Thoughts & Process: How to Make a Seamless Vector Pattern

Today, I’m going to be showing you how to make seamless vector patterns. Seamless vector patterns are fantastic to use due to the easy color editing, resizing, and utility. These patterns can be used for website backgrounds, fabric printing, artwork, scrap-booking, and so much more! Before we get started, why vector? Vector artwork, as opposed to raster artwork that you generally see used for photographs and detailed illustrations, are able to be scaled infinitely small or large with no pixelated edges, are extremely easy to edit shapes and colors, and overall provide much more flexibility.


Please keep in mind for this tutorial, I’m using CorelDraw. These tactics I’m using will be applicable in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign as well. The most important abilities to keep in mind are being able to draw your vector objects, group them, crop them, and being able to place your vector graphics in very certain locations and pinpoints.


This first section is for those who either don’t know how to make raster/hand drawn artwork into vector objects, or those who prefer to start their drafts by hand. If you are someone who already knows these steps or you draw your drafts in a vector platform, feel free to jump ahead to the layout step.


Drawing your Pattern


If you’re like me, maybe you enjoy having a little freedom in how you get your patterns to look good. So what I do to start is to draw, on paper, a bunch of pieces that I know I will want to be in the final pattern that I can put together once they are vector objects. Some artists like to have a more solid foundation than this, but I make patterns in this manner so I have more flexibility in how the final piece looks.

A drawing of five different bunches of flowers, labeled A-E.


So here we have my sketch for this tutorial. I’ve marked each separate drawing accordingly for the sake of these instructions. Each drawing I’m going to draw over in a vector program, color fill empty spaces, and group the objects together so that I get 5 collective vector drawings. So if you’d like to follow along this tutorial, draw 5 separate objects of your choosing and make sure they aren’t touching each other. This doesn’t have to be flowers, it can be anything you want!


Drawing Vectorization


(First, a warning: in most vector graphics programs, you have the ability to use Image Trace or Trace Bitmap to immediately take a raster image and turn the elements in it to vector objects. While this is a tempting feature to use for newcomers, I personally don’t recommend using them at all. It’s very easy for these features to make your objects have rough looking edges, objects may merge in places you don’t want them to, and for excess colors to override flatter colors due to bitmap pixelation. If you want to use these objects later down the road outside of these patterns, you’re most likely making more work for yourself down the road. Still, I wanted to bring up that these features exist just in case you get too frustrated in this process. I think it’s good for fellow pattern makers try and get a result they can learn from, than have nothing at all.)

A slightly transparent drawing of a flower with a "C" labeled next to it, with black outlines of flower petals on top.


First, after importing my drawing into CorelDraw, I’m going to change the transparency of the bitmap image to 40% opaque, so that I can see what I’m drawing over easier. Next, I go over the lines of the drawing with my freehand pen tool, using a smoothing feature along the way so my lines don’t look so rough. I draw each outline of the flower petals so it makes one whole flower petal, so the above example is a total of 5 object drawings/outlines. You should make sure your lines end where they started, so you make one complete object. For this step, my outlines are 1.5 pts in size, while the inner lines are .75 pts. The lines on the inside of the petals I made skinnier so the outline of the flowers is more prominent. Next, I draw the flower “beans” and “bean stems,” for this step I again make sure my pen lines are drawn so the end points meet and merge so it becomes a color fill-able object as opposed to just an outline. Finally, I make the beginning flower petals have a white coloration, doing this means my drawing is not only solid but I can no longer see my sketch underneath the flower. One other thing I did was once I turned my outlines into objects/curves, I use the node tool/objecting editing tool to “pull” some of the outlines to be wider in certain spots, in order to give the drawing some varying line weight. Now I group these items all together. I then repeat this step for each object group, A-E. Make sure when you are done, none of your objects have any outlines, and that outlines that do exist are converted to objects/curves so they don’t throw you off when resizing your objects.

The same flower bunches as the first image now vector and in black and white, all labeled A-E.


Layout


Our canvas size for this tutorial is going to be 5 in. tall by 5 in. wide. I ended up making my flowers a bit bigger than above when I realized they were too small for what I wanted, so feel free to adjust your object sizes. Make absolutely sure that your graphics and objects are not wider or taller than the canvas size, otherwise your patterns won’t be seamless when you export them, and the items will overlap.


To start making this pattern seamless, we’re going to take object A and put it in four different locations. First, make sure your object anchor points for moving the items across the canvas grid are the center of the item. Duplicate object A three times so you have 4 object A’s, then put them in these respective locations:

  1. 0.0 x 0.0 y
  2. 0.0 x 5.0 y
  3. 5.0 x 0.0 y
  4. 5.0 x 5.0 y
4 of the same flower bunches moved to all the corners of a canvas.

Now since this pattern is supposed to look handmade and more organic, we want the pattern to look as original and natural as possible. So for the rest of the canvas, we should put in our remaining objects in nonspecific locations, not necessarily tied to certain grid points. This means you should avoid putting something directly in the middle of the canvas, in this instance, something centered in the 2.5 x 2.5 y spot. So feel free for this step to just place your objects in places in the canvas that feel good or right, just make sure these objects don’t extend past the edges of the canvas, or it won’t be seamless. Move objects on top or below each other to get a look you’re happy with.

All flower bunches A-E now placed onto a canvas to make a black and white pattern.

Since we now have all our pieces in the pattern, the next step is to put a color block behind all those pieces, just a 5 x 5 inch square set to the back of the page. Finally, we have to crop our objects outside the box so we don’t have anything bleeding over the canvas. You can do this by cropping your objects when they are all grouped together, or using a clipping mask to put all your objects inside the color block. Because I’m worried about how clipping masks translate in other vector programs, I decide to do the former.

A black and white floral pattern with a tan background color.


Now, before you export your patterns, you should test that the pattern is, indeed, seamless. To test this, duplicate your canvas and items inside twice, and using the center anchor point with these duplicates all grouped together, put one of the dupes in the 7.5 x 2.5 y spot, and the other in the 2.5 x 7.5 y spot (If the empty square below bothers you, put another duplicate canvas in the 7.5 x 7.5 y spot). These locations are to make sure the patterns do not overlap and touch exactly where one pattern ends, please do not hand drag these items! If the combined canvases are seamless, great! If not, delete the duplicate canvases and adjust your erroneous objects accordingly.

The pattern from above duplicated on the top and on the right side, to demonstrate the pattern being seamless.


Congrats! Now that the pattern’s passed the sniff test, you’re good to export your patterns! To keep the vector format, make sure to export your files as a PDF, AI, or an EPS. Make sure to try and import these files later back into a vector program to see if the file is working as intended. If you want to export the files as a bitmap/raster image, PNG works for web, and JPEG works for print. Just make sure anything for print is in a CMYK color mode, and anything for web is in RGB.


That’s all for this tutorial, I hope I was able to make this simple enough to understand. The transition from raster images to vector can be very intimidating for beginners, so don’t feel too discouraged if the end result this time isn’t what you had in mind, just try and see what you could improve on for next time! Thanks for reading this far, I hope I was able to provide some useful tips to prospective pattern makers and anyone else interested in the topic. I wish you the best, until we meet again.

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