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Repeating Patterns In Photoshop The Basics

In this tutorial, we'll learn the basics of making and using simple repeating patterns in Photoshop. We're just going to cover the essential steps here to get things started, but once you understand how repeating patterns work and how easy they are to create, you'll quickly discover on your own that there's virtually no limit to their creative potential in your designs, whether you're building a simple background for a scrapbook or web page or using them as part of a more complex effect.

This tutorial will cover the three main parts to working with repeating patterns. First, we'll design a single tile which will eventually become our repeating pattern. Next, we'll learn how to save the tile as an actual pattern in Photoshop. Finally, with our new pattern created, we'll learn how to select the pattern and make it repeat across an entire layer! In the next set of tutorials, we'll take repeating patterns further by adding colors and gradients, using blend modes to blend multiple patterns together, creating patterns from custom shapes, and more!

I'll be using Photoshop CS5 here, but the steps apply to any recent version of Photoshop.

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Step 1: Create A New Document

Let's begin by creating a single tile for the pattern. For that, we need a new blank document, so go up to theFilemenu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen and chooseNew:

Go to File > New.

This opens the New Document dialog box. Enter100 pixelsfor both theWidthandHeight. The document's size will determine the size of the tile, which will affect how often the pattern repeats in the document (since a smaller tile will need more repetitions to fill the same amount of space than a larger tile would). In this case we'll be creating a 100 px x 100 px tile. You'll want to experiment with different sizes when creating your own patterns later.

I'll leave myResolutionvalue set to72 pixels/inch. Set theBackground ContentstoTransparentso our new document will have a transparent background:

Enter the width and height of your document and make sure Background Contents is set to Transparent.

Click OK when you're done to close out of the dialog box. The new document appears on your screen. The checkerboard pattern filling the document is Photoshop's way of telling us that the background is transparent. Since the document is rather small at only 100 px x 100 px, I'llzoom inon it by holding down myCtrl(Win) /Command(Mac) key and pressing theplus sign(+) a few times. Here, the document is zoomed in to 500%:

The new blank document, zoomed in to 500%.

Step 2: Add Guides Through The Center Of The Document

We need to know the exact center of our document, and we can find it using Photoshop's guides. Go up to theViewmenu at the top of the screen and chooseNew Guide:

Go to View > New Guide.

This opens the New Guide dialog box. SelectHorizontalfor theOrientation, then enter50%for thePosition. Click OK to close out of the dialog box, and you'll see a horizontal guide appear through the center of the document:

Select Horizontal and enter 50% for the Position.

Go back up to theViewmenu and once again chooseNew Guide. This time in the New Guide dialog box, selectVerticalfor theOrientationand again enter50%for thePosition:

Select Vertical and enter 50% for the Position.

Click OK to close out of the dialog box, and you should now have a vertical and horizontal guide running through the center of the document. The point where they meet is the exact center. The default guide color is cyan so they may be a bit difficult to see in the screenshot:

A vertical and horizontal guide runs through the center of the document.

Changing The Guide Color (Optional)

If you're having trouble seeing the guides because of their light color, you can change their color in Photoshop's Preferences. On a PC, go up to theEditmenu, choosePreferences, then chooseGuides, Grid & Slices. On a Mac, go up to thePhotoshopmenu, choosePreferences, then chooseGuides, Grid & Slices:

Select the Guides, Grid and Slices Preferences.

This opens Photoshop's Preferences dialog box set to the Guides, Grid & Slices options. The very first option at the top of the list is GuideColor. As I mentioned, it's set to Cyan by default. Click on the word Cyan and choose a different color from the list. You'll see a preview of the color in the document window. I'll change mine toLight Red:

Selecting Light Red as the new color for the guides.

Click OK when you're done to close out of the Preferences dialog box. The guides in the document window now appear in the new color (note that Photoshop will continue to display guides in this new color until you go back to the Preferences and change the color back to Cyan or choose a different color):

The guides now appear in the new color, making them easier to see.

