Making Custom Patterns in Adobe Illustrator: Complete Beginner’s Guide

making patterns in illustrator tutorial

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In this tutorial I’m going to show you how to create your own custom patterns in Adobe Illustrator.

Lately I’ve been in such a mood for tie-dye gradients and funky looking graphics inspired by Lisa Frank. I think this inspiration came while I was making the hero image for my Wavy Type Tutorial, and I realized how awesome pattern swatches are!

Why do I love to make custom patterns in Illustrator?

There are a few reasons.

  1. Patterns are great for adding texture and style to your graphics and illustrations. Here’s a tutorial where I created a hatch mark pattern to make a special drop shadow for my text.
  2. You can save patterns as swatches to be used over and over again, which significantly speeds up workflow.
  3. Patterns are easy to edit and scale according to your design needs.

So let’s jump right in. Go ahead and fire up Illustrator and get ready to make some truly one-of-a-kind patterns.

Step 1: Object > Pattern > Make

object > pattern > make in illustrator

As always, you can make your new Illustrator canvas any size according to your needs. I believe mine is 800x800px, RGB color mode, and 72ppi.

To create a new custom pattern, go to Object > Pattern > Make

A box might pop up with some warning about live elements and editing and blah, blah blah. Just click OK and get on with life.

make a new pattern in illustrator

You have now entered into pattern making mode. Of course, I doubt that’s the official name, but that’s what I call it. You can see in the image above that the Pattern Options Panel has appeared. Also notice the blue bounding box on your canvas and the menu bar near the top of your screen where you can make a copy of your pattern or exit pattern making mode.

Take a moment to explore the Pattern Options Panel. Most of the options are self-explanatory. Go ahead and give your pattern a new name, and feel free to change the Tile Type, Width, and Height. Don’t stress too much over the settings. You can copy mine from the image above.

The important thing to remember when exploring design software like Adobe Illustrator is that (usually) nothing is permanent, mistakes can be fixed, adjustments can be made, and the best way to learn is to screw it all up.

If you’re completely new to Illustrator, be sure to check out my Free Beginner Illustrator Course where you can learn all the basics through easy video tutorials.

Step 2: Start Filling Up the Pattern Bounding Box with Your Custom Design

I decided to make a simple pattern inspired by high fashion. Fouis Fuitton, if you will. I used the Type Tool, The Ellipse & Rectangle Tools, and Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat to achieve these results.

I’m going to be giving away some awesome free patterns in this post, so keep scrolling for those. I think you’ll like them. Although I decided not to include the faux louis pattern – I don’t want to be sued!

Raise your hand if every popular girl at your Middle School had a small Louis Vuitton handbag in that rainbow monogram pattern. 🙋‍♀️ Coulda been legit, mighta come from Canal Street. We couldn’t tell. And no, if you’re wondering: I was not popular.

creating a new pattern in illustrator

Obviously, you should make something that inspires you. Whip out the tablet & stylus, the brush tool, anything you want. Let your creativity shine! Cheetah, leopard, and honeycomb patterns come to mind as ones you could get a ton of use out of.

leopard pattern illustrator

Notice how Illustrator automatically lets me preview my pattern as I create it? This is thanks to the Copies Option in your Pattern Options Panel. Mine is set to 5×5, and you can also increase or lower the opacity of the copies.

Here are 4 fun custom patterns I created:

custom patterns illustrator

If you want to grab ALL 4 patterns seen in the above photo COMPLETELY FREE for personal use, head to my Free Resource Library now:

Once you’re happy with the pattern, go ahead and click Done. The new pattern will appear automatically in your Swatches Panel. If you don’t see the Swatches, go to Window > Swatches.

Step 3: Fill Shapes with Your Custom Pattern

As you’ll notice in the image below, I dragged out an ellipse and filled it with my new Faux Louis pattern from the swatches panel.

using your new pattern in illustrator

Nice! And if you decide you want to make changes to your pattern, you can simply double click on the pattern swatch to re-enter Pattern Making Mode. You can also make a copy of your pattern if you want to make changes but keep the original intact.

You might also be wondering… what happens if I want to make the pattern bigger or smaller inside of my shape?

Step 4 : Scale Your Pattern

As you’ll notice in the image below, my pattern doesn’t really “shine” inside of this star, because it’s too big.

Here’s how to scale it:

Select your shape with the pattern fill and right click. Select Transform > Scale.

filling custom shapes with your pattern in illustrator

In the Scale Options box, uncheck all options except for Transform Patterns.

Make sure Uniform is selected under Scale, and type in a new percentage. I went with 30% for my star shape. Select Preview so you can see the changes and make any adjustments before you press OK.

scale patterns in illustrator

Step 5: Make Your Pattern More Interesting

So far we’ve looked at exactly how to create a custom pattern in Illustrator and how to apply it to your designs, but the examples have been very simple.

So how can we elevate our design skills? Here’s something I personally love to do with patterns (and really all the things in Illustrator): Play with the Blending Mode!

appearance, transparency, and blending modes in illustrator

In the image above, I’ve simply created a colorful gradient background and put a rectangle on top that’s filled with my Faux Louis pattern. On the Left, I’ve left the Blending Mode as Default, which is “Normal”. On the right, I’ve opened up my Appearance Panel (Window > Appearance), clicked on Opacity, and then changed the Blending mode from Normal to Color.

And wow! So simple to do, but looks really fancy. At least I think so.

Step 6: Illustrator’s Built In Patterns

I don’t want to end this tutorial before I mention that Illustrator does come with some built-in patterns. Most of them are absolutely hideous (sorry not sorry).

built-in patterns illustrator

If you want to explore the built-in patterns, Click the Swatch Libraries menu icon at the bottom left of the Swatches Panel and hover over Patterns. You can scroll through the various options.

And truth be told, the Basic Graphics such as Dots and Lines are actually really good. I love to use them to create retro-looking artwork.

Step 7: Save Your New Custom Pattern

saving pattern swatches in illustrator

The last thing you’re going to want to do is Save your New Pattern Swatch so you can use it again and again forevermore. Click on the Swatch Libraries menu icon at the bottom left of the Swatches Panel and select Save Swatches. Then follow the on-screen prompts to save your Swatch Panel.

Next time you want to use your pattern, you can access your saved swatches through the Swatch Libraries menu > User Defined.

And that’s all there is to it. Now go forth & design some custom patterns!

Don’t forget! All 4 Patterns including the vector leopard print are available to download as an Adobe Illustrator File and are Completely FREE for Personal Use. Head to my Free Resource Library to grab them.

If you enjoyed this tutorial and decide to create your own pattern, be sure to tag me @makerlex on Instagram. I absolutely love to see your creations.

And if you have any questions, be sure to comment below so I can answer them.

You can also pin this image to save the Custom Illustrator Pattern Tutorial for later, or to share it with friends (which I would totally appreciate!).

custom patterns in illustrator

Hoping you get the Louis Vuitton bag of your dreams,

Maker Lex Signature

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