How to create a seamless pattern

In this tutorial, the lovely Diane Labombarbe (aka ‘diane555’ on has kindly volunteered to show you how she makes her beautiful seamless vector patterns. You can check out her work at

Getting Started

Start by drawing a square. Ours is 5 inches in size. Fill it with a color you like. Make a copy (Command-C, Command-F on Mac or Control-C, Control-F on a PC) and change the copied shape to an outline only (shift-X to switch your stroke and fill colors; in this case since there was no stroke it will give us a nice outlined shape without a fill). Move the shape onto a higher layer and lock it for now.


Make a new layer in between your squares. This is where you can add your shapes – in this case, some pretty cherry blossoms and birds. Arrange them however you like, and don’t worry too much about the final placement: we’ll work on that shortly!


Unlock your outlined square, select it and all your pattern elements (the flowers and birds), and group them (Command-G on Mac, or Control-G on PC). For now, leave the colored square on its own locked layer.


Creating the Pattern

Now we’ll start making some copies of this to see how our pattern works. Copy the group containing your flowers, birds and square outline and paste it in front (Cmd-C, Cmd-F on Mac, Ctl-C, Ctl-F on PC). Because our original square is 5 inches, we know we’ll need to move our copied pattern off to the side.

Select the copied pattern and hit ‘Return’ while holding down the ‘Shift’ key. This will bring up the ‘Move’ dialogue box. Enter the amount you’d wish to move the shape (in this case, 5 inches: You can also click on the ‘Preview’ button to see where your shape is going to be placed).


Repeat this process 3 more times, so that your pattern tile surrounds your original colored square on all four sides. This is how to figure out how your pattern will look when a buyer tiles it seamlessly. We can already see a couple of small things we’d like to change: For example, we don’t like the way two of the birds are bumping into each other on the right:


Making Adjustments

To make changes, we’ll go back to our central shapes layer. You can either ungroup the shapes and move them around, or if you have CS3 or higher, you can double click right in the group to select the object you’d like to edit. This is called ‘Isolation Mode’, and you can watch a great video tutorial here (note that this is only available in CS3 and CS4). Here we’ve twiddled with the birds and a few of the flowers to make things look less cluttered:


Note how in the example above, some of the shapes as well as the background color look washed out? This is what Isolation Mode looks like: It will grey out shapes as you double click inside a group, making it easier to see what you’re editing. Very handy feature.

We’re now happy with our arrangement, so we’ll delete our last repeats outside our colored box and try them again with our new pattern swatch. It’s looking good, even when we turn off the colored box in the background to see the pattern on its own:


Cleaning Things Up

Now we’ll delete all the shapes that aren’t on or overlapping our original colored square. If a shape doesn’t cross inside the square, we don’t need it:


Ungroup all your pattern elements and make sure your outlined square is in behind your petals and birds. To move the square to the very back, hit Command-Shift-[ (Mac) or Command-Shift-[ (PC) (Naturally, if you ever need to to move an object in front everything else, the command is Command-Shift-] (Mac) or Command-Shift-] (PC)). You’re going to be reusing this outline a lot, so we suggest you make several copies and paste them in behind each other so you don’t run out (Command-C, Command-B on Mac or Control-C, Control-B on PC)!

Now we’re going to get rid of all those bits and pieces hanging off our artboard. Make sure all your shapes are ungrouped, as we’ll need to slice up each shape individually.

Pathfinder: Intersect Shape AreaSelect one piece along with one of your square outline copies and click on ‘Intersect’ in the Pathfinder palette. Continue doing this with all your shapes, making sure you have enough outlines on hand to continue cropping.

Pathfinder: Add To Shape Area

Tip: To help speed things up, if you happen to have a lot of shapes with the same fill and stroke color, go to ‘Select > Same > Fill and Stroke’ to select them all. Then you can merge them using the ‘Add to Shape Area’ button in the Pathfinder palette. (Please note that this function is now named ‘Unite’ in CS4 – it’s way easier to remember that name!).

A word of advice: Cleaning up shapes with the Pathfinder like this can muck around with the stacking order of your shapes, so make sure you check afterwards to ensure no shapes are in front or in behind where they don’t belong.

Here is our tidied up pattern layer:


All we need to do now is turn back on the layer with our colored square. To help show the pattern better (we’ll be uploading this file to iStock so we’d like to give the buyers a chance to see how the pattern is set up), we’ll use the Move dialogue box to align 4 squares of our pattern. Voila!


> Purchase this file on iStockphoto

© Diane Labombarbe, 2009


2 thoughts on “How to create a seamless pattern

  1. […] Creating a Seamless Pattern : […]

  2. Alex says:

    Nice, thanks for the tutorial !

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