• Bridget

How I make repeat patterns from traditional art- and you can too!!

Updated: Aug 13, 2021


Hello my little leaf buddies!


I’ve been getting quite into repeat patterns recently so I thought I would go through my process on how I make patterns from some traditional art.

This is part of a little mini series I’m going to be doing all around the theme- ‘How I make a stuff, and you can too. You just have to start!”

However, a disclaimer: I am not an expert in pattern making, repeat patterns, photoshop, illustrator or even design. I’m not endorsing this is the right, correct or only way of doing things’. This is just what works for me at the moment. And no doubt I’ll change things up as I learn more and experiment more.

To follow along and for this to be relevant to you, you will need a scanner, photoshop and Illustrator.

I’ll be covering: 1) The sketching and painting process

2) scanning your artwork

3) Prepping and separating your motifs in photoshop

4) Bringing them into Illustrator and using the pattern tool to make a repeating pattern.


Let’s get started!

1) Sketching


I like to start off any illustration, whether it be for patterns or paintings with a sketch. I just feel more comfortable using pencil and paper.




Its been getting very cold here in Australia so I wanted to do something that represented winter. Winter is always a great time to get cozy with a good book and hot beverage. So I decided to draw little chickens, books and mugs!

Paint anything you would like! To get some inspiration maybe think about what season it is where you live. What do you like doing during that season? What’s your favourite animal? What is your favourite plant or flower?

Draw a few different motifs and designs up. The more variation you have, the more variation you will have in your pattern!

I painted my chickens using gouche and the jazzed them up with some crayons, coloured pencil and pens.

The joy of art is you can experiment and play with lots of different mediums, so have fun with it and try lots of different things to create your motifs!


Also, Don’t worry about the layout when you draw them because you will be separating them in photoshop anyway!


Once you are happy with your painting we are ready to scan!

2) Scanning

Next we have to scan our artwork. I’m a bit lazy and like things streamlined so I will do most of my stuff in A4 so it fits in the scanner! You can do it bigger if you have a bigger scanner or are prepared to scan it in sections and piece it together in photoshop. But I don’t got time for that! So A4 is best!



You can also take a picture of your work if you don’t have a scanner. But I don’t really like photography and all my photos tend to look a bit derp, so I prefer scanning!


Now, I’m not very technical or care about the quality of your scanner. Obviously there are scanners out there that do an awesome job and have great specs and what not. But if you’re just getting started, ( and that’s what this video is all about- starting ) Any scanner will do!


I use my old Epson Workforce 2660. This is a printer I picked up from office works for about $60 and is an all in one printer, scanner and photocopier. It does the trick for the moment and I’ve never really had any problems with it.



The important thing about scanning is to scan it as big as possible. So try to scan it 300dpi or higher. I find 300dpi works just fine.



Also remember to save it in a place where you can find it! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve forgotten to scan something into the right folder and had to go hunting for it!


Once we’ve scanned its time to open it up into photoshop!

3) Prepping and separating your motifs in photoshop

Hopefully if you are watching this then you know some photoshop basics, but I’ll try to make the steps as simple as possible.

  • Adjust colours

When I first get something into photoshop I like to adjust the colours. Scanning often makes things a lot duller so lets adjust the levels!


So go up to Image- adjustments- levels. The little levels graph will come up. In uni we were told to pull the little triangles along until it gets a bit ugly, and then pull them back slightly.

You can see the difference it makes!



  • Deep etch your motifs

The next thing we have to do is cut around or deep etch each motif from the background. To do this I use the pen tool. The pen tool can be a bit tricky to get used to, but just keep at it!





When you click a new point, you can hold and drag the point to be able to adjust the little arms and create curved lines. When you have finished- connect the last point to the first point you made and it will close the selection.





For little bits like inside the handle, just do exactly the same process and make it as a new selection.



Trace around each motif. This can take a while, but I like to put on a video or listen to music and it can be quite a relaxing task.



  • Mask your layer


Once you have finished go across to the ‘Paths’ tab. ( If you don’t have this tab, you can always find it by going up to ‘window- and down to ‘paths.’ )



Click on the paths you have made and then down to the little dotted circle. This will make your paths into a selection.



Go back to the layers tab, click on your layer and then go down to the little rectangle with the circle in the middle. Click on it and woohoo! Your background has been turned into a mask and is now gone. When I was first learning photoshop I use to painstakingly erase the whole background using the eraser tool! Thank-goodness I learnt easier ways!



