Today we’re going to use Illustrator’s powerful vector tools to make a retro style triangle pattern, which seamlessly repeats a series of randomly coloured shapes to cover an infinite size. Being vector artwork means the result is crisp and sharp, and can even be resized and re-coloured to suit different applications, all without affecting the overall quality as it would a pixel based pattern. So begin by opening up Adobe Illustrator and create a new document. The size doesn’t really matter too much, but I’ve chosen a horizontal A4 layout. Select the Polygon tool, then click anywhere on the artboard to enter a specific shape size.
Enter 30px for the Radius, then reduce the number of sides to 3 to form a triangle. Drag this shape to the upper left region of the document, then go to the View menu and turn on Smart Guides. These little green tooltips will make it easy to accurately align and snap the shapes together. Hold the ALT and Shift keys while dragging a copy of the triangle to the right, allowing it to snap exactly next to the original. Repeatedly press CMD+D, which is the shortcut for Transform Again to produce a series of perfectly aligned shapes. Draw a selection around all the shapes, then go to Edit > Copy and Edit > Paste in Place.
Rotate the whole set by 180 degrees, while holding the Shift key to constrain the angle. Move these upside down shapes sideways slightly so they fit together perfectly with the original line. Draw a new selection around all the shapes, then hold the Alt and Shift keys while dragging a copy vertically. Align them to the underside of the originals. Draw another selection around all the shapes and make another duplicate, this time copying two lines at a time. From now on the CMD+D shortcut can be used to fill out the rest of the artboard with a series of tessellating triangle shapes. In order to create a vibrant pattern, we need a nice colour scheme. I like to quickly search ColourLovers.com to find a nice palette to work with.
Take a screenshot to quickly paste the sample into Illustrator. Draw a little rectangle, then drag a duplicate with the Alt key. Press CMD+D to duplicate it enough times to match the number of colours in the palette. Use the Eyedropper tool to sample the colours from the screenshot, holding shift to allow the colour to be picked from the image. Fill each rectangle shape to form a series of temporary swatches, then delete the screenshot image. With the Selection tool selected, hold the Shift key and randomly click across the artboard to add multiple shapes to the selection. Switch to the Eyedropper tool, then click on the first colour swatch to load its appearance and apply it to this first shape selection. Go to Object > Lock > Selection, or press the shortcut CMD+2 to lock these shapes to avoid accidentally selecting them again. Rather than manually switching back to the Selection tool, holding the CMD key will also toggle the Eyedropper back to the selection, which is a nice time saver.
Hold both the CMD key and the Shift key and randonly select a bunch of new shapes. Release the CMD key, which will revert back to the Eyedropper, allowing you to sample the next colour in the palette. Don’t forget to hit CMD+2 to Lock these shapes now they’ve been coloured. Continue selecting a series of random triangles, then apply the next colour from the palette, and so on, until the entire design is colourised.
Once you get to the last colour, simply start again and keep alternating between the colours until there aren’t any shapes left. It can be a bit of a tedious process, especially if you’re covering quite a large area like this. It would have been much quicker to work with a smaller area, but you get the best results with less obvious repetition in the pattern by putting in some hard work. Once you’ve filled all the shapes, go to Object > Unlock All, then check for any concentrations of any one particular colour. Each shape can be individually selected and given an alternative fill to mix up the colours to eliminate any blocks that have formed.
The pattern itself is complete, but you probably don’t want to go through the whole process again to either recreate it, or fill an even larger area, so let’s create a pattern swatch that can be used to fill an infinite area. Select the rectangle tool, then use the Smart Guides to find the point of one of the triangles. Extend the rectangle out and match it up to a similar point further along the design, capturing a large portion of the artwork within its confines. Switch back to the selection tool and draw a selection around the entire pattern, then click the Crop button from the Pathfinder panel to trim it down to the size of the rectangle.
Currently the pattern won’t repeat because there’s some mis-matching colours where the edge triangles have been split down the middle. Use the Eyedropper tool to individually select and recolour the edge shapes so they’re the same colour as those on the opposite side. Drag a copy of the pattern and snap it to the edge of the original to test whether it repeats seamlessly. The pattern will already repeat vertically, but a quick test will help you check for any unwanted colour blocks. Drag the pattern into the Swatches panel, then this new swatch can be applied as the fill of any shape for it to infinitely repeat. One of the age-old annoyances of Adobe Illustrator is the tiny white line that appears on patterns. Don’t worry though, this is just a common visual glitch. You can see that the line disappears when you zoom in, which means it won’t show on the final export or in the print file.
The uses for patterns like this are never-ending. They’re great for covering various types of products, creating part of a brand identity which could be used on the backgrounds of brochures and business cards, or they simply make nice pieces of artwork for posters or wallpapers. So I hope this tutorial helped you learn some new techniques in Adobe Illustrator.
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