How to draw repeating patterns in Photoshop

In this lesson, we will learn the basics of drawing and applying simple repetitive patterns in Photoshop. We will consider only the basics of working with patterns, but once you understand the principle of repetitive patterns, you will quickly discover almost unlimited possibilities of using patterns in your designs, from creating a simple background for an album or web page to drawing more complex effects.

We will divide our lesson in the study of repeating patterns into three parts. First, we will create a single element (motif), which will later become our repeating pattern. Next, we will learn to save this element as a real pattern in Photoshop. And finally, having created a new pattern, we will look at how to choose a pattern and apply it to the entire layer. In the following lessons on this topic, we will learn how to add colors and gradients to patterns, use blending modes to combine individual patterns together, create patterns from arbitrary shapes and much more!

In this tutorial, I’ll work in a version of Photoshop CS5, but you can apply these steps to any recent version of the program.

Step 1. Create a new document.

Let’s start by creating a separate motif for the pattern. For this we need a new empty document, so I will go to the section “File” (File) in the menu bar at the top of the screen and select the item “New” (New):

Choose “File”> “New”

As a result, a dialog box will open. “New” (New). For parameters Width (Width) and Height (Height) Enter a value of 100 pixels. The size of the document will determine the size of the motive, which in turn will affect the repetition rate of the pattern in the document (since a smaller motive will require more repetitions than a larger motive to occupy the same space). In our case, we will create an element with a size of 100 x 100 pixels. When you later create your own patterns, you can experiment with the size of the motive. Parameter “Resolution” (Resolution) I will leave the default unchanged – 72 pixels per inch (pixels / inch), and the parameter “Background Content” (Background Contents) change to “Transparent” (Transparent), thus, the new document will have a transparent background:

Enter the widths and heights for your document and make sure that the Background Content option is set to Transparent.

Click OK when you finish entering the values ​​to close the dialog box and the new document will appear on your screen. The checkerboard pattern in the fill window indicates that the background of the document is transparent. Since the document is quite small – only 100 x 100 pixels, I will zoom in by holding the key Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) and clicking the “+” icon several times (note: if you don’t know how to zoom, learn this lesson on scaling). Now, the image scale is 500%.

New empty paper with an image scale of 500%

Step 2. Add guides through the center of the document

We need to accurately determine the center of the document, and we can do this with the help of guides. Go to menu “View” (View) at the top of the screen and select “New Guide” (New Guide):

Select “View” > “New Guide”

This action will open the New Guide dialog box. In section “Orientation” (Orientation) select “Horizontal” (Horizontal), and for the parameter “Position” (Position) Enter 50%. Click OK to close the dialog box and a horizontal guide will appear in the document passing through the center:

Select “Horizontal” and enter 50% for the “Position” parameter

Return to the menu “View” (View) and select again. “New Guide” (New Guide). This time in the dialog box in the section “Orientation” (Orientation) select “Vertical” (Vertical), and for the parameter “Position” (Position) Enter 50%.

Select “Vertical” and enter 50% for the parameter “Position”

Click OK to close the dialog box, and now you will have two guides (vertical and horizontal) passing through the center of the document. The point of their intersection is the very center of the document. By default, the color of the guide is blue, so perhaps it is a bit difficult to see the guides in the screenshot:

Vertical and horizontal guides running through the center of the document

Change the color of the guide (Optional step)

If you find it difficult to see the guides due to their light color, you can change the color in the “Settings” section. On the PC, go to the menu “Editing” (Edit), then select “Installations” (Preferences), “Guides, Grid, and Fragments” (Guides, Grid Slices). On a Mac, go to the menu “Photoshop” (Photoshop), select “Installations (Preferences) and further “Guides, Grid, and Fragments” (Guides, Grid Slices):

Select “Guides, Grid and Fragments” in the “Settings” section

As a result, the dialog box of the “Settings” section opens with options for guides, grids and fragments. Topmost option “Colour” (Color) is responsible for the color of the guide. As I already mentioned, the default color of the guide is blue. Click on the word “Blue” (Cyan) and select a different color from the list that appears. In the document window you will see a color swatch. I will change color to “Light red” (Light Red):

Choose light red as the new color for the guides.

