No, you’re not seeing double. You’re just looking at a seamless pattern.
If you want your custom apparel to look pro AF, you’ll want to master the art of creating these fun arrangements.
A pattern can be used as a statement in an apparel design, or it can simply provide more visual interest to the background of your custom apparel.
Today, we’re going to share a step-by-step, beginner-friendly guide on how to turn your vector artwork into a seamless pattern so you can print it on anything you want.
Custom apparel, posters, coasters, wallpaper… you name it!
After you create an amazing seamless pattern, you can even turn it into a signature design for your brand.
Just look at Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dooney & Bourke, Coach, and other popular fashion labels. They all have branded seamless patterns that you could spot from a mile away.
If you don’t have a seamless pattern for your brand yet, don’t worry. We’re going to show you how to make one today.
Before we dive into our tutorial, let’s define the phrase “seamless pattern” to squash any doubts you have about what it is.
A seamless pattern is simply a tile you can place side by side to create a continuous design that never ends.
Seamless patterns are usually created on square tiles, and each edge must match up so there aren’t any visible breaks when the tiles are placed next to each other.
The top must match up with the bottom, the left side must match up with the right… you get the point.
Sounds hard to create, right?
It can seem difficult to wrap your head around if you’ve never done it before.
Luckily for you, our design wizards wrote this foolproof guide on how to create seamless patterns in Adobe Illustrator.
Disclaimer: Illustrator is not the only program you can use to create a seamless pattern. If you’re boycotting Adobe for some reason, you can still make a pattern. The process will just look a little different depending on which program we use.
How to create a seamless pattern in Adobe Illustrator (without any headaches)
1. Open Adobe Illustrator and create an artboard that is 3 x 3 in.
Use all the same settings you normally would for your custom apparel files. The most important part of this step is to create an artboard that is square.
Not a rectangle. Not a diamond. Definitely not a pentagon.
It has to be square: four sides with the same length on each end.
2. Add your vector artwork onto the square artboard.
We recommend using a variety of elements to spice up your design. (After all, the purpose of a seamless pattern is to make a design less boring!)
For our design, we used four illustrations. They might not look like much yet, but bear with us—this is going to blow your mind.
3. Place your graphics around the top and left edges of your artboard.
In our design, we duplicated elements, resized them, and played with opacity to create contrast and visual interest.
Then, we arranged some of the elements along the top and left edges of the artboard.
In your design, you should leave some objects within the bounds of your artboard, but also strategically add elements along the two edges you’re working with.
Important: DO NOT place any elements on the right or bottom edges. If you do, you’re probably going to mess up.
You don’t want to start all the way over, do you? We know it’s tempting to break the rules, but trust us—there is a method to the madness.
4. Make a copy of the elements on the left edge.
Now, we are going to move the elements on the left side over to the right in a very specific way to ensure the pattern will be seamless on both sides.
To do this, select all the elements that are hanging off the left edge of your artboard. Go to Edit > Copy to copy your artwork to the clipboard.
Then, go to Edit > Paste in Place to add a copy of the left edge art directly on top of the original elements.
5. Select the duplicates and use the Move tool to scoot them over to the right.
Select only the duplicate left edge elements and go to Object > Transform > Move to open up the settings for the Move tool. You’ll see a few random numbers.
Don’t freak out—here are the cheat codes for the Move tool panel:
- Horizontal: 3 in
- Vertical: 0 in
- Distance: 3 in
You might be wondering, “What on Earth does this do?”
These settings will move your left edge elements over to the right edge in the exact spot they need to be in to create the seamless pattern we’re going for.
Click “OK,” and watch the magic happen.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the elements on the top edge, but this time you’re moving them to the bottom edge.
In the Move tool settings, you’ll add these numbers:
- Horizontal: 0 in
- Vertical: 3 in
- Distance: 3 in
It’s flip-flopped so the vertical setting is 3 in. and the horizontal is 0 in. This should move your top edge artwork down to the bottom edge in the precise spot it needs to be in.
7. Now, you can rearrange or resize the internal elements as you see fit—but whatever you do, DO NOT move the elements that are on the edge.
You’ll break the seamless pattern if you move the edge elements, so just leave them be. However, the internal elements that are not on the edge can be rearranged.
We decided to add another tiny disco ball to our design (because why not?)
8. Now is a good time to save your work.
We’ve lost many, many, many files over the years. We know that Adobe can’t be trusted.
If you like your design and want to keep it, save early and often.
9. Select your artwork and click “Group” in the properties panel to join the elements together.
Just so they don’t escape.
10. Add a fun background color with the rectangle tool.
We were feeling the baby blue vibes today—the coral tones in the artwork contrast well with the blue hue.