Step 3: Draw A Shape In The Center Of The Document

You can create very complex patterns in Photoshop, or they can be as simple as, say, a repeating dot or circle. Let's draw a circle in the center of the document. First, select theElliptical Marquee Toolfrom the Tools panel. By default, it's hiding behind theRectangular Marquee Tool, so click on the Rectangular Marquee Tool and hold your mouse button down for a second or two until a fly-out menu appears, then select the Elliptical Marquee Tool from the list:

Click and hold on the Rectangular Marquee Tool, then select the Elliptical Marquee Tool.

With the Elliptical Marquee Tool selected, move the crosshair directly over the intersection point of the guides in the center of the document. Hold downShift+Alt(Win) /Shift+Option(Mac), click in the center of the document, then with your mouse button still held down, drag out a circular selection. Holding the Shift key as you drag will force the shape of the selection into a perfect circle, while the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key tells Photoshop to draw the selection outline from the center. When you're done, your selection outline should look similar to this (don't worry about the exact size as long as it's close):

Hold down Shift+Alt (Win) / Shift+Option (Mac) and drag out a circular selection outline from the center.

Step 4: Fill The Selection With Black

Go up to theEditmenu at the top of the screen and chooseFill:

Go to Edit > Fill.

This opens the Fill dialog box, where we can choose a color to fill the selection with. Set theUseoption at the top of the dialog box toBlack:

Set the Use option to Black.

Click OK to close out of the dialog box. Photoshop fills the circular selection with black. PressCtrl+D(Win) /Command+D(Mac) to quickly remove the selection outline from around the shape (you could also go up to theSelectmenu at the top of the screen and chooseDeselect, but the keyboard shortcut is faster). Keep in mind that my document is still zoomed in to 500%, which is why the edges of the circle appear blocky:

The selection has been filled with black.

Step 5: Duplicate The Layer

With just this one circle added in the center of the tile, we could save the tile as a pattern, but let's make it look a bit more interesting before we do that. First, make a copy of the layer by going up to theLayermenu at the top of the screen, choosingNew, then choosingLayer via Copy. Or, if you prefer keyboard shortcuts, pressCtrl+J(Win) /Command+J(Mac):

Go to Layer > New > Layer via Copy.

Nothing will happen yet in the document window, but a copy of the layer, which Photoshop names "Layer 1 copy", appears above the original in the Layers panel:

The Layers panel showing a copy of Layer 1 above the original.

Step 6: Apply The Offset Filter

When designing tiles to use as repeating patterns, there's one filter you'll use almost every time, and that'sOffset, which you can get to by going up to theFiltermenu at the top of the screen, choosingOther, then choosingOffset:

Go to Filter > Other > Offset.

This opens the Offset filter dialog box. The Offset filter moves, or offsets, the contents of a layer by a specified number of pixels either horizontally, vertically, or both. When creating simple repeating patterns like the one we're designing here, you'll want to enter half the width of your document into the Horizontal input box and half the height of your document into the Vertical input box. In our case, we're working with a 100 px x 100 px document, so set theHorizontaloption to50pixels and theVerticaloption also to50pixels. At the bottom of the dialog box, in theUndefined Areassection, make sureWrap Aroundis selected:

Set the Horizontal and Vertical options to half the dimensions of the document and make sure Wrap Around is checked.

Click OK to close out of the dialog box. In the document window, we see that the Offset filter has taken the copy of the circle we made in the previous step and split it into four equal parts, placing them in the corners of the document. The circle remaining in the center is the original circle we drew on Layer 1:

The image after running the Offset filter.

Step 7: Define The Tile As A Pattern

With the tile designed, let's save it as an actual pattern, a process Photoshop refers to as "defining a pattern". Go up to theEditmenu at the top of the screen and chooseDefine Pattern:

Go to Edit > Define Pattern.

Photoshop will pop open a dialog box asking you to name the new pattern. It's a good idea to include the dimensions of the tile in the name of the patter