how to make a pattern in adobe illustrator.

How to Make a Pattern in Illustrator

Daniel Scott


In this post we will explore patterns and use Illustrator to create amazing art with them. In doing so, we will create a world of limitless fun with just a few clicks! You don’t need to master geometry to achieve a fantastic result; observation and practice will get you there quick and easy, and I’ll share some pointers in the Timeouts for that extra boost of confidence.

These techniques are based on my Illustrator Essentials Course. When you become a BYOL member, you gain access to this course as well as my 30+ additional courses on Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, Webflow, and more. As a BYOL member you will also enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, and tackle exciting community challenges. Head here to sign-up!

Patterns in Illustrator

We can create patterns using geometric shapes like rectangles, circles, pentagons, stars, among others, but we can also build them out of cool stuff like drawings or icons, pretty much any artwork you can combine in a logical –  or irregular way, works just as well – repetition, depending on what you are aiming for.

Timeout #1

Early timeout, this one, but I’m sure this will help you frame your mind around patterns and how they can influence your work and life all around you! It’s fun. Read it now or save it for later, but don’t skip it!

Here we go, let’s begin with this sort of Y shaped geometric shape and build a pattern from it in just a few simple steps – after this guide, I can also show you how to design the shape itself so you can try it out and share your work with your friends and on BYOL social media. I’d really love that!

 Step 1 – Set the geometric shape that will form a pattern.

Any shape or combination of shapes will do, as long as you can form a flow that feels balanced and consistent, no matter its size or context.

geometric marquetry shapes in adobe illustrator

Create a pattern in Illustrator starting from a simple geometric shape.

From the top, we begin by creating or importing our shape and scaling it inside our artboard until we’re fine with its size and placement. Keeping it in the center of the artboard will help us as we play with your pattern’s settings. We can style it to fit our brand or to our original idea before moving on, but we can always edit our pattern further down the road.

Step 2 – Make a pattern from a geometric shape.

This is so easy you won’t believe it but, hey, it’s Illustrator! There’s so much you can do with just a few clicks, right?

Let’s move up to “Object” on our top menu bar, hover our mouse over “Pattern” and then click on “Make”.

Pattern feature inside object menu in adobe illustrator

Create a pattern by accessing Object and Pattern from your top menu bar.

As soon as we hit “Make”, a world of wonders unfolds and we find three important elements on our screen:

1.       The Pattern Options panel, in which we adjust our pattern’s settings.

2.       The Swatches panel, where our pattern will be stored.

3.       We are now working in Isolation mode.


Pattern options and swatches panels inside isolation mode in adobe illustrator.

Creating a new pattern or editing an existing pattern happens inside Isolation mode.

Step 3 – Pattern Options in Illustrator

This is the fun part and the one with a million different possibilities. We can make our new shape copies join, part, overlap, multiply, until we come up with a fresh new pattern!

Now we style our pattern by adjusting any of the features in the Pattern Options panel. Let’s have a quick tour and see what it has to offer. We won’t dive too deep into it, so feel free to explore it later and share what you designed! Inspire us!

pattern options dialog box and marquetry pattern preview in adobe illustrator.

The Pattern Options panel is the key to creating new and incredible patterns in Illustrator.

Name: Our pattern’s name when stored in Swatches.

Tile Type: The geometric shape (or artwork) we picked for our pattern is placed inside a tile. Our pattern is composed of tiles and this option defines how they arrange themselves to form our pattern.

Grid – Tiles are aligned both horizontally and vertically to the center of the other tiles to form a symmetrical composition.

Brick by row or Brick by column – Tiles have a rectangular structure, are arranged in rows of columns, with centers aligned.

Hex by row or Hex by column – Tiles have a hexagonal shape, arranged in rows or columns, tiles centered horizontally or vertically. Centers of tiles in alternate rows or columns are vertically or horizontally aligned.

highlighted tile type inside pattern options dialog box and marquetry pattern preview in adobe illustrator.

The option Hex by Column arranges tiles around a hexagonal shape, forming alternate columns.

Brick Offset (available when Brick by row or Brick by column option is active): Sets how much width or height the tiles’ centers are out vertical or horizontal alignment, adding some asymmetry to the composition.