If your selection disappears when you click this button it just means your selection is inverted.




So ‘Ctrl z’ to go back and then ‘Ctrl I’ to invert the section and click on the mask button again and it should have worked!


  • Apply layer mask


Then we need to apply the layer mask so we can seperate our motifs. To do this ‘right click on the layer mask- and down to ‘apply layer mask’.


  • Seperate each motif onto its own layer


To seperate each motif onto their own layer I make a rough selection around the item with the lasso tool, then right click on the selection- and click ‘Layer via cut’. This will cut the section onto its own background.



Do this for all of your motifs. Be sure to make sure you have the layer with the motif you are trying to cut selected or you will get an error saying the layer is empty.


  • Save each motif out separately

Now I save them out separately. There might be an easier way to do this, but what I do is-

select each layer individually, Copy, ‘Ctrl C’ go up to ‘File- New’ and it will come up with an option for ‘clipboard’ which should be the first option. This will paste the item into a new file at the dimensions of that particular item. Do this for each of them and then save them out as a .png so you have a transparent background




3) Bringing them into Illustrator and using the pattern tool to make a repeating pattern.

Now it’s time to make our pattern in Illustrator!


I use the pattern tool which is only available in CS6 and newer versions of illustrator. However if you don’t have one of these versions I’m sure there are many other videos and info on google on how to make patterns in older versions of illustrator.

  • Make a new project


So open illustrator and go up to ‘file- New’.


I’ve been making my patterns as 20x20 inches. Don’t ask me where I got that number from, but it seems nice and big and has been working for me at the moment.

  • The Pattern Tool


So you will be greeted with a blank artboard. Head over to the pattern tool in the tool bar. If you don’t have that option go up to ‘window- pattern options’.



Click on the three horizontal lines and a new menu will come up. Click ‘make pattern’. This will then tell you that your new pattern will be added to your swatches panel.


So name your pattern- I’ll call mine chooks and books.


Now in the ‘width and height’ pop in 20 x 20 because our dartboard is 20 x 20.


I have my copies on 5x5 and I dim the copies to 30%. But feel free to have a play with these options to what suits you best.



  • Place your Motifs onto the artboard

Now go up to ‘file- place’ and find your individual motifs.




Now it's important to untick ‘link’ as it won’t let you use them if they are linked for some reason. So untick that.


You can select them all and then you will need to click on the screen to drop each individual motif on the artboard.


  • Make Pattern


And this is where the fun begins! They usually come out a bit small, so adjust them to the size you want and you can start rearranging them!



You will notice some faded versions of your motifs on the sides of the artboard. These show you how the pattern will repeat. Which is super handy!


So start experimenting and placing your motifs around the canvas. You can ‘Ctrl C, Ctrl V’ to copy and paste any that you want more of.


It's also great to flip some of the copies to make it look a bit different.


You can do this by right clicking the image- tranform- reflect. And it will flip it.



I often like to zoom in and out to see how the pattern is looking. It gives you a much bigger over all picture of what it will repeat like. You can see when there are big gaps to fill.


It’s really just a lot of fiddling and experimenting.





  • Save Pattern to swatches



Once you’re happy with your pattern, click on done at the top- and everything will disappear! But don’t worry, your pattern has been saved to your swatches.


So go up to swatches and you will see your pattern here.


If you double click on it- it will open back up in the editing mode so you can make any adjustments.

  • Adding your pattern to the art board

But to see your pattern and save it out- select the rectangle tool and click on the corner of the artboard.



A box will come up and because we know our artboard is 20x20- put that in. Don’t forget to turn off the black stroke or it will save out with your pattern and it won’t repeat properly!



And there is our pattern! I like to put different colours behind it just to see what looks best.


Do this the same way with the rectangle tool, but make sure your pattern isn’t selected. You can do this by double clicking the ‘fill’ and changing it to a colour.


Make a new layer and put it behind the pattern.


  • Saving your pattern


Once your happy with this you can save it out!


I do this by going up to- file- export- export as- png (but you can do any format you like) and save it out to your correct destination and you’re done!



Congratulations you’ve made a pattern!



Thats the general gist of making a pattern and I hope you learn something and have a lot of fun!! The world is your oyster when it comes to making patterns and the more you make, the better you will get.

Thanks so much for reading! Let me know if this was helpful or if you have any questions- and show me your patterns! Id love to see them!

Much love and hugs XO




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