Megan Dunagan • Artist
bright & feminine illustrations

News | Megan Dunagan

Surface Pattern Designer and Illustrator available for hire and licensing

Make a better Repeating Pattern

how to make a better repeating repeat pattern using photoshop

I think this can apply to many of you, however, I hope it doesn't and that you've already got this.  However, since we're all learning, here, I thought I'd bring up this topic:


You guys know how to make them using either the *shudder* Offset Method, or you're using the, what I call, Organic Method. Of course, you could just be skipping all that and letting illustrator do it for you (which you should really only do once you get how to do it on your own, if I do say so myself).

But did you know you could be making better repeats?

Let's go back to story-land:

When I used to be a photographer at Disneyland and California Adventure, I always told the newbies, "You're only as good as you know your camera."  (wait, did I just make that up?...but I did say something like that).  Once you understand how your camera works , it'll put you on your way to a better photo.

Notice I didn't say that it'll make you a great photographer/artist/designer.

Surface pattern design revolves around making theoretical or technical patterns using a tool. This tool being Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.  Once you know how to make a pattern, yay, you're on to something!   BUT, and a BIG but, this isn't the end all of surface design.  It doesn't even make you good, necessarily. Sorry not sorry.

What I mean to say is:

I can see your repeat.

Yep. It's right there next to that motif you mirrored 3 times.  And you can see a diagonal "line" if you zoom out and make your pattern smaller.  And there's that icon AGAIN.

The best repeats are the ones you can't even tell repeat.

Of COURSE there are exceptions like damasks, or tiles, or stripes, but most patterns should be basically repeat-invisible...ESPECIALLY if it's a toss or directional design.

So I made a video with my fancy lapel mic (read: not fancy and $5) while I laughed at myself in the beginning.  This is one-woman show, ya'll. Take a listen because it's easier to explain by showing than by writing at you.

Click the video below to watch.

Recorded at 1080p, so take advantage of how long this thing took to upload.
And turn on closed captioning because that shiz is MAGIC (seriously, YouTube is a wizard).

Topics Covered (yes, I made an outline, you guys!):

1) Striping: Where your eye wants to move in a direction, usually diagonally along the pattern.  Make sure this doesn't happen.
2) Repeat size is too small: Not enough space to create a dynamic layout.
3) Not enough variation in icons/motifs: Paint more stuff to make it more interesting.
4) Check the scale of all your patterns in relation to one another: make sure your main pattern stands out as a "main pattern".  Make some patterns larger or smaller in a significant way.
5) Links mentioned: How to Make an Organic Repeat, Using Actions & Droplets.

To see more tutorials, click this giant button: