How to create an advanced repeating pattern from pen


In this blog post, I will describe how to create an advanced repeating pattern from pen. To create a simple pattern, refer to How to create a Pattern in Adobe Illustrator. To create an advanced repeating pattern from watercolours, refer to How to create a Complex Seamless Pattern from Watercolours.


To create an advanced repeating pattern with my methods, ensure that you have access to the following items first:

  • Good quality black pen
  • Good quality paper
  • Access to Adobe Illustrator, version 2019 or later
  • Optional: Lightbox

Choosing your pattern elements

  1. Decide on a subject matter and build a theme around this.
  2. Choose a mixture of images that will be the main, secondary, and tertiary pattern elements.
    The main and secondary pattern elements will appear larger and less frequently in your pattern, while the tertiary pattern elements will appear smaller, but more frequently.
  3. Add all your images to a Word document.

Drawing your pattern elements

  1. To avoid mistakes, it is better to draw your pattern elements in pencil first.
  2. Optional: If you prefer, you can use a lightbox to trace your pattern elements.
  3. Regardless of which drawing method you choose, draw over each pattern element with a black pen.
  4. Throughout the drawing process, keep each pattern element separate and do not overlap them.
    The following image is an example of how your complete pattern elements should appear.
Example of pattern elements

Scanning your pattern elements

To find the scan dialog on a Mac, follow these steps:

  1. In the upper-left corner of your screen, click the Apple icon.
  2. Click System Preferences > Printers & Scanners.
  3. Then, click on the Scan tab.
  4. Select the following settings:
    Kind: Black & White
    Resolution: 300 dpi
    Format: JPEG
    Image Correction: Manual
  5. Increase the slider on the Brightness and Contrast options.
  6. Draw marquees over the different pattern elements you want to scan.
  7. Click Scan.
  8. The scanned pattern elements will appear in your downloads folder.
  9. Move these JPEGs to a new folder called scans.

Vectorising your pattern elements

Vectorising is a process that can turn your drawings into graphics that are endlessly scalable. As we want our finished pattern to appear on as many items as possible, it is important to vectorise your drawings, so that they don’t appear pixelated at a later stage.

  1. Open Adobe Illustrator, and in the New Document dialog box that opens, click on the Print tab.
    a. Select the Letter preset.
    b. Change the measurement style to pixels and the color mode to RGB. Ensure that the resolution is 300 ppi.
    c. Click Create.
  2. To import your pattern elements, click File > Place.
  3. Click Window > Image Trace.
  4. As we have simple black and white drawings, in the Image Trace dialog box, select Black and White Logo.
  5. In the Image Trace dialog box, increase the Threshold slider to collect more of the black colour.
  6. Select the Ignore White check box, and increase the number of paths.
  7. At the top of the screen, click Expand.
    Your drawings are officially vectorised.
  8. Right-click on the drawings, and click Object > Ungroup.
  9. On the left toolbar, click on the Lasso Tool.
    a. With the Lasso Tool, draw shapes around the individual vectors that you want grouped together.

Creating a colour palette

To colour the black and white vectors, we first must create a colour palette of between 4 to 12 colours. The individual colours that form the colour palette are called swatches.

  1. Collect some photos that you like from the internet.
    Include photos that have a mix of light colours, dark colours, and neutrals.
    a. Click File > Place to import these photos into your Illustrator workspace.
  2. Use the Rectangle Tool to draw individual squares for the swatches.
    a. Click Cmd+D to duplicate the squares as many times as you need.
  3. Click on a square, then click the Eyedropper Tool.
    a. With the Eyedropper Tool selected, click on any colours that you like in the photos imported.
    These colours will now appear in the swatch squares.
  4. Delete the photos from your Illustrator workspace.
  5. Use the Selection Tool to select all your swatches.
    a. Click Window > Swatches.
    b. In the Swatches panel, click New Color Group, and rename this colour palette to a memorable name.
  6. Delete the swatch squares in your Illustrator workspace.

Colouring your vectors

  1. If you want any of your drawings to be a solid colour, use the Shape Builder Tool.
    a. See the following video to learn how to use this tool.
    Note: Before you use the Shape Builder Tool, ensure that there are no open paths.
Using the shape builder tool
  1. If you want, now apply a different fill colour to your shape.
  2. For more complex shapes, use the Live Paint Bucket.
    a. See the following video to learn how to use this.
Using the live bucket tool
  1. To change the colour of the outline, click on the outline, click on the Live Paint Bucket, and change the fill colour.
    Note: You can also choose the None (/) fill option.
  2. When you are happy with your chosen colours, you must click Expand on each shape.
    This is because the live paint bucket is an effect.
  3. If the edges irritate you during this exercise, click Cmd+H to hide them.

Creating motifs

Motifs are recurring subjects that appear in your pattern. To build your motifs easily, follow these steps:

  1. If you still want to change the colours of your vectors at this stage, click the Direct Selection Tool and change the fill colour.
  2. If there are any separated vectors, you can use Window > Pathfinder to unite them.
  3. Move all your vectors off the artboard.
  4. On the left toolbar, click on the Rectangle Tool.
    a. Click the Rectangle Tool once, and create a 500 px x 500 px bounding box.
  5. To make the bounding box more prominent, add a fill colour to it.
    a. Click Cmd+2 to lock your bounding box.
  6. Select all your vectors with the Selection Tool, and click Object > Arrange > Bring to Front.
  7. Use the scale, rotate, and arrange tools to organise your vectors into eye-catching motifs.
  8. When you are happy with a motif, select the vectors and click Object > Group.
    After following these steps, your motifs artboard should look similar to the following image:

Making a seamless repeating pattern

  1. Remember your bounding box measurements, for example 500 px x 500 px.
  2. Arrange your motifs within the bounding box.
  3. If a motif passes the bounding box edge, click on the motif, and click Object > Transform > Move.
  4. In the dialog box that appears, enter the appropriate horizontal and vertical values, for example:
    – If you want to replicate a motif from the left on to the right, choose Horizontal: 500 px, Vertical: 0 px
    – If you want to replicate a motif from the bottom to the top, choose Horizontal: 0 px, Vertical: -500 px
  5. Design the middle of the bounding box as you please.
  6. When you are content with your design, unlock the background in the layers panel or click Object > Unlock All.
  7. Copy the background, and click Object > Arrange > Send to Back.
  8. Apply a None (/) fill to this copied background.
  9. Select everything on your artboard and drag it into the Swatches panel.
  10. Create a rectangle and apply the pattern as a fill.
Finished pattern

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