Creating Basic Patterns with Photoshop
Patterns abound in both nature and architecture, and therefore it’s important that you know how to create— and occasionally recreate — patterns as replacement areas for images, for background on Web pages, and even for Fine Art. Digital media has redefined the term “pattern” to include natural textures, exotic surfaces, basically any object that has a fill can look more handsome and lifelike with a little mottling and detail work; in essence, a pattern. Read on to learn the procedures in Photoshop for creating patterns that are both realistic and fanciful, with obvious repeats of geometry and carefully disguised repeating tiles. I’ll show you how to create, save, and apply custom textures, that can help you realize the patterns of your dreams.
You'll need some tutorial files to complete the tutorials. Everything you need is in a zipped archive if you click to download them here; they're around 1.7MB.
Creating a Simple Repeat Pattern
To begin at the beginning, the fundamental element in a pattern is the design— the core object you want to repeat. Download and open Wallpaper ornaments.psd; the file has four layers with Celtic and Art nouveau icons you’ll use to make some elegant wallpaper. In the following steps you’ll embellish one of the ornaments, define a pattern Photoshop-style, and then apply the pattern to a new image.
- Click the Art Nouveau flower title on the Layers palette and then right-click (Mac:Ctrl+ click) and choose Duplicate layer. In the Duplicate Layer dialog, choose New in the Destination field drop-down. Now you have a new document and can’t inadvertently mess up the original layered file. Close the original now.
- Black is sort of a dreary color for wallpaper; click the Lock Transparent Pixels box on the Layers palette— now the ornament can be recolored without straying outside its edges.
- A gradient in the interior of the ornament will add life to the overall pattern. Choose purple as your foreground color and orange as the background color swatch on the Toolbox.
- Choose the Gradient tool and then choose linear mode on the Options bar. Drag from top to bottom in the document window. Your results should look like Figure 1.
- Add an effect to the object; a pillow emboss will make the future wallpaper look like flocked wall paper. Uncheck the Lock box on the Layers palette and then click on the effects button. Choose Bevel and Emboss from the drop-down list.
- Choose Pillow Emboss from the Style drop-down list. You can tinker with the sliders to achieve different effects, but in this example, I only adjusted the Depth to about 500% to create a pronounced effect; do this now, see figure 2 and then click OK.
Here’s the deal on Photoshop patterns; a pattern can have transparency and the more area you give around a pattern object, the more widely spaced the element will be when you fill a document area with the pattern. Effects are also saved in patterns but you can’t edit an effect in a pattern applied to a document— the effect is set and static. The advantage to including transparency in a pattern is that you can specify any background color to a document filled with the pattern, thus multiplying your returns on a single investment.
- With the Rectangular Marquee tool, drag close to the top left of the ornament, dragging down and right until you reach the bottom right of the window. You’ve defined the extent of the pattern and now it’s time to save it. By leaving little space at the top left, the pattern will repeat in rows and columns with spacing to the bottom and right— it’s important to leave room on only two sides of a proposed pattern— if you float the pattern object on all four sides, you’ll get a lot of background and not much repeating pattern. See Figure 3.
- Choose Edit>Define Pattern. In the Define Pattern dialog box, type a name that you’ll remember later and then click OK. Your pattern is saved to Photoshop’s default collection of patterns. If you really get into pattern design, you might want to back up the pattern collections found in Adobe Photoshop CS3\Presets\Patterns\*.pat— in Windows, the files have the pat extension.
Like all sets in Photoshop such as Brushes and Gradients, you can save a custom pattern to Photoshop’s default set, but the set itself is not saved until you click the flyout on the palette and choose Save Patterns. To access the Patterns palette, you need to have a pattern application tool active such as the Pattern Stamp tool or the Paint Bucket— the palette appears on the Options bar.
If you’d like to start your own collection (there are 8 Photoshop pattern palettes in addition to the default, accessed through the palette flyout), you can download Nearly Empty.pat. I’ve created a nice starter set of textured patterns you can add to a collection; download the Bouton patterns folder and use the steps in this chapter to define and save them. Unfortunately, saved *.pat files are very large, so if you want to share a pattern with others, it’s best to share the source files instead of the saved set.
Applying A Saved Pattern
There are a number of ways you can apply a pattern:
- Use the Edit>Fill command. Going this route enables you to additionally specify the opacity of the fill and the blending mode.
- Use the Paint Bucket tool. You have options on the Options bar for not only opacity and blending mode, but also Tolerance and Contiguous. Tolerance means that the pattern filled using the Paint Bucket will overwrite existing layer pixels— the higher the Tolerance, the more completely the tool fills existing pixel areas with the pattern. Tolerance is useful for confining pattern fills to only specific colored areas in your document; suppose you have a pink and green checkered design and only want to fill the pink squares. Contiguous means that the Paint Bucket tool only fills areas where pixels touch one another. Unchecked, non-contiguous filling fills all areas of similar color to the area you click the tool over.
- Use the Pattern Stamp tool. In addition to opacity and blending mode, you can set Aligned or unaligned pattern stroking. Don’t get the idea that you can randomly paint with the saved pattern in unaligned painting mode— the pattern you apply is continuous, but if you have different brush settings defined such as Jitter Size, unaligned changes your brush strokes, but not the pattern application. You also have an Impressionist option on the Options bar, so you can apply the pattern as an abstract series of blobs. This is not a good option for creative individuals and it’s about as artistic as the Art history brush.
- You can apply a pattern to a layer by choosing Pattern from Adjustment layers on the Layers palette. This is an extremely useful feature because unlike other procedures, a Pattern Adjustment layer can be scaled before you create it, using the Scale feature in the Pattern Fill dialog box that appears after you add the Adjustment layer. The previous three methods offer no scaling option
- A method that offers perhaps the greatest editing capility after applying a pattern is through Layer?New Fill Layer?Pattern, which I’ll discuss later in this chapter. A Pattern layer is created with a corresponding transparency mask so you can make different areas invisible by using any painting tool.So open a new document with Transparent Background Contents@@make it 1024 by 768 pixels in dimensions so you can clearly see the pattern repeat. Follow these steps:
- Choose Edit>Fill.
- In the Fill dialog box, choose Pattern from the Use drop-down list.
- Click the Custom Pattern drop-down and then choose your saved pattern from the icon list. It will be on the last row, last column. Click OK.
- A background for the pattern that contains transparency would be nice. Click the New layer icon on the Layers palette; Drag the layer’s title down beneath the current layer.
- Choose a pleasing foreground color by clicking the foreground color swatch on the Toolbox. I used pale cream but choose any color you like— it’s your design.
- Press Ctrl/cmd+A and then Alt/Opt+Backspace to fill the bottom layer with foreground color. In figure 4, my own version looks pretty good. I think I’ll print 100 copies and do the basement.
Creating an Interlinking Pattern
Granted, the preceding tutorial was educational, but left a little to desire in terms of a sophisticated, intricate pattern. One of the most visually appealing pattern designs for centuries has been one where the elements link to one another— in a chain, a floral weave or other highly ornamental theme. You know how to define a pattern, but now you’ll learn how to create an element that links.
Open a new document window; in general, you want to design large pattern elements because you never know when you’ll need a large pattern for production-quality printing, so define a new document that’s 600 pixels wide by 200 pixels high. I typically design square patterns at 512 x 512 pixels, but this interlinking pattern requires added horizontal elbow room to build. Follow these steps to make a linking chain pattern:
- Choose the Elliptical Marquee tool, and then hold Shift (to make perfect circles) and drag a circle that’s 80% of the height of the new image window in the horizontal center of the window, leaving empty space at the bottom of the window (so the pattern will tile horizontally with a gap).
- Press D (default colors) and then choose Edit>Stroke. Set the Stroke width to 20 pixels, Location: Inside, and then click OK. Press Ctrl/cmd+D to deselect the selection.
- Look at Figure 5. The gold circle is the circle on the layer you just stroked. The red wavy line is the path you need to use with the Eraser tool, set to 20 pixels in diameter up on the Options bar. The blue in the figure are the areas you erase— the resulting shape is a chain that will link to copies of the original.
- Get fancy with this plain chain by adding a Style. Open the styles palette from the receive strip and then load the Web Styles from the flyout menu. Apply any one of the metal effects by simply clicking the icon.
- Duplicate the current layer twice by dragging the layer into the New icon on the Layers palette.
- With the Move tool (V), arrange the three links so they interlink with each other. Alternatively, you can precisely nudge them into place by pressing the arrow keys while the Move tool is chosen. If you hold Shift, you nudge a layer’s contents by 10 pixels instead of 1.
- Using the Rectangular Marquee tool, crop the window to the left and right edges of the circles. You’re doing this to better use the grid feature, not because this crop is the definition of the pattern itself.
- Choose View>Show>Grid, and then choose View>Snap To>Grid.
- With the Rectangular Marquee tool, drag from the exact vertical center of the left circle to the exact vertical center of the right circle. To better see the selection, click the Quick Mask button on the Toolbox. If your selection isn’t dead-centered, choose the Move tool and then keyboard arrow-nudge the selection horizontally. Then return to Standard editing mode by clicking the quick Mask button again. See figure 6.
- Choose Edit>Define Pattern and then name it.
- Apply your pattern to a new document window. In figure 7, I’ve got a splendid pattern to go with my Art Nouveau flowers on the sofa in the basement.
Offsetting Pattern Elements
The Offset command is instrumental in seamless tile creation; it’s in Filter>Other. What the Offset filter does is wrap an image around its window, to the left or right and down or up. The disadvantage to this filter is that if an image does not tile, the Offset command will produce a visible seam in the image as its edges are offset to the image’s center, but this is not of concern in the steps to follow. Suppose you want to create a wallpaper pattern whose elements are staggered— to create a pattern configuration that’s more complex and interesting than neat little columns and rows of the same pattern element. Use a design element of your own, or reopen Wallpaper ornaments.psd and copy the Arts & Crafts Vessel layer to a new document using the steps you did earlier in this chapter.
Here’s how to make a wallpaper whose design element is offset, creating a diamond configuration for the overall pattern:
- Embellish the ornament using the Styles palette.
- Drag the layer into the New layer icon on the Layers palette.
- If you’re using your own design, right-click on the document title bar and then choose Image Size to see the dimensions, and write them down. The Arts & Crafts vessel is 500 by 500 pixels in dimension.
- Choose Filter>Other>Offset.
- Type exactly half the Vertical and Horizontal dimensions of your document into the appropriate fields in the Offset dialog box. Then choose Wrap Around for the Undefined Areas. As you can see in Figure 8, the duplicate layer is turned inside-out, thus staggering the design element. I added the purple background only so you can better see the effect— don’t add a background or the defined pattern won’t contain transparency.
- Click OK. Then choose Edit?Define Pattern, name the pattern and you’re all set the next time you need an elegant wallpaper pattern.
Creating Patterns with Images
Let’s explore the Offset command a little more, because it’s good for creating more than an offset repeat. Download and open Bobbins.tif and Buttons.psd. The illustration of the thread bobbins could use a more interesting backdrop and base than plain red. The Buttons.psd file has nine layers, each with a scan of a button, neatly trimmed and I added a slight drop shadow so when the pattern builds up, the buttons will shade each other a little.
Creating a Random Pattern
Your task is to create a pattern of buttons to apply to the background of the bobbins illustration using the Offset command. But unlike the wallpaper tutorials, the button pattern shouldn’t look like a pattern, but instead it should look like a random dispersal of buttons. This is secret Number 2 of pattern creation— you can fill large areas with a pattern that the viewer can’t see obvious repeats, thus creating something that is more of a texture than a clear pattern. To do this, you’ll want to use the Offset controls to put some buttons at the edge of the document window to form the seamless pattern, but also put some buttons toward the center of the window, making an asymmetrical composition.
- Click the Blue button title on the Layers palette; this will be the first button you offset.
- Choose Filter>Other>Offset. In the Offset dialog box, drag the horizontal and vertical sliders until the button appears in the document window so that it offsets to the four corners of the document window, and then click OK.
- Moving up in the layer stack, leave the Teal button alone— it’s fine where it is. Click the large wood layer title, and then press Ctrl/cmd+Alt/Opt+F to call up the Offset dialog box without applying the filter.
- Drag the sliders so that the button appears at the edges of the document window, but not directly behind the blue button; let it overlap just a little, and then click OK. You’re offsetting the larger buttons so that the background of the pattern is filled; the larger the object on a layer, the more quickly you can fill the pattern edges.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 with the rest of the layers until you have a nice scattered composition. In Figure 9, I’ve put the green button at top and bottom without horizontally offsetting it, to add more asymmetry. Don’t hesitate to reorder the layers by dragging them up or down in the layer stack on the Layers palette, and don’t be afraid to duplicate button layers— in case you have an unwanted gap or two in the pattern — by dragging them into the New layer icon on the bottom of the Layers palette. It’s okay to leave some empty space in the pattern— when you apply it to the bobbins illustrations, some red background will show through.
- To achieve coverage in the pattern, create a copy of the PSD file by right-clicking on the document title bar and then choose Duplicate.
- With the duplicate in the foreground in the workspace, right-click over any layer title on the Layers palette and then choose Merge Visible.
- Drag the combined layer into the New Layer icon on the Layers palette.
- Press Ctrl/cmd+Alt/Opt+F, and then offset the duplicate layer so that you can only see perhaps one or two transparent areas, as shown in Figure 10.
- Save the composition as a pattern: Edit>Define Pattern. Then you save the original document (you can close the duplicate pattern file without saving it), because you might want a different random ordering of the buttons as a pattern in the future.
The Define Pattern command looks at all the visible layers. If you want to exclude a particular layer from a pattern, click its eye icon to hide it before using the Define Pattern command.
Applying a Random Pattern/Editing the Composition
Patterns you apply to a composition don’t have to be a “set piece”; you’ll frequently want to play with the applied pattern to mix up the elements, add a new element— anything you choose to disguise the repeating nature of a pattern. In the following steps, you’ll apply the saved button pattern to the bobbins image and then use the Free Transform feature to add a slight perspective to the pattern layer. The bobbins are in slight perspective and you want to match this perspective a little to integrate the composition. Then, because you’ve saved the pattern as a PSD file, you can copy a button or two to the bobbins composition to break up the repeat. In general, you don’t want a random pattern such as these buttons to repeat more than three times or it becomes obvious to the viewer.
- Increase the Canvas Size of the bobbins illustration; to add perspective later, you’ll need a canvas larger than the original composition because layers filled with patterns are clipped to the document edges. Right-click (Mac:Ctrl+ click) on the document title bar, and then choose Canvas Size.
- In the Canvas Size dialog box, choose percent from either New Size drop-down (the other drop down will change to percent automatically), and then type 125 in the top value field, press Tab twice to move to the other field, type 125 and then click OK.
- Click the Fill layer title on the Layers palette, and then choose Edit?Fill. In the Fill dialog box, choose Pattern in the Use field, and then scout down the thumbnail of the buttons pattern. Click it and then click Ok to apply the pattern as a fill.
- Press Ctrl/cmd+T to put this layer in Free Transform mode.
- Right-click and then choose Distort from the context menu. You’re using distort instead of the more obvious Perspective Free Transform because Perspective doesn’t allow you to quickly toggle to Scale Free Transform; you need to both add perspective and scale the pattern.
- Drag the Free Transform bounding box handles, one at a time, so your layer looks like Figure 11, or until you judge that the perspective looks correct (or close to correct).
- Click the checkmark icon on the Options bar to apply the Free Transform.
- Ctrl/cmd+click on the background layer to load it as a selection. Then choose Image>Crop.
- Click the title bar of the Buttons.psd image to move it to the foreground in the workspace. Then on the Layers palette, click+drag a button title into the bobbins composition. With the Move tool, put the button somewhere in the composition where it helps disguise any obvious repeats. If you put it on top of part of one of the bobbins, the composition will look much more integrated.
- Optionally, you can shade the top of the image; I found that doing this moves the focus of the composition more towards the bobbins and the composition looks tighter. With black as your foreground color, choose the Gradient tool, choose the foreground to transparent preset on the Options bar, choose the top layer on the Layers palette, and then drag from top to about 25% down in the image. In figure 12, the composition looks good and who would believe all those buttons are just 9 individual ones repeated in an asymmetrical pattern?
This article has covered simple pattern creation using Photoshop, and hopefully you’ve seen that pattern creation can be automated using several different means, and patterns can be applied in various ways, but it’s the seed— your design element— that determines the quality of your overall design. Check out the Advanced article on pattern creation to see some inspired use of native and fantastic 3rd party plug-ins that’ll make the sky the limit for building photorealistic textures.
Copyright ©2008, Gary David Bouton. This article can be printed for personal reference, but cannot be duplicated using electronic or mechanical means without prior consent from the author.