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Traditionally, the pattern creation process in Adobe Illustrator was something that most designers avoided, due to its complexity, and well, less than desirable results. However, in Illustrator CS6, I believe they've made good strides towards making this feature not only easier to use, but actually functional as well. The New Pattern Options feature in Illustrator allows you to take a piece of artwork that you have, and turn it into a repeatable pattern in many different styles and configurations. To access Pattern Options, you can go to the Window menu and choose Pattern Options.
This will bring up the Pattern Options panel and allow you to see all of the options before you actually get started making your pattern. If you're not actually creating a pattern, the options you see in this panel will be completely grayed out. In order to make them active, you must first select a piece of artwork on your artboard and then go to Object > Pattern > Make. You'll notice that once you hit Make, Adobe Illustrator comes up with a dialog box indicating that it's going to add your pattern swatch automatically to the Swatches Library, and it will keep that swatch updated each time you make a change, so that your pattern stays up to date any time you're working on it.
If you want to show this box each and every time that you do this, you can simply hit OK. If you don't want to see this box every time, simply hit Don't Show Again, then hit OK. Once you do that, you'll see your Swatch pop up right over here on the right. You should now have all of your options activated inside of this panel here. You'll also notice at the top you get the small gray bar, indicating that you can Save a Copy, tell Illustrator you're Done, or simply Cancel out. On the left-hand side, there's a breadcrumb link indicating that you can Exit Pattern Editing mode.
So at anytime if you've made changes to your pattern, and you're finished with it, you can exit by clicking this little arrow. Now let's take a look at the Pattern Options panel itself. You'll notice at the top of the panel, you have the ability to name your pattern. The naming convention is up to you. But, I would suggest using something pretty descriptive, just in case you have trouble identifying your patterns later. So in this case, I'll just name this Blue Flower. Directly underneath that, you'll be able to determine the type of pattern that you're creating. So you can do things by Grid, Brick by Row, Brick by Column, Hex by Column, or Hex by Row.
All of these are totally up to you, but they each change the look and feel of your pattern instantaneously. You'll also be able to change the Width and Height of your pattern. If you want them to remain in proportion, click the little link button to the right-hand side. You can also Size the Tile to your Artwork. Clicking this eliminates the ability to change the Width and Height, and make sure that these follow the same size as the original artwork; meaning, as you move the artwork around, the tile follows suit. I'll go ahead and uncheck Size Tile to Art and let's make a change to the Width and Height.
I'll constrain my proportions, and I'll change this to something like 200 points. When I do that, you'll notice that everything resizes to fit within that window. Now if I want it to go back to its original size, I can simply hit Size Tile to Artwork and everything goes back to normal. I can also change the Horizontal and Vertical Spacing in between each tile. So if I want to add some space on the left and right-hand side, I can just simply increase the space like so. If I want to change the Vertical spacing, I do the same thing.
And I'm just navigating with my arrow keys here. Directly underneath that, I can control the Overlap. So do I want the left portion of the pattern in front, the right portion in front, the top in front or the bottom in front? This basically determines exactly where these tiles fall in the stacking order. You can also determine how many copies of your original artwork are applied to the pattern. By default, this is set to 5x5. I can change that to any number I want 5x7, 7x5, or even 3x3.
Totally up to you which way you change this, but as you can see, each and every time you change it, it changes the look and feel of your pattern. I'll go ahead and reset that, to 5x5. The last options here include Dim Copies to, which just basically means okay, everything but the original artwork, dim the opacity a little bit to a certain degree, so that I can actually see what my original was, and what is actually being created in the pattern. You can also choose whether or not to Show the Tile Edge. That's this little blue line that runs all along the pattern here. And you can choose to Show the Swatch Bounds if you want to.
Show exactly how big the swatch will actually be. Let's uncheck that box. I actually prefer to have this turned on, so I can see the original boundary of my original artwork. If you get confused about what any of these things mean inside of this panel, all you have to do is hover over these, and it will tell you exactly what's going on. So in this case, when I hover over Show Swatch Bounds, it indicates here that objects outside of these boundaries will not be repeated. So in this case, showing the swatch bound, shows me exactly how big the swatch is going to be, and tells me anything outside of these boundaries that is not a part of the original artwork, won't be included.
These little tooltips are very handy if you don't know exactly what's going on in the dialog box. So anytime you get lost in Illustrator, no matter if it's this panel or any panel, take a look at those tooltips and you'll be well on your way to understanding exactly what's going on. As you can see, the Pattern Options in Illustrator are quite extensive. So you really need to take some time and study each part and understand exactly how it works. Once you've got an understanding of these options and how to interact with your artwork, you're ready to go on and create your first pattern.
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