The Power (and ease) of Patterns in Illustrator

In a previous post, I gave away some seamless vector patterns, and one in this post. Many of you have questioned how to put these to use, and the answer is lots of ways. I'm going to illuminate a few different ways to take a seamless vector pattern and put it to use. And believe me, these are not the only ways. Hopefully, you can take these tips and find some unique uses for your own personal designs.

The Power (and ease) of Patterns in Illustrator
The advantages of a seamless vector are obvious to some of us, but if you are new to vector, here's why. A seamless pattern is nice, but a seamless vector pattern is better. Vector patterns can be scaled to any size, making a single pattern extremely valuable in the long run. You can import a vector pattern into Photoshop as many times as you like, and make it a different size and DPI each time, without losing quality. Since we have the advantage of a vector pattern to work with, we can rasterize it, and not worry about changing it later, because we always have the vector source that can be scaled and re-imported at a different size. This isn't the case with an image (bitmap). If you get a seamless pattern in bitmap and scale it up, it becomes pixelated. While dealing with patterns, every software has its own rules and customizations to edit the patterns. One may need to replicate the patterns, invert the particular pattern, paste a pattern to a particular shape, change the color or style of a pattern and similar customizations. This tutorial is going to be very interesting. These patterns are useful in all kinds of backgrounds. These are seamless vector patterns so they can be extended and modified in all dimensions.

Before learning to customize these patterns, you must be aware of the way these patterns are created. Here are some tutorials on this site that will teach you to create these patterns from definite scratch.

For another tutorial on Illustrator patterns, see this post.

I'm going to show you 4 easy ways, in detail, to use a seamless vector pattern in Illustrator, easily and quickly. Whether or not you take these patterns into Photoshop is up to you, but you will get a much crisper result if you manipulate them in Illustrator first. These methods are by no means advanced, so please keep reading, or bookmark this for later. You may find that the hardest part (besides FINDING Free seamless vector patterns) is aligning/repeating/tiling them at your desired scale. I have a few tips to help you with this so you can make better use of those few precious vector patterns you stumble across. It's not quite as hard as you think, so I hope you find something useful here. . .

Download some seamless vector patterns (Includes: – AI (2) EPS (1) SVG (1) PNG (1))

1. Use your seamless vector pattern as a Swatch Pattern Fill

In Illustrator, once you have your pattern, you can drag it to the swatches palette, and have it available to use instantly as a fill for any shape. It's important to note that you must set the color of the pattern before you add it as a swatch. I haven't figured out a way to make the color editable yet. If you know how, please share.

Drag to swatches palette

Now, in your tools palette, select your fill color and click on your new pattern to set the pattern as your “fill color” essentially.

Setting the fill color

Now draw any shape and Illustrator will fill your shape with the pattern, seamlessly.

Shape filled with the pattern

Even better, keep drawing and even if you overlap shapes, Illustrator will automatically align the fill patterns.

Pattern applied to multiple shapes

2. Take a pattern and “Warp” it to get some abstract effects.

Illustrator has a handy warp effect (Effect > Warp) that can do wonders to a pattern. First, select your pattern like this:

Selected pattern

Now go to the Effect menu and select “Warp.” You will be given many options to choose from, but any will do because you can change it on the fly from the Warp options.

Adding the warp

Play around with the warp options to get the results you like. You can hit “Preview” to see your settings live, but be careful. Complex patterns can bog down even a fast machine.

Warp options

After you have your options selected, hit OK and you will get something like this:

Warped pattern

You will probably notice that illustrator hasn't actually altered your path, just the appearance. To get your path to follow the appearance, go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Expand appearance

Now you should have a clean, warped shape with the custom outline of your new warp. (it's a good idea to keep the original around in case you want to change it later)

Selected warped pattern
Finished warped pattern

3. Make your pattern into a custom Illustrator Brush

You can create a custom brush out of your pattern in Illustrator and make your pattern even more dynamic and versatile. With your pattern selected, go to the Brushes palette, and select “New Brush” from the menu in the top right by clicking on the little arrow shape.

The Power (and ease) of Patterns in Illustrator

Select “New Pattern Brush.”

Creating new pattern brush

Now you will have plenty of options in front of you, but the most important is to select the “tint” colorization method. This allows you to change the color of the brush later. Otherwise, you would have to save each color as it's own brush or expands the appearance each time you want to change the color of your brush stroke. So for now, leave all settings alone for learning purposes, select the “tint” colorization method and hit OK. You can play around with tons of settings later.

Pattern brush options

Now you should see your new brush in the Brushes palette.

Brushes palette

In order to use the brush all you need to do is draw a path as you would normally. You can use any tool that creates a path. Real quick to test it, draw a very simple path on the artboard. Be careful not to go crazy with this because the complexity of your brush stroke will be a heavy load for Illustrator to apply. Let the path be somewhat simple, and the complexity of the brush will make it interesting. I used the brush tool here as an example:

Drawn path

Now, apply your new brush stroke to the path and see what you get! Here's what mine looked like:

Pattern brush added to the path

4. Applying a Pattern Stroke to geometric shapes

Just like you can use a seamless pattern as a fill or a brush stroke, you can also use one as a stroke for any shape you like. While this may be similar to #3, by using geometric patterns and playing with the stoke size, you can achieve some very intricate symmetrical patterns, even using some of the simplest shapes, to begin with. To try this, create a circle on the artboard and make sure there is no fill and set the stroke to black.

Now apply the pattern brush that you made earlier, as the stroke. Adjust the stroke size to get the results you like.

Pattern brush applied to stroke

This is only the tip of the iceberg folks, but I hope this helped expand your thoughts on using patterns in Illustrator a bit!

You should practice with different customizations and geometrical shapes to get a better understanding of it. In addition, you should also practice different patterns in complex tasks and projects.