In this tutorial, I’m going to teach you how to create a half-drop pattern in Illustrator. Unlike basic repeats where a swatch is tiled in exactly the same position vertically and horizontally creating an identifiable grid (like a chessboard if all the squares were the same), a half-drop repeat shifts every other horizontal swatch down half of the height of the original swatch. Sounds confusing, but it’s really simple once you do it a couple times.
Create a new Illustrator document, any size you’d like as long as it’s a square. I’m doing 8in by 8in in this example (the size of a Spoonflower swatch), but a size like 10in squared would work perfectly as well! Depending on how you’ll use this pattern (print vs web), you’ll want to choose your color mode – I chose RGB since that’s the format that sites like Spoonflower and Society6 require. I always set my documents at 300dpi, just for good measure.
Import your pattern elements, whether that’s from Photoshop or Illustrator.
Note: when I create elements in Photoshop, I always make sure to create them extra large so that I can scale them without any loss of resolution.
Turn your rulers on (⌘-R or command-R) at this point, and create a horizontal guide halfway down from the top of my artboard (on this example, it’s 4in from the top). You’ll see why this is helpful in a minute.
Now comes the fun part: arranging your elements, or “motifs”! Depending on how many elements you’ve drawn and how they fit together, you may want to create clusters of a few motifs and group them so that you can use those as singular elements repeated across your swatch.
We’re going to start by adding elements on the outside edges of our artboard. I’ve created patterns by designing the middle first and then doing the edges, so you can do it that way if it makes more sense to you! I’ve moved some of my larger elements to both the left side and the top of my artboard.
This is where our halfway guide and the half-drop repeat come into play. For every element on the left, we’re going to move + copy it to the right side of the artboard, and then move it halfway down or up along the right side. Sound confusing? Let me show you.
With my selection tool (v) enabled, I’m going to click on the motif I want to duplicate, and click return so that the move dialog box pops up. If for some reason that keyboard shortcut doesn’t work, you can right click on your design element and go transform > move.
Because this element is above the halfway guide, I’m going to move it over 100% (of the artboard width, so 8in) and then down 50% of the artboard height, 4in. Anything below the halfway guide will move up 50%. So in this instance, I’m moving the bird 8in to the right and 4in down. Instead of hitting ok, you’re going to hit copy so that it creates a duplicate element in the correct position (otherwise, you’re just moving your original element.)
I’ll show you how to do that again: the ship’s wheel is just above the middle line. You’re going to move that over 100% (8in here) and 50% down (4in) and hit copy again to create a duplicate on the right side of the artboard. I’ll do the same with my squid, but instead of moving it 4in, I’m going to move it -4in, so that it’s going up instead of down. Again, I’ll hit copy to duplicate the element.
To sum this part up, for a half-drop repeat, the left and right sides will be copied 100% of the artboard width horizontally, and 50% (or -50%) of the height, depending on where they are relative to your guide.
Now to create the top and bottom edges: this part is simple! Just select your elements, hit enter (or right click, transform>move) and shift everything from the top edge down 100% of your artboard, in this case 8”, and 0” horizontally, so that they’re directly below the original elements. Don’t forget to copy your elements instead of just moving them. If you do move the original elements instead of copying, just hit ⌘-Z (command Z) to undo and then move/copy them again.
Our edges are looking good! The next step is to fill in the white space in the middle of your artboard with your elements. Some tips to make this look good: vary the size of your elements, rotate and/or flip the elements, and try to look for spots where your eye might be drawn because you have strong colors together or the negative space is too noticeable (unless you’re looking to do that!)
Here, I like to group all of my motifs together in one group, in case anything shifts. I then create another group with all of the elements, including the background. On top of the elements, I’m going to create a square (m + tap on workspace) that’s the exact size of my artboard. Using my align functions (making sure it’s set to “align to artboard”) , I’m going to “horizontal align center” and then “vertical align top.” It should be entirely covering your artboard, although you might have some elements hanging off the edges behind it.
Now, select everything: your grouped motifs/background + the new square on top. Either right click and then hit “make clipping mask” or type ⌘7. That should give you a perfect square swatch.
Time to test your swatch! There are a couple of ways to do this. If you’re using an older version of AI, or a different app, select your swatch, hit enter, and type in (once again) measurements for 100% of your artboard horizontal, 50% of your artboard vertical, and again click copy. Copy it one more time, but move the new swatch -50% up (so here, -4in). In other words, use the same process you used to duplicate edge elements, but with the entire swatch.
At this point, zoom way in to make sure your edges of the original swatch match up with your copied swatches.
To turn your swatch into a pattern fill in Illustrator CC, you’ll select your swatch and click object > pattern > make. You’ll see, initially, that your pattern edges don’t line up at all. Don’t worry! Make sure that you’ve clicked “size tile to art” and changed tile type (using the dropdown menu) to “brick by column.” Again, I like to zoom in here to make sure both the top edge and sides line up properly. Click done at the top of your pattern, and you’ll see this swatch appear in your swatches panel.
You can test the pattern by creating a rectangle (or any shape!) and selecting your pattern from the swatches panel as the fill. At this point, you can play with scale (s + enter while it’s selected) – make sure that “transform objects” isn’t ticked, and then enter a percentage next to uniform. I like to toggle the preview on here to see how it looks. You can also rotate your fill by clicking r + enter, and again making sure that “transform objects” isn’t checked but “transform patterns” is.
Now, you can export your swatch as a jpeg/png for printing, copy a large swatch into Photoshop to add it to a mockup, or even play with colors (edit > edit colors > recolor artwork while your swatch is selected.)
Hello! I’m Lindsay Goldner, owner of No Fonts Given Co, where I make identities and art for everyone from Google to indie stationery brands.
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