Click OK when you are done to close the Preferences dialog box. The color of the guides in the document window will change (note that the program will display the guides with the new color until you go back to the Settings section and change the color back to blue or some other):

Guides change their color and become more noticeable

Step 3. Draw a shape in the center of the document

You can create very complex patterns in Photoshop, or patterns can be quite simple and consist of just dots or circles. Let’s draw a circle in the center of the document. First select the tool from the toolbar. “Oval area” (Elliptical Marquee Tool). By default, it is under the tool. “Rectangular area” (Rectangular Marquee Tool), so click on the Rectangular Area tool and hold the mouse button down for a few seconds until a popup menu appears where you can select the Oval Area tool:

Click on the Rectangular area tool, hold down the mouse button and then select the Oval area tool

With the oval area tool selected, move the mouse cursor to the intersection point of the guides in the center of the document. Press and hold the keys Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac), click in the center of the document and, while holding the mouse button down, move the cursor, drawing a round selection. Pressing the Shift key will allow you to draw a perfectly round shape selection, while the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key is responsible for drawing the outline of the selection from the center. When you finish drawing, your selection outline will look something like this (don’t worry if you don’t guess exactly with the size, in this case it’s not so important):

Hold down the Shift + Alt (Win) / Shift + Option (Mac) keys and draw a round shape from the center.

Step 4. Fill the selection with black

Go to the menu section “Editing” (Edit) at the top of the screen and select “Run Fill” (Fill):

Choose “Edit”> “Run Fill”

As a result, a dialog box opens. Fill (Fill), where we can choose the color that will fill our selection. Set the parameter “Use” (Use) at the top of the dialog box on “The black” (Black):

Set the parameter “Use” to “Black”

Click OK to close the dialog box. The program will fill our round shape with black. Press the key combination Ctrl+D (Win) /Command+D (Mac) to quickly remove the outline around the shape (you can also go to the menu “Allocatedation (Select) and select item “Unselect all” (Deselect), but pressing the keys is a faster option). Remember that the image scale is still 500%, so the edges of the circle look angular:

Highlight filled with black

Step 5. Duplicate the layer

By adding just one circle to the center of our motive, we can already save it as a pattern. However, before we do this, let’s give the motive a more interesting look. First, make a copy of the layer by going to the menu “Layers” (Layer) at the top of the screen by selecting “New” (New) and further Copy to new layer(Layer via Copy). Or, if you prefer to work with keyboard shortcuts, press Ctrl+J (Win) /Command+J (Mac):

Choose “Sloand> “New” >Copy to new layer

Nothing will change in the document window, however, a copy of the layer named “Layer 1 Copy” (Layer 1 copy):

A copy of layer 1 appears on the layers panel above the source layer.

Step 6. Apply the Shift filter

When drawing motifs that will later be used as repeating patterns, it is almost always desirable to apply a filter “Shift” (Offset). It can be found by selecting the section. “Filter” (Filter) in the menu bar at the top of the screen by going to Other (Other) and on “Shift” (Offset):

Select Filter>Other>Shift

As a result, the Shift filter dialog box opens. This filter moves or shifts the layer’s contents by a certain number of pixels horizontally, vertically, or in both directions. When creating simple repeating patterns, as in our case, you need to enter a value equal to half the width of the document in the “Horizontal” data entry window and a value equal to half the height of the document in the “Vertical” data entry window. Since our document is 100 x 100 pixels, set the value to 50 pixels for “Horizontally” (Horizontal) and “Vertically” (Vertical). At the bottom of the dialog box in the section “Undefined areas” (Undefined Area) select item “Insert clipped fragments” (Wrap Around):

Set the “Horizontal” and “Vertical” parameters to half the size of the document and make sure that the “Insert trimmed fragments” option is selected.

