Working With Pattern Swatches in Illustrator

The Swatches Palette in Illustrator can be a very powerful tool for someone who knows how to use it. Most of us already know that the Swatches Palette stores colors for us to use in our designs, but did you also know that the swatches palette can store vector data and that those vectors can then be applied as fills or strokes? If not, I hope that this short tutorial will help you fully understand the power of using seamless patterns in the Swatches Palette.

Before we get started, download the swatch that we will be using for this tutorial and save it on your hard drive.

Now, create a new document the dimensions don’t really matter.

01.jpgThen, open up the Swatches Palette and click the arrow on the upper right-hand side of the palette. In the fly out menu select Open Swatch Library > Other Library > and locate the swatch on your hard drive.  If you saved the swatch to your Adobe Preset Swatches folder, this swatch will be available in the User Defined folder.

02.jpgWith your new swatches palette open, select the rectangle tool and draw out a rectangle.  Any dimensions will do.

Now apply the pattern to the rectangle’s fill by selecting the rectangle and clicking on the pattern in the Swatches Palette.  Your shape should now be filled with vertically spaced black lines.

You can now see how powerful the Swatches Palette can be.  If you only needed spaced out vertical lines, you could stop here but in this tutorial we are going to take it a step further and show you how to apply transformations to this shape without altering the shape itself.

03.jpgSelect the rectangle and right click it.  In the menu, select Transform > Rotate.  When the Rotate Dialog Box appears, rotate the lines 45 degrees by unchecking Objects and by checking Patterns.  This will rotate the lines 45 degrees.

If you are pleased with how the lines look, you could again stop here but we are going to perform one more step.

04.jpgRight click on the rectangle againSelect Transform > ScaleCheck the preview and Patterns boxes and uncheck Scale Strokes & Effects and ObjectsSelect the Uniform radio button and scale the pattern to your liking.  You can see how the pattern gets larger and smaller depending on the percentage that you enter.

I hope that this short tutorial will help you explore the power of seamless patterns and hopefully you can start using them more often in your designs.

Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.

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  • Working With Pattern Swatches in Illustrator

    Did you know that the swatches palette can store vector data and that those vectors can then be applied as fills or strokes? This tutorial will show you how to use pattern swatches effectively.

  • Good one. I like simple and concise tutorials.

  • Well you explained this alot better than I could, so Im just going to scrap my draft on this issue.. why didn’t I see the rotate tool coming!
    Normally I would do this the manually way – what was I thinking!
    Thanks Grant, its a pleasure to learn something

  • Thanks guys! Glad to have helped!

  • I use the pattern swatches a bunch in illustrator. Sometime in Ill you just want to move the pattern over a bit without affecting the shape its laying on. I use this really great $15 plug-in called the nudge palette. It has saved me hours.

    The future is now.
    Big Pony Blog
    Tiffany Pilgrim Portfolio

  • Sweet! These are awesome.

  • mel

    Nice, simple tutorial.
    You can also make your own swatches very easily by simply slecting then dragging a design from your document into to the swatches palette

  • awesome! thanks :) what a great site.

  • Liz_Luvs_Purple

    Cool post!!

  • great tutorial! thanks so much! i’m new to illustrator & am having a lot of fun trying to figure things out!

  • Lindsey

    Is there any way to change the pattern from black to a color easily?