Pattern Design Toolkit: 6 Tips to Improve your Patterns | Sara Rain | Skillshare

Pattern Design Toolkit: 6 Tips to Improve your Patterns

Sara Rain, Surface Pattern and Illustration

Pattern Design Toolkit: 6 Tips to Improve your Patterns

Sara Rain, Surface Pattern and Illustration

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11 Lessons (32m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Class Project

    • 3. Checklist

    • 4. Contrast

    • 5. Colour

    • 6. Depth

    • 7. Texture

    • 8. Layout and Direction

    • 9. Flow

    • 10. Recap

    • 11. Conclusion

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About This Class


In this class we'll look at a checklist of 6 things to consider when making a pattern. Think of it as an art theory class for surface pattern design.

Through demos and examples, we will be discussing

  • contrast
  • colour
  • depth
  • texture
  • layout and direction
  • flow

We will talk about how to implement these into your patterns to take them to the next level.

This class is for those of you who already know how to make a repeat pattern but want to up your pattern game. Sometimes a pattern isn't quite there yet and you're not sure why...this class will help you figure out what's wrong and how to fix it.

I'd love to connect with you here on Skillshare or Instagram and keep in touch :)

Meet Your Teacher

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Sara Rain

Surface Pattern and Illustration


Hello! I’m Sara Rain and I'm a surface pattern designer and artist, living in Japan.
Being half Japanese and half Scottish, I've grown up with two cultures and two perspectives. I take a lot of inspiration from my travels and I’m endlessly fascinated by traditional arts and crafts from different cultures.

When I’m not designing, you’ll most likely find me having a cup of tea and a natter with friends.

