more about the illustrative design creative process visit IllustrationClass.com. The final image is below. You can view the large version here.

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