What is a Seamless Pattern?

Simply put, seamless patterns are images that repeat without a noticeable boundary where the edges meet. When placed side by side the 'seam' of the pattern can't be seen. A seamless pattern can be repeated over and over to create a large area of pattern out of a single small piece. They’re incredibly useful to designers because they allow easily filling areas of pattern, and can be scaled to create the desired effect.

A pattern can be seamless in a few ways. An image is horizontally seamless if it’s contents blend when repeated left/right. Or it is vertically seamless if it’s meant to be repeated up/down. Or it can be simply seamless, and blend on all 4 sides.

Horizontally Seamless
Vertically Seamless
Understanding Seamlessness

The basic concept behind seamless patterns is simple. If an object within the pattern (for example, the stones in the stone wall below) extends beyond the edge of the pattern, the portion of the object that extends must also exist within the pattern on the opposite side. Basically whatever goes off one side of the pattern must come on at the same place on the other side of the pattern.

Seamless patterns can be tricky to make as there’s lots you need to consider when doing the initial planning of your pattern. If you’re making a horizontally seamless or vertically seamless pattern it’s much simpler because you don’t have to worry about making all four sides blend perfectly (especially because the four corners can be tricky to coordinate). I suggest starting by doing some test patterns just to get the hang of the technique. Once you’ve made a few seamless patterns the process will come naturally to you. Let's get started!
Make your own!
Step 1: Setup your artboard

Pick a size and shape that your base pattern will be. In this example we’re going to make it square, but it can be any ratio you wish. The artboard will be your guide and help you visualize the 4 sides of your texture. Also, it’s helpful to place a square or rectangle in your document that’s the exact size as your artboard. This object will be your background color and will also be used to mask your shapes.
Step 2: Draw your objects

Start drawing. It’s helpful to pick two sides that will be used as your ‘mirror’ edges (in this example we chose the top and left sides). As you draw your shapes, you can have objects extend beyond these two sides. Just remember to leave space for these objects on the opposite side of the texture, as anything extending beyond the top of the pattern will appear at the same place along the bottom, and anything beyond the left side will need to enter from the right side. It doesn’t have to be exact at this stage, we can adjust the position of the objects in the next steps when we’re making it seamless.
Step 3: Duplicate the pattern

Now we’ll want to mask our pattern. Select & copy your background object (or create a new square object the exact size as your artboard) and paste it in front of your pattern. Use this object to mask your pattern (in Adobe Illustrator, ‘select all’ then ‘create clipping mask’ from the object menu). You should have a single object that is your entire pattern. Now duplicate your pattern and place it EXACTLY beside the original.

PRO TIP: Using the “Smart Guides” feature in Adobe Illustrator makes lining up the edges of your objects super easy!
Step 4: Copy & paste your shapes

Now the magic happens. Go into your original pattern (in Illustrator you can double click a masked object to edit it’s contents) and select all objects that extend beyond the edge of your pattern. Copy them. Then go into your duplicated pattern and paste the copied objects in the same place (in Illustrator you can use the “paste in front” command to ensure the objects are pasted in the same position they were copied from). Doing this will make that edge of the pattern seamless! Now you can delete your original pattern and continue using this new seamless version.
Step 5: Make it seamless on all 4 edges

Repeat the process for all edges that are not yet seamless. If you’ve planned it correctly you should only need to do step 4 twice, once for the left/right edges, and once for the top/bottom edges. When you’re done you should duplicate the pattern and test it’s seamlessness. Be sure that there’s no objects that you forgot to copy, and remember if you choose to make changes to the objects in your pattern you’ll have to redo step 4 for any affected edges. When you’re done the pattern should repeat without any visual edge to the individual pattern tiles.

Congratulations! You've made a seamless pattern

It may look complicated, but it’s not. It just seams that way. It’s not the easiest process to grasp but the effect is SO worth the effort. It might take a few tries to learn the nuances of this process, so stick with it and you’ll be a pro in no time. This is by no means the only way to make seamless patterns. Feel free to seek new techniques and experiment to find a method that works for you. Happy drawing!

Not a member?Join