11. Resize the background to the exact size of your artboard and ensure it is positioned directly in the center.
If there is any white showing around the edge of your design, your seamless pattern won’t look right. Make sure your background is perfectly centered.
12. Next, we’re going to create a bounding box.
Select your background rectangle. Go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste in Place.
Go to Object > Arrange > Send to Back.
Then, remove the Fill and Stroke from your new rectangle so only the bounding box is left.
13. Select your entire design, including the background, and drag it to the Swatch panel.
This will save your seamless pattern as a swatch so you can use it later on.
14. Now comes the fun part! Let’s bring your seamless pattern to life.
Select your design in the Swatch panel and click the Rectangle tool. Then, click and drag to open up a rectangle…
…and behold! Your seamless pattern will appear. If it doesn’t, double-check to make sure the fill of the rectangle is set to contain the pattern.
15. Your seamless pattern is ready to rock!
What will you print it on first?
Need inspiration for your patterned custom apparel? Here are 10 crazy cool seamless patterns from independent artists around the world.
Artist: @olga_rom_workshop on Instagram
You can’t go wrong with trippy tie-dye. We could stare at this tile for hours and get lost in its swirling arms. We’re getting oriental rug vibes from this design, but we could totally see it on a t-shirt too.
Artist: @watercolorsbyjynn on Instagram
Seamless patterns aren’t exclusive to digital art. Here, we have a classic checkerboard with a twist—watercolor!
Although each checker was digitally rendered and placed into the pattern using a computer program, we can still see the beautiful watercolor detail in each square.
How could you use a mixed-media format for your custom apparel?
The solid background in this seamless pattern allows the artwork to stand out. The negative space balances out the design. A strategic choice on the artist’s part!
Artist: @sophiarie on Instagram
How many owls can you spot here?
How many arrows? How about plus signs?
We can’t stop looking at this design, and TBH, it can’t stop looking at us. Those owls are staring right into our souls.
Artist: @leannefriedberg on Instagram
We love how simple and complex this design is at the same time.
It’s made of simple shapes, but the pencil stroke-like lines give the pattern an interesting texture and bring a new layer of depth to the design.
How cool would it be to print this pattern on a shirt?
It’s cute, it’s pink, and it’s… goth? The pastel goth trend will never go out of style.
If you have sketchbooks filled with cool illustrations you thought you’d never use, consider turning them into seamless patterns like the one above.
You’d just need to import the drawings, vectorize them, add a background, and follow our amazing tutorial to create your pattern, of course. 😉
Two words: line art.
This pattern is simple and symmetrical, yet abstract and interesting to look at. We could easily see this design printed on a luxury t-shirt.
Remember, there is beauty in simplicity. Your seamless pattern doesn’t have to have a million layers, colors, and illustrations to be effective. Line art can be just as impactful.
Artist: @darkmossprints on Instagram
We don’t even know where to begin with this design—there are so many elements that are pleasing to the eye.
The shading, the balance of color, the detail in each illustration… we could go on and on.
However, we do want to point out that the artist mirrored the moth illustration to fill the negative space and give the composition more balance.
If you want to create more visual interest in your seamless pattern, consider flipping one of your elements horizontally, vertically, or diagonally so it alternates instead of facing the same direction on each repetition.
Artist: @artesty.prints on Instagram
Here is another example of mirrored illustrations, except these seashells are organized into perfectly aligned rows for a clean look.
The stark contrast between the illustrations and the background allows the artwork to stand out.
This design screams, “Wallpaper in a luxurious Floridian beach house.” Don’t you think?
Artist: @luxeandloco on Instagram
Even flat illustrations can appear very dynamic when used strategically within a design.
The artist chose not to add any shading to the flowers here, but the contrast between the big flowers and the tiny ones is enough to make the pattern fascinating to look at.
Once you’ve created the perfect seamless pattern, you need a custom apparel partner who knows what to do with it.
Seamless patterns are just a misprint away from becoming un-seamless.
Thankfully, you won’t have to worry about that when you work with Scrappy Apparel. Our Brand Building Process (BBP) is the best in the industry.
With thorough reviews of your pre-production layouts, we ensure that your orders are printed accurately every single time.
But why else would you work with Scrappy Apparel?
Here are just a few reasons:
- Our awesome team will guide you through the entire ordering process and answer any questions you have.
- We always deliver on time (or early). We’ll never make excuses for delivery delays because we will meet your deadlines every single time.
- We source the highest-quality materials in the world and develop garment patterns that you can private label to take true ownership of your brand.
- Our customer support team consists of real humans with hearts of gold. They are caring, responsive, and ready to help you resolve any challenge you’re facing.
- We’re the best of the best, and so are you. So, let’s work together!