It’s never been easier to create a seamless repeat pattern in Adobe Illustrator using Object > Pattern > Make but what happens when the automation isn’t giving you the desired effect?

In this tutorial we go back to basics to show how to create a manual repeat using Adobe Illustrator. Knowing how to create your own repeat pattern and understanding the basic mechanics of how it works can be useful in the creation of future designs.

So what is required to create a repeat pattern?

  • Adobe Illustrator and a basic understanding of how the programme works.
  • An idea of the sort of pattern you want to create.
  • Some design elements to put together to make the pattern.

Stage 1 – Getting started

Create a new file – for this exercise we are using an A4 page.

If you haven’t already created some design elements to build your repeat now’s the time to do it. We are using elements from the logo to create our repeat pattern.

Stage 2 – Setting up

Repeat patterns generally work better in a square ratio (however rectangular ones can also work) so the first thing to do is create a square using the Rectangle Tool. Set the Colour Swatch Panel to no fill and a black stroke.


Select the Rectangle Tool and double click on your Artboard to show the Rectangle Tool Pane options. In here type a value of 10cm x 10cm. Click OK and your 10cm square will appear on the screen.

Note: If your Rectangle Pane is showing different measurement units (such as Points or Millimetres) go to Illustrator CC, at the top left of your screen, select Preferences and then Units. In General, at the top, change to Centimetres.

Stage 3 – Starting your initial layout

Start to arrange your elements around the middle of your square. You may want to resize or rotate some of your elements using the Scale and Rotate Tools to create your layout.


Once you are happy with how it’s starting to look add some more elements over to the left side so that they overlap the square as below.

Stage 4 – Creating the side repeat elements

We now need to change our cursor increments to match the size of the square. To do this go to Illustrator CC, at the top left of your screen, select Preferences and then General. In Keyboard Increments change to 10cm. The keyboard shortcut to get to this is Command > K.

Now select the elements that are overlapping the edge of the square (on the left hand side) using the Selection Tool and holding down the Shift Key (this enables you to select multiple elements). Go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste in Front.

It may look as though nothing has happened but Illustrator has now placed an exact copy of your selected elements on top of the original. As we have now changed the value of our cursor key increments to match the size of the square you can press the right cursor arrow key on your keyboard and you will see that this then moves over to the other side perfectly placing your elements on the right side to match when you come to repeat the design!

Stage 5 – Creating the top and bottom repeat elements

Now start to add some elements to the top of your design and as before arrange them so that they overlap the square at the top.

As in Stage 4 select the elements that are overlapping the edge of the square using the Selection Tool and Shift Key. Go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste in Front. As before the elements will be copied and pasted directly on top of the original elements. Press the down arrow cursor key this time and the elements will now be moved to the bottom of your design.

We now have our basic repeat. You may notice at this stage that some elements might be touching or look too big so now’s the time to make any adjustments before we create the repeat swatch. There may also be some unwanted space so move any elements around or add in any further new ones to complete the overall layout.

Stage 6 – Setting up the pattern to add to Swatches

Once you are happy with the way your pattern is looking select the square shape and remove the stroke. The square should now have no stroke and no fill. With the rectangle still selected go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back. This will position the rectangle right to the back of all of your elements. This is important as it creates a ‘bounding box’ around your design which defines where the repeat starts and finishes. If this is not done your repeat swatch may not work correctly.

Select all the elements and the square (the quickest way is to use the Selection Tool and drag over them.

Stage 7 – Adding your pattern to Pattern Swatches

Open your Swatches Panel (Window > Swatches) and from the icons at the bottom of the panel select the Show Swatch Kinds icon (fourth across from the left)  and from the drop-down menu select Show Pattern Swatches.

Making sure that the all the artwork is still selected (and the square with no fill or stroke) drag over into the Swatches Panel and you will see a new swatch appear representing your new pattern.

Stage 8 – Filling a shape with the pattern

It’s now time to try out the newly created pattern and to check that you are happy with how it’s looking.

Move your artwork away from the centre of the Artboard onto the Paste Board (dark grey area outside of your Artboard) so that there is room to create a new shape. Select the Rectangle Tool and draw a new square or rectangle shape.

Ensure that Fill is to the front of your Colour Pane at the bottom of your Toolbox and not Stroke. (the keyboard shortcut is the letter ‘x’ on your keyboard to toggle between Fill and Stroke).

With the shape selected go over to your Swatches Panel and click on the the newly created pattern swatch. Your shape should now have a seamless pattern fill!

Stage 9  – Reviewing your pattern swatch

You may now see areas of your pattern that you may want to edit slightly. To do this go back to Stages 3, 4 and 5 and move around the elements. Then repeat stages 6 and 7.

We hope you have found this useful and it shows that understanding how a repeat works manually can help you to develop further patterns designs.

If you have any further questions regarding manual repeat designs using Adobe Illustrator please don’t hesitate to drop us a comment below.