The Takeaway on Illustrator"s New Pattern Tool (CS6)

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Getting Started Using Illustrator CS6's New Pattern Tool

One of the best new features of Illustrator CS6 is the Pattern Tool. In this tutorial, we'll look at the basics of this new tool and get started using it. If you have ever tried to create a perfectly tiling pattern in Illustrator, you have known the frustration of trying to line up the pattern with grid lines, snap to grid, and snap to point. It will try your patience! Thanks to the new Pattern Tool, those days are behind designers forever!

Draw or Open Your Artwork

Draw or open the artwork for the pattern. This can be original artwork, symbols, brushstrokes, geometric shapes, photographic objects---you are limited only by your imagination. I chose to draw a more-or-less rose.

Select the Artwork

Please note that if you use a placed object, it will have to be embedded to use the pattern tool. To embed an image, open the Links panel (Window > Links) and choose Embed Image from the Panel Options menu. Select the objects you want to include in the pattern, either by using CMD/CTRL + A to select all, or by using the selection tool to drag a marquee around all of the artwork you want to include in the pattern.

Invoking the Pattern Tool

To activate the Pattern Tool, go to Object > Pattern > Make. A message will pop up telling you that the new pattern has been added to the Swatches panel, and that any changes made to the pattern in Pattern Editing Mode will be applied to the Swatch upon exit; this means upon exiting pattern editing mode, not the program. You can click OK to dismiss the dialog. If you take a look at the Swatches panel, you will see your new pattern in the Swatches panel; and you will see the pattern on your artwork.

You will also see a new dialog called Pattern Options. This is where the magic happens, and we'll look at it in a minute. Right now the pattern is just a basic grid, repeating the artwork on a horizontal and vertical grid, but you don't have to stop here. That's what the Pattern Options are for!

Using the Pattern Options to Tweak Your Pattern

The Pattern Options dialog has settings for the pattern so you can change how the pattern is created. Any changes you make in the Pattern Options dialog will update on the canvas so you can see at all times the effects your pattern editing have on the pattern. You can type a new name for the pattern in the Name box if you wish. This is the name the pattern will show in the Swatches panel. Tile Type lets you select from several pattern types: grid, brick, or hex.

As you select different settings from this menu you can see the changes on your pattern image in the work area. The Width and Height of the overall pattern can be changed using the Width and Height boxes as long as Size Tile to Art is not checked; to keep the pattern proportional, click the link next to the entry boxes.
Choose what part of the pattern overlaps using the Overlap settings. This will not show an effect unless the pattern objects overlap each other, which depends on the other settings you choose. The number of copies are really for display only. This determines how many repeats you see on the screen. It is there to give you a better idea of how the completed pattern will look.

Dim Copies: When this is checked the copies will be dimmed the percentage you choose and the original artwork will remain in full color. This lets you see where the artwork is repeating and overlapping. You can easily turn this on and off by removing the checkmark or checking the box.

Show Tile Edge and Show Swatch Bounds will show bounding boxes so you can see exactly where the boundaries are.

To see the pattern without the bounding boxes, uncheck the boxes.

Editng the Pattern

By changing the Tile Type to Hex by Rows I have a hexagon shaped pattern. You can rotate the pattern elements by using the Selection Tool, hovering over a corner of the bounding box to get the rotate cursor, then clicking and dragging just like any shape you want to transform. If you change the spacing using Width or Height you can move the pattern elements closer together or further apart, but there is another way.

At the top of the dialog just under the Pattern Options tab is the Pattern Tile Tool. Click this tool to activate it. Now you can dynamically resize the pattern area by clicking and dragging the corners. Hold the SHIFT key to drag in proportion. As always you will see all of the changes on the work area in real time so you can tweak the pattern as you work.

Watch the Pattern Changes as You Edit

The pattern has changed while I have been playing with the settings. The roses are now overlapping, and the hex pattern looks quite a bit different from the original grid layout.

For my final tweak I moved the spacing to -10 for H spacing and -10 for V spacing. This moves the roses a little further apart. I’m finished editing the pattern so I click Done at the top of the work area to dismiss the Pattern Options. The changes I’ve made to the pattern will be automatically updated in the Swatches panel, and you will only see your original artwork on the canvas. Save the image.

You can edit the pattern at any time by double clicking on its swatch in the Swatches Panel to open the Pattern Options dialog. This will let you make sure your pattern is always exactly as you want.

Using the pattern is easy. Just draw a shape on the canvas (the same one you have the artwork on) and make sure Fill is chosen in the toolbox, then choose the new pattern in the Swatches panel. Your shape will fill with the new pattern. If it doesn't, check and make sure you have Fill active and not Stroke. Save the file so you can load the pattern later to use on other images.
To load the pattern, just go to the Swatch Panel options and choose Open Swatch Library > Other Swatch Library.

Navigate to where you saved the file and click Open. Now you can use your new pattern. And here's one last trick before we close: using the Appearance Panel to add a fill to the pattern. This pattern actually has transparent areas between the roses and you can use that to your advantage and add a fill color below the pattern by using the Appearance Panel (Window > Appearance). Click the Add New Fill button (just to the left of the FX button) at the bottom of the Appearance Panel. You will now have two identical fills on the image (although you can't see a difference in the image). Click the bottom fill layer to make it active, then click the arrow by the swatch on the fill layer to activate the Swatches; choose a color for the bottom fill and you're done! If you have something you really like, add it to the Graphic Styles to use again. Don't forget to save it so you can load it again later!

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