Tutorial | Drawing Repeating Patterns

Let's face it...we're all busy. Life is busy, work is busy, sometimes even dreams are busy! We need to save on time where we can. So today we're not going to work harder...we're going to work smarter. This method shows you how to draw repeating patterns by drawing and cutting a design that, once digitized, can be repeated seamlessly at any size. So let's get started!!

X-acto knife
Paint and paint brushes (optional)

1. Prepare your paper
Measure and mark the center of your paper both vertically and horizontally. Use your ruler and X-acto knife to cut the paper into four separate pieces. Keep track of which pieces fit together!

**Cutting with a ruler and X-acto knife is ideal because it gives perfectly straight, clean cuts. Scissors will work, just be extra careful to cut one straight line.

2. Number the pages
With the four cut pieces of paper laying in order, number the edges that lie next to each other so that each edge has a corresponding number.

**I reinforced the numbers below to help see them clearly in photos, but make sure to use a pencil for these markings. You'll erase or cover them up later.

Now switch the left and right sides and label those edges in the same manner.

Finally, swap the top and bottom pages and label the last four edges. Each edge should now have a number and corresponding number assigned. These will be super helpful when drawing your design. Even if you accidentally get the pages out of order, you'll easily be able to identify how to put them back together so your drawing aligns.

3. Start drawing!
The pattern can be anything from simple shapes to an intricate, solid floral. I'm currently working on our next scrapbook line, so I'm doing a scattering of fireflies.

Start in the middle and leave the outside edges blank for now. The trick here is to have at least parts of your design crossing the cut intersections. This will ensure that the final design looks like one seamless drawing instead of four distinct sections. 

4. Finish the edges
Once you have the middle portion done (you can always adjust it later), swap the left and right sides and the top and bottom portions so that the blank edges are now in the middle 

Now all you have to do is finish your drawing! If you find that something needs to be adjusted, swap the pages and draw/redraw as needed. Just make sure that the edges are always aligned with their corresponding number.

The base for your repeating pattern is done! Each outside edge lines up perfectly with the opposite outside edge.

5. Finishing touches
From here you can decide how you want the final pattern to look. You can leave it a simple line drawing (I recommend outlining the pattern with a fine-tip pen so the lines are crisp and defined once you scan) or color it in using markers, paints or pencils.

I used gouache paint to finish my pattern. Use the same technique for painting as you did drawing -- start in the middle and then swap all the pages so the painted portion is on the outside and you're left with the unpainted portion in the middle. While you're finishing the pattern, be sure to blend your painted edges into the previously painted border so there are no color differences or seams.

6. Digitize
Scan all four sections of your repeating pattern and open the scan in 
Photoshop. Delete the background, move the edges of the pattern to line up right next to each other (you may have to use the Clone tool to clean up the edges and erase any hint of a line), and save it as [Pattern]-Tile. This file is now the tile that will be repeated indefinitely to make any size pattern you'd like!

The four painted sections come together to create the pattern tile

Duplicate the tile several times to make a bigger repeating pattern

The final repeating pattern!

And you're done!! I hope you had fun with this tutorial...comment with any questions!

:: Haley, 1canoe2 Artist + Marketing Director ::


Hi I went threw your session and got as far as in photoshop . I could not figure out how to delete the back ground and how to lasso tool. the lines for clean up? I am very new to photoshop like 2 weeks in. please help because I really want to make my own fabric.
I need more step by step 1, 2, 3, ect, thank you

Toni Kenner

Toni Kenner November 01, 2018

Of course, Tracey! I’m trying to figure out the best way to create an online tutorial to teach repeating patterns in both Photoshop and Illustrator. There’s no easy way to explain it in text, but think of it as the exact same concept as above but instead of cutting your tile into 4 pieces, your artboard is the entire tile. So anything that hangs over the right edge needs to be duplicated to cross the left edge in exactly the same spot, and same goes for the top and bottom edges. I’ll definitely let you know if I get an online tutorial figured out in the near future!


1canoe2 Crew July 20, 2017

Thanks, Amanda!! Making your own fabric will be SO fun! I’m glad I could help out :) You’ll definitely have to send us some photos when you get your fabric!


1canoe2 Crew July 20, 2017

Thank you so much for this tutorial! I have been thinking about creating my own fabric and repeating patterns was the part I had no idea how to accomplish! I stumbled onto this tutorial before I even got around to googling a “How to.” I made my first sketches today trying it all out and it works perfectly! Love this and literally Everything 1Canoe2 does! I’ve been a fan since I discovered y’all at a local boutique in 2012.

Amanda July 11, 2017

Thank for sharing, always wondered how to do this digitally ?

Tracey July 06, 2017

What a great tutorial, thanks for sharing this!

Aullie July 02, 2017

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