Pattern Building and Editing in Adobe CS5 Illustrator

By Jennifer Smith, Christopher Smith, Fred Gerantabee

Adobe Creative Suite 5 (Adobe CS5) Illustrator has the facility to build and edit patterns. To build a simple pattern start by creating the artwork you want to use as a pattern on your artboard — polka dots, smiley faces, wavy lines or whatever. Then select all components of the pattern and drag them to the Swatches panel.

You can’t use patterns in artwork that will then be saved as a pattern. If you have a pattern in your artwork and try to drag it into the Swatches panel, Illustrator kicks it back out with no error message. On a good note, you can drag text directly into the Swatches panel to become a pattern.

You can update patterns you created or patterns that already reside in the Swatches panel. To edit an existing pattern, follow these steps:

  1. Click the pattern swatch in the Swatches panel and drag it to the artboard.

  2. Deselect the pattern and use the Direct Selection tool to change its colors or shapes or whatever.

    Keep making changes until you’re happy with the result.

  3. To update the pattern with your new edited version, use the Selection tool to select all pattern elements and Alt+drag (Windows) or Option+drag (Mac) the new pattern over the existing pattern swatch in the Swatches panel.

  4. When a black border appears around the existing pattern, release the mouse button.

    All instances of the pattern in your illustration are updated.

To add some space between tiles, create a bounding box using a rectangle shape with no fill or stroke (representing the repeat you want to create). Send the box behind the other objects in the pattern and drag all objects, including the bounding box, to the Swatches panel.

A pattern with a transparent bounding box.
A pattern with a transparent bounding box.

Some specific transform features apply to patterns. To scale a pattern, but not the object it’s filling, double-click the Scale tool, shown in the margin. In the Scale dialog box that appears, type the value that you want to scale and deselect all options except Patterns. This method works for the Rotate tool as well.

Choose to scale or rotate only the pattern, not the object.
Choose to scale or rotate only the pattern, not the object.