I'd love to connect with you on Instagram so I can chat with you too See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hello, my name's Sarah Rain and I'm a surface pattern designer currently based in Japan. Now, if you're anything like me, sometimes when you make a pattern, it just works and it comes together like magic and you're like, yes, and you want to show the world. But it doesn't always go like that. In fact, more often than not, when we put a patching together, we feel like it needs some work or you can't quite pinpoint what it is that isn't right, but something's not right. Just to be making loads and loads of patterns, I developed a mental checklist of things that I go through when I feel things aren't quite there yet. Those are the tips that I'd like to share with you today in this class. This class is for those of you who can already make a repeat pattern, but who are ready to take things to the next level. I'll be going over some tips and art theory that you can apply to your patterns, and provide you the toolkit of things that you can try to take your patterns from, "Ma," to, "Whoa, they're so good, I love them so much. I want to show everyone." Just a side note though, although I work in Photoshop and Illustrator, just to keep things simple, I'll be demonstrating only in Illustrator today. 2. Class Project: For the class project, I'd like you to do one of two things. Either create a pattern implementing the tips covered in the class, or choose an existing pattern that you've already made that you feel could use some improvement and make some changes using what you've learned in the class. If you like, you could post a before and after. I'd love to see the progress you've made. Now, shall we get started? 3. Checklist: Let's go through the checklist first, before I go over each one in detail. We have contrast, color, depth, texture, layout and direction, and flow. Now let's take a look at the first one, which is contrast. 4. Contrast: What is contrast? In terms of art, contrast is how different something is to something else. For example, light and dark colors, smooth and rough textures, large and small shapes. You can see in this slide that the colors in the left have a low contrast and the ones on the right to have a high contrast. By increasing the contrast between two elements we could add interests or patterns. Having enough contrast and color can really be the difference between having a great pattern and one that falls through. Having low contrast can make elements difficult to see, or even disappear entirely. Look at how the circles on the right transform with an increase in contrast. For example, let's look at this whale shark pattern that I made for a friend. Or the lack of contrasts really let the whole thing down. I didn't realize this until I had it made into a swimming suit. By the way how cool is that. I made a pattern of my friend's swimming with whale sharks, then had it made into a swimsuit which she then wore swimming again. I finalized this design in a rush which you should never do and I didn't take the time to print out the colors and check them. Your screen isn't always going to give an accurate representation of how something's going to print, especially onto fabric. Of course, it varies from printer to printer but I always recommend that you print out your design at home first before finalizing the colors. A trick that Bonnie Christine teaches is to view your design in grayscale. Every element should still be clearly visible even in black and white. This will ensure that nothing is lost due to a lack of contrast in color. You can see here just how much difference increasing the contrast made. I'm going to jump into Illustrator now and show you how I would tackle this problem. So we're in Illustrator now and I have this pattern open and you can see that we're having a little bit of a contrast issue here. If I zoom in, you'll see that these little blue elements are getting a little bit lost and also the contrast of the green is a bit too close to the red and it hurts your eyes to look at it. It's just a bit too much. How can we fix this? Well, I'm going to start by duplicating this twice. Hit V to select it, and then hit option on a Mac or alt on a PC and drag it out once. Pan over using the space bar and drag out again. You can select the one on the far left and we're going to do Bonnie Christine's little trick to make it grayscale and so we can see exactly where our issues lie. Make sure it's selected. We go up to Edit, and then convert to grayscale. There we go. Now we can see clearly where the problem is. Unlike I thought, this green was just far too close to the red. Now, at first it might not be so obvious that that's a problem because you can see the green against the red. It's not like it's being lost in the blue. Sometimes when a pattern doesn't look right, contrast isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But if you check it in grayscale, you can see that there's an issue here and that's the reason why you might not think you're pattern is quite there yet. We can see we have an issue with the green and we also have an issue with the blue here. It's just too close in contrast to the white, and that's why we can't see it. Let's zoom out again, press Z, and then Option or Alt to get the minus sign, space bar to pan over. Right to our furthest one over here press V, select it and we're going up to this little icon here, which is the recolor artwork tool. I'm sure most of you have used this before if you're surface patch and designers, it's a great little tool. It's one of my favorites. We're not going into in great depth today, but I'll show you how you can use it to adjust your contrast. Like I said, we had an issue with the green. First I'm going to click on the green here and here we have the CMYK colors that make up the colors of the pattern. To change the contrast, I want to change the K, which is the black and I'm just going to make it lighter to see how that looks. If I bring it right up, you can see that that does work. It makes the contrasts a lot higher, but I don't want it quite so high. Let's tone it down a bit. I think that looks quite nice. Then let's click on the light-blue and let's make it a bit brighter. Too bright? Let's bring in some black. I don't want to go too crazy here. There we go. The black dialed it down a little. Maybe something like that. I'm looking at the blue against the white ball, so the blue against the red and I'm wondering if the red might be a little bit too close, but I think it'll be okay. Let's go back to the green and adjust it just a little bit more because I'm a crazy perfectionist. There we go and hit "Okay." If you compare it to the one we had before, ignore these little white lines by the way, that's Illustrator being Illustrator you see it disappeared. It's just where my repeat is and you can see that it's much better. I'll zoom out so you can see a bit better here. This one can hurt your eyes. It's just a little bit harsh to look at. This one, while it's still bright and it is still quite busy it's little bit calmer and the colors aren't fighting with each other. I bet if I turn this into grayscale, that each element will now be clearly visible. So let me do that. I'll hit V, select it, alter option and drag out. Select this one, go up to Edit, Edit Colors, convert to grayscale and there we go. We zoom in. You can see now that each element is visible and if I compare it to the other grayscale one, you can see is much better. There. These are lost. Now it's not. Now we can see it all. 5. Colour: Color again can make or brake a pattern. This time I'm going to focus more hues rather than Contrast. Now only two colors have to be in harmony, but contrast and placement within a pattern and need to be considered as well. For example, a contrasting color can be dotted across the patterns strategically to guide the eye of the viewer in the way that you would like them to see the pattern. The viewer might not necessarily recognize this, but that doesn't mean that they're not going to find aesthetically pleasing. Let me show you what I mean with this monkey patch in that I have here. Now I admit I intentionally made these colors hideous and made them as bad as I possibly could, and that's not an easy thing to do to make it look this terrible. But I really wanted to show you that even a good pattern can look terrible, with the wrong colors. I made almost an entire collection using this color palette over here, and they all worked cohesively. But for some reason, this color palette didn't work on this monkey pattern, and so I almost gave up. I thought, it's a bad pattern. I'm so glad I didn't, because as soon as I abandoned the color palette and I decided just to have a play, just follow my gut and see what happens. It worked, it turned out so much better than I had expected. So let me show you why I did. So first, you want to pan over and duplicate this like we did in the last video. Make sure the one on the right is selected and go up to the recolor artwork tool. So you can see here that the colors in our pattern are now appear in our current colors, and also that our swatches over here have come across into the recolor artwork tool. Now when I click here, the colors are going to instantly replace the colors that I currently have in my pattern. There we go, and if I hit this button here, it's going to randomly change the color order. Now, as you can see, these are best some are hideous, some are not quite so bad. But none of them really work. None of them blew my socks off. So I decided just to go off in a limb and do I what like, and so I decided I like this gold in the background, so I'm going to keep that, and I'll go across to this edit button here. When you click that, you can see the color wheel appears, and these little circles correspond to the swatch colors that you have over here. Now when I move these around, you can see that all the other colors move with the one I have liked. I'm going to bring it back up to gold here. But in this case, I want to edit them individually. So I'm going to go down here to unlink harmony colors, and when I press that and you can see that I can move each color without affecting others. So I'm going to keep this as a nice Gold yellow color, and then I'm going to work with the monkey, will come back to the banana later. He's not looking so gray at the moment, in this blue, he's looking a bit gross, but that's fine for now. We'll deal with the monkey first. So he's probably this little catchy color. Red, maybe not. Pink is a bit better. Let's keep going. Blue has a nice contrast. It's good with teal color, I wanted to be a little bit darker. Now let's deal with the banana and he has a really vital role to play in the pattern because he's going to be the color pop. With that the color pop it's all a little bit boring. So let's find the blue and spin it around. No. Red maybe, pink is good. Now if you can't get the exact color that you want and you can always double-click here and choose the color from this selection as well. If you find that easier, I'm happy with this pink it adds a nice color pop there. So now I'll just hit 'OK', and it says 'Save Changes to swatch group', India colors before closing. I want to hit 'no', because that will replace my swatches with the colors in the current patching. I have a working color palette saved here that I use for an India based collection. It was strange because the palette worked on all the designs I've made so far, but I just didn't work with this one. I often make an entire collection using a set of cohesive colors for the creation process, and then change the colors later. Sometimes this doesn't work when you have a rogue pattern like this guy. Let's look at the before and after just for fun. The first one is hideous. Second one is so much better. The next topic is depth. 