Width and Height: They set the tile’s overall dimensions, making them larger or smaller than the artwork inside. Values above the artwork’s size will add empty space to our pattern, lower values will cause tiles to overlap, which can be great in some patterns!

highlighted tile height setting inside pattern options dialog box and marquetry pattern preview in adobe illustrator.

Adjusting the tile’s width and height to a value lower than the artwork’s size will cause an overlap.

Size Tile to Art – we check it to make sure that tile and artwork are the same size.

Move Tile with Art – We check it to make sure that when we move tile and artwork at the same time.

H Spacing and V Spacing: Sets the horizontal and vertical spacing between tiles.

Overlap: When tiles overlap, this defines which tiles stay on top.

highlighted overlap setting inside pattern options dialog box and marquetry pattern preview in adobe illustrator.

Overlap arranges overlapping tiles to form different pattern structures.

Copies: Sets the number of rows and columns visible in the pattern.

Dim Copies to: Sets the opacity of the artwork’s copies that form the pattern while editing it. I don’t like this option much, I prefer having a clear view, but you may find it useful to do some fine tuning, so it’s fine to use it!

The Dim Copies option allows us to reduce the copies’ opacity while editing our pattern for a more comfortable experience.

The Dim Copies option allows us to reduce the copies’ opacity while editing our pattern for a more comfortable experience.

Show Tile Edge: This displays a box around the artwork’s tile.

Show Swatch Bounds: identifies the portion of the created pattern that is repeated to form a full pattern.

When we are creating a new pattern, minding that we are working in isolation mode, we save it or discard it by clicking on “Done” or “Cancel” up in the Control Panel. Our pattern is stored in the Swatches panel.

highlighted new pattern in isolation mode options and marquetry pattern preview in adobe illustrator.

Pattern creating or editing sets Illustration into Isolation Mode, so the remaining artboards elements remain unaffected.

Step 4 – Applying a pattern from the Swatches Panel

Ladies and gents, the magic is ready to be displayed, so let’s use our new pattern on an artboard and be amazed!

Let’s create a shape the size of our original artboard with the help of the Rectangle tool and, if you don’t see the Swatches panel in your workspace you can go to “Window” on your top menu bar and pick “Swatches” or, with your shape selected, click on “Fill” from the “Appearance” panel, and click on the “Swatches” icon as below.

And you’ll notice there’s a new Swatch inside with the pattern we’ve just made!

highlighted new pattern swatch inside Fill dialog box in adobe illustrator.

The created pattern is stored inside the Swatches panel and can now be used to fill a new shape.

All we need to do now is click on the pattern’s swatch and… Presto!

marquetry pattern placed as a Fill inside rectangular shape in adobe illustrator.

Our new pattern is now placed as a shape’s Fill with a single click.

If we want to edit our pattern later on, we can double-click its Swatch or hit the “Pattern Options” button in the Swatches panel. Then we make our adjustments, get up from our chair and take a step back to see if it looks great (ok, this last one is optional) and click on “Done” to update it. We can also choose “Save a Copy” to add a new pattern to Swatches while keeping the original safe or click “Cancel” to ignore any changes.

marquetry pattern tile directly edited in isolation mode in adobe illustrator.

Inside Edit Pattern, we can make changes to our pattern by clicking directly on the original tile.

We can also scale up or down our pattern by adjusting the shape’s dimensions by clicking and dragging with our Selection Tool.

highlighted transformation of rectangle shape filled with marquetry pattern in adobe illustrator.

The Pattern Fill will scale itself up or down if we change in shape’s size with the Selection tool.

Timeout #2

Want to dive into a whole new world of fun and appealing geometry? Yes, you can use the words “geometry”, “fun”, and “appealing” in the same sentence. Check out this read on geometry and patterns and be surprised. You won’t regret adding this knowledge to your playbook!

Step 5 – Applying a pattern in Text.

Another cool thing to do with patterns? Use them in type! Quick and easy!

Let’s write something and fill it with our pattern. I’ll use my name, you can use yours, or your pet’s name, anything you like is perfect!

With our text selected, we click on “Fill” from the “Appearance” panel, choose “Swatches” if they’re not visible and click on our pattern’s Swatch.

type selected and set for a fill pattern from the swatches panel in adobe illustrator.

We can use patterns stored in Swatches to fill type objects.

Guess what happens?

type filled with marquetry pattern in adobe illustrator.

Our type is now filled with our pattern and apt for editing.

