A couple years ago, I shared my method for creating a hand-drawn repeating pattern tile. I create quite a few of my patterns in Illustrator, too, so I wanted to share this method as well.
1. The first step is to create your illustration or motif using Illustrator.
2. Once you have your main design elements, start playing around with placement to get an idea of what you want the repeat to look like. I often start this part using a little pencil sketch which I then translate to Illustrator. I use guides to help me with placement, but at this point I'm just lining up my elements by eye.
3. Next up, things get a bit mathy. At this point, I start to think about the scale for my pattern and try to fit my motifs into an easy-to-remember measurement.
Here, my caterpillars are a little over an inch wide, and I want them fairly close together, so I'm experimenting with a repeat of 1.25". I measure the size using guides and the rulers at the sides of the document. Since I know I want a half-brick repeat, I need to know the size of half my horizontal repeat, which is 0.625".
I'm also playing with how far apart I want my horizontal rows, so I have them set 0.5" apart, in order to leave room for the inching caterpillar. I write down these measurements and keep a calculator handy for my next step.
4. To start populating my repeating tile, I use the Copy, Paste in Front, and Move commands in Illustrator. This allows me to place a copy of my motif directly over the existing motif and move it by an exact amount. I move my caterpillars horizontally 1.25" for the same row or 0.625" for the offset row below. I move them vertically 0.5".
5. After I get a few of my motifs copied, I start to copy and past larger groups of them. This is where the calculator comes in handy. If I move one row down by 0.5", I move four rows down by 2", and so on.
You can see my inching caterpillar patiently waiting at the top of the artboard. I filled my tile with flat caterpillars first, then I replaced some of the flat guys with inching guys to give the tile visual interest.
6. The next step is to define your pattern tile. If you use your image as is, you will wind up with all the extra bits of motifs that run off the edge of the tile. By setting your artboard to the correct size, you can cut off those extra motifs so that they line up perfectly along the edges.
The first part of this step is to determine the size of your repeat. Mine is 9 caterpillars wide and 14 caterpillars tall. Since my caterpillars are each 1.25" wide and 0.5" tall, this means my tile will be 9 x 1.25" wide and 14 x 0.5" tall, or 11.25" by 7". I use the Rectangle tool to create a rectangle of this exact size. I use this same rectangle to add my background color.
7. I set my rectangle to be the color of the background and send it to the back of the design. I then redefine the artboard to be the size of this rectangle by selecting the rectangle and using the Object > Artboards > Fit to Selected Art command.
8. I like to test each of my designs by tiling them on the desktop of my computer. I do this by saving the image for the web from Illustrator and using that tile as my desktop. This allows me to test the composition of the pattern and the technical elements of the repeat. You can see the folder of previous repeating patterns in my desktop preferences window.
9. When I'm happy with the repeat, I export the design as a TIF at 150 dpi for Spoonflower.
I hope this tutorial helps a few more people find the joy of creating continuous patterns. They can seem a bit intimidating in the beginning, but with some careful planning and consideration, you can create some really lovely patterns. What will you make?
You can see the final product of this tutorial in my Spoonflower shop.