6. Depth: What is depth? Depth is when something looks like it's not flat, like it has layers, and there's some illusion of distance between the foreground and background. Depth is a great tool to add interest to a pattern that might otherwise fall flat. Sorry, I had to fill that one in there. My style is quite flat, but I do like to add some subtle depth to my patterns. Let's look at these two examples a little closer. The first one here is okay, but I thought it lacks a little something. It's just a little bit boring as is. I decided that I wanted to add some depth by putting some subtle flowers in the background. I took all of the flowers that I had, removed the outline and changed the color to a light gray, and put it behind the original flowers. These are definitely not the focus of the pattern, but by having them, it adds a little bit of extra interest to the pattern. The one on the right looks so much better. Would you agree? For this one, I was inspired by the little pyramid-shaped tops of pillars that I saw in India. My first instinct was to draw a 2D like you usually do. Then I thought, add more depth and be more interesting if I drew it from a 3D perspective. The first part of the pattern looked like this. I was happy with it, but still wanted to add something to make it a bit more special, and that came in the form of texture. You can see just with the addition of texture, it gives the pattern another layer and makes it a bit more dynamic. We'll discuss texture more in the next clip. 7. Texture: Texture can add a whole other level of interest and depth to your patterns when you feel like they're just lacking a little something. Adding texture isn't going to make a bad pattern good. But it will inject a little bit of life and snazzle to the pattern that you're already happy with. This pyramid pattern that we looked at in the last clip was cute as it was. But with a little sprinkle of texture, it makes it a whole lot more interesting. Texture can be added all over to the entire design, or it can be added to the individual elements. Look at this little portrait pattern that I made. I added the texture to this pattern in Photoshop. But for this class I'm going to demonstrate an Illustrator only. But you can see the difference that little bit of texture makes. This third pattern shows a stripe that I put a texture over. Let's hop over to Illustrator and I'll show you how I did it. I have my striped pattern open here, and I'm happy with the colors and the overall design and I'm ready to add a little bit of texture. I bought a texture pack from Creative Market. Of course you can make your own, but buying a pack is a really easy way to get started. This one was only $4 or $5. The pack contains three different Illustrator files with some textures just like this, and you can apply them over anything really. I'm going to choose this one and hit Command C or Control C to copy that. Hop back over to my striped pattern and paste here using Command V or Control V. Now we don't want to put the texture over this pattern, but we want to put it over the original repeat. I'll move this out of the way for now. To access the original repeat, we want to find the little swatch across here and just drag it out. There we go. That is the original repeat. Of course we want the texture to go on top and at the moment it's behind. With it selected, to bring it right to the front you can hit Shift Command right bracket or Shift Control right bracket if you're on a PC and that will bring it to the front. Then we can just drag this out. Don't worry about constraining the proportions. It doesn't really matter for a pattern like this. There we go. I don't really like it being black, I think it'd look nicer, white. I'll just click down here and that will make the fill color white and the outline black and I don't want an outline, so I'll just get rid of that. It wasn't selected, sorry. With it selected, I'll do the same thing again, get rid of the outline and this time it should be white. There, perfect. This I think, is a little bit too harsh actually. I think I want to adjust the opacity a little bit. Make sure you select just the texture and go up to window and appearance, and here we can adjust the opacity. Now as it is, we can't really see what we're doing. So I'm going to hop out of this just for a second. Go up to window or view rather, and go down to hide edges. The shortcut for that is Command H or Control H. That means that it's selected, but you can actually see what you're doing. We'll try again, we'll go back up to window appearance, go into the opacity and lower it. This time we can see what we're doing. I think I'm happy with it at about 64. That looks quite nice. We can just close this now. Of course normally the top has to match the bottom and the left needs to match the right when we're making a repeat. But with a texture like this, it doesn't really matter because it's just like little dots, and so you shouldn't be able to see a line. If you can't see a line, you can go back into and edit the edges so that it looks more seamless. Now we want to select all of it, the texture and the repeat pattern underneath, and drag it all the way back into the swatches. This will create a new pattern swatch. If we go over here, I'm just going to duplicate this again. You can do that by hitting Alt or Command and dragging it out. Then let's apply the new pattern to this one there. It's very subtle, but I really think it makes such a huge difference. If we make this bigger, we'll be able to see even clearer. Just drag this out. I want to make it wider too, so I need to apply the swatch again. Let's scale it down. I've got the scale dialog box open here. Let's try 50 percent, but I don't want to transform the object, I just wanted to transform the pattern, so I'm going to uncheck that and hit Ok. You can see here that it really makes such a difference without the texture and with the