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:


How to Create an Organic Repeat in Photoshop


So you're in Photoshop wanting to make a repeating pattern. You're staring at that Offset button...and it has that smug look on its stupid face again. "Yessss... you have to click me to make a repeat in Photoshop,"  it leers in that mathematical way it does. And THEN...from the View menu comes a unicorn!  What's on the unicorn, you ask?! GUIDES of Organic Fury!

Okay, okay, they're really just Photoshop guides. You got me.  Today you'll learn how to use guides to help you create your own repeats without using that Offset Method that most people learn by. 

Why should you trust me?

I was an in-house designer for 10 years (2006-2016) for two textile companies, including Robert Kaufman Fabrics.  We did repeats all the time and there's nothing faster than doing it organically.  I can't say every designer there did it this way, but many did. (Yes, even your favorite designers need their designs fixed by professional pattern technicians/stylists!)  If you really want to make your own repeats, use this method. 

However, I really only recommend putting your stuff into repeat for services that need it like Spoonflower, or if it's specifically requested.  Otherwise, don't waste your time.  It's actually way more annoying for in-house artists to fix your repeat and make it the correct scale/size/spread that works for their market.  Mock Repeats (or not technical repeats) are the way to go. But if you must...

Let's get down to the nitty gritty.

Tired of the Offset Method? Try this tutorial on creating repeats organically.

Tired of the Offset Method? Try this tutorial on creating repeats organically.

How to create an organic repeat in Photoshop. An organic repeat is just making a repeating pattern by hand and not using any of the razzle dazzle functions like Offset (UGH) within said program.

You can view it above , but I'd suggest clicking on that itty bitty HD button to view it on Vimeo so it's not blurry.