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Creating and using patterns

Patterns can be used as backgrounds, or become helpful when making image blends. Learn how to create and use those popular patterns you can see everywhere, but your original ones as well.

Step 1a: Drawing simple patterns

We'll start with the simplest patterns you will probably need often in your blends. They're the popular dot, line and grid patterns.

For making a simple dot pattern, you will need a canvas 2 pixels wide and 2 pixels high. So, make a new document and set its settings just like I did (see the image):

New Document

This will open a small canvas on your workspace. You won't be able do to much good on such small space, so take the zoom zool Zoom tool and start clicking over your canvas until you can see gray and white blocks. Now, take the pencil tool Pencil tool and make sure the settings (in the upper part of your window, under the menu bar) are Brush: 1, Mode: Normal, Opacity: 100%. These are the default values, so if you didn't change them yourself, they're probably already set that way. Click once in the upper left corner of your canvas. You will get something like this:

Dot pattern

When you're done making pattern, jump to the Step 2.

To make a 1 pixel line pattern create a canvas 1 pixel wide and 2 pixels high. Use the pencil tool with the same settings as above and draw a dot in the bottom.

Line pattern

When you're done making pattern, jump to the Step 2.

To make a smallest grid pattern create a canvas 3 pixels wide and 3 pixels high. Use the pencil tool with the same settings as above and draw a line in the bottom and another line on the left (or right, whatever).

Grid pattern

When you're done making pattern, jump to the Step 2.

Step 1b: Drawing complex patterns

By making simple patterns it might have accured to you that we draw the repeating parts only once. Making simple patterns is straight-forward - you open a few pixels wide/high canvas, fill some spots with black pencil, select all and define a pattern. But drawing complex patterns works differently.

Create a new document about 20 pixels wide and 20 pixels high. The size doesn't really matter, but make it small. Zoom in to 500-1000%. Select the pencil tool and start drawing repeating pattern. Here's what I have drawn:

custom pattern

You can see it's repeating, but making all this a pattern would not be right. Try it. Photoshop will attempt to find a repeating part in your pattern, but it might not be what you wanted. Here's what I got after I let Photoshop determine the pattern itself and filling the new image with it:

custom pattern

Now I will define the pattern myself - take the crop tool Crop tool and select the area you want to be repeating. When you're done, press Enter. This will trim off all parts of image that weren't selected.

custom pattern

Now define the pattern by selecting the whole area and fill the new image with this pattern. Here's the result.

custom pattern

See the difference?

custom pattern custom pattern

So, now you know what you must be careful about. You will find it easier and easier with some practice :)

The following steps are the same for all patterns, so I wrote them only once.

Step 2: Save pattern

Now go to Select > All (or click Ctrl+A) to select the whole document. Go to Edit > Define Pattern... and this will pop up a window asking you to choose pattern name. Type some name and click OK.

save pattern

Step 3: View your pattern

To view your pattern, you must select the Paint Bucket tool Paint Bucket tool and set Fill setting to Pattern. Click on the small arrow next to the pattern shown, and you will see your pattern in the bottom of all the default ones.


Step 4: Use your custom pattern

Click on your pattern to select it. Create new canvas of any size (mine is 200x200 pixels) with white background. Now create new layer by going to Layer > New > Layer... > OK (or Ctrl+Shift+N) or clicking on the New Layer icon on the Layers palette: New Layer - as you see, there are numerous ways to do the same thing in Photoshop.

Since your Paint Bucket tool is still selected, just click once over your surface and this will fill the whole layer with the pattern.

pattern fill

You're probably wondering why I suggested you to make a new layer for the pattern fill. Well the reason is - whatever the color you have chosen for foreground, the pattern will always be black, because that's how you created it. If you created red pattern, it would always appear red. Since the pattern is on separate layer, you can change its color easily - click on the layer icon (in our case layer is named Layer 1) holding Ctrl key. This will create a lot of small marquee selected areas. Choose the foreground color (mine is red) and press Alt+Backspace. Click Ctrl+D to deselect the areas and you will see your pattern is now in chosen color.

Step 5: Creating pattern sets

If you intend to become at least an intermediate Photoshop user, you will need a lot of patterns stored for future uses. You probably see yourself that mixing them with default photoshop patterns won't be good, so you must separate your custom patterns from the default Photoshop ones.

First thing you must do is to delete all the unwanted patterns from your pattern inspector. Note that if those patterns are saved, this won't delete them from the disk - it will only clear them from your pattern inspector. To do this, right-click on the unwanted pattern and click Delete Pattern. Repeat this step until only your custom patterns are left (or the inspector is cleared from all patterns. Now each pattern you create will add up to those you left. When you created a solid amount of patterns you wish to use in future, open the inspector to view your patterns, click on the rounded arrow on the right to open the menu and select Save Patterns... - this will pop up a window for file save. Save the patterns in the default Photoshop pattern folder so that they load automatically when Photoshop is run. You can easily copy them to other folders from there if you ever need to.

You can load patterns that are not on the list of patterns in the menu the same way - open the inspector, click on the rounded arrow and Load Patterns...

I hope you understood this tutorial well, I tried to make it as simple as it can be. Have fun making patterns ;)

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