Here’s another cool feature. If you have your type selected, you can make some changes, like  scaling it down and the pattern will tag along. But there’s a great trick for type editing when it has a pattern fill.

With our type selected, we click on the “More Options” icon (the three dots) in “Transform” from the Properties Panel.

highlighted more options icon in the transform panel with type object settings in adobe illustrator.

Access additional transform options by clicking the “More Options” icon.

Now it gets a bit odd, but we must click another icon in the top right corner of the “More Options”. I like to call it “More-more Options” but I’m sure Illustrator has a better name for it!

highlighted second level of transform options for type in adobe illustrator.

A new level of options becomes available under “More Options”.

Now we can tell Illustrator that when we change our type, we want one of three choices:

  • transform both type and fill.

  • transform the pattern without affecting the text shape.

  • transform the text shape without producing any changes on the pattern fill.

Cool, huh?

As an example, if we pick “Transform Object Only”, and scale down our text, you can see the pattern will remain unchanged.

type with marquetry pattern fill that remains unchanged when the transform object only setting is active in adobe illustrator.

The “Transform Object Only” protects the pattern fill from any changes.

Bonus Step – How to create the Geometric Shape for the Marquetry Pattern

As promised, let's design this Y shaped beauty so you can practice your Marquetry Pattern from zero (to Hero!)

We start with a square, fill it with any color, we’ll change it later. Then we want to twist it into a certain angle, so we go to “Object” on our top menu bar, select “Transform” and then click on “Shear…”.

highlighted shear feature inside the Object and Transform menus in adobe illustrator.

The Shear option allows us to skew an object to a specific angle.

Let’s change only the “Shear Angle:” field to 30 degrees and click ok.

Next, we duplicate our shape by holding Option on a Mac or Alt on a PC and clicking and dragging it to the side, and then we click on the “Flip Horizontally Icon” in the “Transform” panel.

highlighted horizontal flip command applied to selected geometric shape in adobe illustrator.

Duplicate the original shape and flip it on its horizontal axis.

Now we join them right side with left side, duplicate both shapes and connect them as below. You can use the Outline mode (shortcut Command + Y on a Mac or Control + Y on a PC) for a more accurate view.

combined geometric shapes viewed in outline mode in adobe illustrator.

Outline mode hides all shape attributes but lines and corners for a “blueprint” view of your artboard.

 Next, we duplicate the bottom shapes and align them as seen on the next image.

combined geometric shapes selected for shape builder interaction in adobe illustrator.

Our shape’s basic geometric structure is ready and now set for some cutting and filling!

Now we get set to use Shape Builder, another awesome feature in Illustrator! With all these shapes selected, we pick the Shape Builder tool from the left tool bar (or hit Shift + M), hold the Option key on a Mac or the Alt key on a PC and click and drag across both lower right and lower left rectangles to remove them.

selected geometric shapes removed with the shape builder tool in adobe illustrator.

The Shape Builder tool allows us to join or remove parts of combined shapes.

Before removing the top rectangles, we must fill that gap at the center of our geometric shape. So easy! Keeping all our shapes selected and Shape Builder active, we go to “Fill”, pick a color, and then simply click on the gap to fill it.

highlighted fill color applied with shape builder to gap between selected geometric shapes in adobe illustrator.

We can use the Shape Builder tool to color fill gaps and make them into new shapes.

Now we can remove the top rectangles with our Shape Builder tool and we’re almost there!

marquetry shape built with the shape builder tool in adobe illustrator.

The Marquetry geometric shape is now ready for some final editing.

Finally, let’s add color and gradients for light and shadow effect and we’re done!

marquetry geometric shape filled with color and gradient for light and shadow effect  in adobe illustrator.

We’ve gone full circle to our initial geometric shape, ready to form a brand-new pattern!

 And that’s it!

We have now mastered the art of creating and editing incredible patterns in Illustrator and using them to bring life to many awesome shapes and even editable text objects! Amazing!

What's Next? 

We’ve covered some tools and features that you can further explore in my updated Illustrator Essentials Course and maybe even challenge yourself to reach Pro level by checking out the Illustrator Advanced Course

When you become a BYOL member, you gain access to this course as well as my 30+ additional courses on Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, Webflow, and more. As a BYOL member you will also enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, and tackle exciting community challenges. Head here to sign-up!

See you in class! – Dan