Click OK to close the dialog box. On the document screen, we will see that the “Shift” filter took a copy of the circle that we created in the previous step, and divided it into four equal parts, placing them at the corners of the document. The circle that remains in the center is the original circle drawn on Layer 1:

Image after applying the Shift filter

Step 7. Define the motive as a pattern.

Having drawn a motif, let’s save it as a pattern. This action in Photoshop is called Pattern Definition. Go to the menu section “Editing” (Edit) at the top of the screen and select “Define the pattern” (Define Pattern):

Select “Editing” > “Define the pattern”

As a result of this action, a dialog box opens where you will be prompted to name the new pattern. A good idea is to include in the name of the pattern the size of the motive, in case you develop several similar motifs of different sizes. Thus, I will call my pattern “Circles 100×100”. Click OK when you give your pattern a name to close the dialog box. And now our motive is saved as a pattern!

Name the pattern “Circles 100×100”

Step 8. Create a new document.

We created our motive and saved it as a pattern, now we can use it to fill a whole layer! Let’s create a new document in which we will work. Just as we did in Step 1, go to “File” (File) in the menu bar at the top of the screen and select “New” (New). When the new document dialog box opens, enter 1000 px for the parameters “Width” (Width) and “Height” (Height). Parameter “Resolution” (Resolution) leave the default unchanged – 72 pixels per inch (pixels / inch), and the parameter “Background Content” (Background Contents) this time change to “White” (Transparent) so that the background of the new document is filled with white. Click OK when you finish entering values ​​to close the dialog box. A new document will appear on your screen:

Create a new document with a white background with a size of 1000 x 1000 px

Step 9. Add a new layer.

Now we could just fill the layer with the background created by the pattern, but then the possibilities of working with the pattern would be severely limited. As we will consider further, in the next lesson, when we add colors and a gradient fill to the pattern, it is best to place it on a separate layer to work with a repeating pattern. Click on the icon Create New Layer (New Layer) at the bottom of the layers panel:

Click on the icon “Create a new layer”

New empty layer called “Layer 1” (Layer 1) will appear above the layer with the background:

A new layer will appear.

Step 10. Fill the new layer with a pattern.

After adding a new layer, let’s fill it with our pattern! To do this, go to the menu “Editing” (Edit) and select “Run Fill” (Fill):

Choose “Edit”> “Run Fill”

Typically, the Run Fill command is used to fill a layer or highlight with a clear color, as we did in Step 4 when we filled the selection with black. But we can also use the Run Fill command to fill in an area with a pattern. To do this, first change the value of the parameter “Use” (Use) on “Pattern” (Pattern):

Change the parameter “Use” to “Pattern”

After selecting the parameter “Pattern” (Pattern), another parameter “Custom pattern” (Custom Pattern) will appear right below it. Here we will be able to choose the pattern that we will use. Click on the thumbnail preview of the pattern:

Click on the custom pattern thumbnail

As a result, will open Pattern Palette (Pattern Picker), where small thumbnails of all available patterns will be displayed. The circle pattern we just created will be at the very end of the list. If option “Show Tips” (Tool Tips) in the section “Installations” (Preferences) you have enabled (by default, it is enabled), then as you hover the cursor over the thumbnail, the name of the pattern will appear. Double-click on the pattern thumbnail to select it and close the Pattern Palette.

In the Palette of patterns, select the pattern “Circles 100×100”

Once you have chosen the pattern, all you have to do is click OK to exit the Fill dialog box. The program will fill the empty layer with a circle pattern, repeating it as many times as necessary to fill the entire layer:

Layer 1 is now filled with a repeating circle pattern.

And here we are done! Of course, our black and white pattern can hardly be called unusual and memorable, but the most important points for the example of this pattern we considered in this lesson: we created a separate motif, defined it as a pattern, and then used the “Run Fill” command and Filled a whole layer with our new pattern. Next, we will continue to work with patterns and learn to add colors and gradients to them!

Author: Steve Patterson

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