texture and these lines again, I know I've been saying this in every video, but those aren't real, so don't worry. If you don't believe me or if you're just a little bit unsure, you can always see this line here. You can select this, go to File, Export, save for web, and here in the Export window the line has disappeared. That's how you know that it's not a real line. Try saving it out. If it is a real line you're going to have to fix your repeat, but that's okay, that's fixable too. Now I'm going to show you how to apply a texture to only one element within a pattern, and so I have my two little turtle doves open here. I've decided that I want to apply a texture to just the boy. I'll zoom in a little bit so we can see him better and go up to my texture pack. I think I'll choose this one. You can hit Command C or Control C to copy. Go back over to your document and hit Command V or Control V to paste. Now this will put the texture over everything as you can see. I don't like this black, so I'm just going to change it to white quickly and get rid of the outline. There we go. Although this is white you can still see that it's covering everything and not just the boy. For it to just be on the boy, we need to use a clipping mask. We do this by first selecting the boy. The boy is underneath the texture, and so to select the object that's underneath, we need to hit Command and click on a Mac or Control and click on a PC. I'll do that and select the boy, hit copy and paste in place. That is Shift Command V or shift control V, and that will put it in the same position on top. You can see now that this is on top of the texture. We want to select this together with the texture underneath. We can do that by holding Shift and selecting them both. Then we want to create a clipping mask and we can do so by going up to object, clipping mask, make, there. Now, the texture is constrained to the shape of the bird. This is essentially using an effect, and we don't really want to use effects. We want to make this a shape of its own. We don't want it to have an effect. Because it's going to make your computer slower. To release the clipping mask, but to still keep the texture within these constraints, we go to object and expand, and then we hit this little thing in the path finders. If you don't have your path finders open, you can go to Window, and then pathfinder, and this box will open. We want to hit this one. This will mean that the shape is now no longer a clipping mask, but basically it's just shapes, it's just objects. You can't see them when I select them there because the edges are visible again. You can go view, hide edges. There we go. Now, if you don't want it everywhere, at this stage, you can select the texture, go to the eraser tool, and just simply raise the bits that you don't want. Maybe I don't want any on his eye, like this, and there you have it. That's how you texture one single element. 8. Layout and Direction: By layout and direction, I mean how you choose to place your motifs. Some look best as a half drop, others look best as a tossed layout, others may look good in neat rows, while some look best with more movement as a multi-directional pattern. Let's take a closer look at this pattern I made inspired by Japanese origami cranes. I chose to lay them out in an almost multi-directional layer, although none of them are upside down. Compare this to when the motifs are placed in rows. The first one is way more interesting as energy and movement and the birds look like they're coming at you whereas the birds in the second one look like they're queuing at the supermarket and they're about to fall asleep of boredom. This next one, however, is very neatly placed in rows and it works. Notice, I changed the direction of the girls to add some further interest. I also added a color pop in the yellow tulip. The pattern actually started out as just rows of tulips, but I thought it was a bit boring. By adding the girl, I managed to make it into a much more interesting pattern. This next pattern is a horoscope pattern with the Leo sign. I made it completely multi-directional as I wanted it to be free and spacey like the galaxy. Finally, this pattern with girls doing each other's hair is made much more interesting by the girls changing direction with each row. 9. Flow: The last item on our surface pattern checklist is flow. Flow is when something moves smoothly and steadily. Having good flow in a pattern means that the eye is led pleasingly. Having no flow in a pattern means that the eye can dart around and it can feel chaotic and a bit busy. This is sometimes what we want. If we're making a pattern that is bold and loud, we want the eye to dart around. But most of the time we want a good flow because it makes the pattern more satisfying to look at. Let's look at some examples. Because each row of flowers in this chiller pattern is leaning in opposite ways alternately, they look like they're moving or swaying in the wind, or my head dancing. If each flower was leaning the same way or if they were straight, there would be a very different feeling to the pattern. Take a look at this leaf pattern. The way this one flows might not be as obvious as the first. But I always had it in my mind as I was fitting the motifs together. I was continuously thinking of how I wanted the viewers eye to move across the pattern. The same goes for this final example of scattered bamboo leaves. The leaves look like they're floating and gently falling, this way and that way towards the ground. This was very intentional and achieved through considering the overall flow of the pattern. 10. Recap: That brings us to the end of my checklist. Let's have a quick recap. Contrast, color, depth, texture, layout and direction, and flow. 11. Conclusion: That brings us to the end of class, and I would love to thank you so much. I really hope that you find it useful, and I look forward to seeing your projects. Thank you.