Monday, July 23, 2012

How to Create a Fabric Design

Okay I've been promising to do a tutorial on this for a really long time, so here goes...

You will need:
  • A graphics program (I use Corel PhotoImpact, but Illustrator or Photoshop is probably much better - none of these instructions are software-specific)
  • A fabric design idea

First, you need to understand the principles of creating a seamless 'tile' design. A simple image will make a rather boring repeating design.

That's why many fabric designs are based on a "half-brick" or "half-drop" repeat, where the image is shifted halfway up/down and along, falling off one side of the tile and reappearing, or "wrapping" round to the other. It gives the repeat more of a flow, and makes it harder to detect.

Of course, the repeat is still obvious in a simple design like the one above, but once you get into more complex designs like my key to my heart fabric, you can better see the principle at work.

Larger, more complex designs don't always need a half-brick repeat, as the the tile can get disguised in the scale of the print.

So how do you make a seamless tile?

There are actually a few different ways to approach this. I'll detail the basic method I use when I'm creating a fabric design.

Start with a blank image - I generally make mine between 8-12 inches wide to give a good size to the repeat. At 300 dpi (Spoonflower prints at 150 dpi, but I like to give myself a bit of flexibility in re-scaling the print once it's finished) this means an image size of between 2400 and 3600 pixels wide. I often give myself a little extra around the edges so I can design the repeat with a 'full' view of all the elements around the edges, and then crop back in to the final design size later.

For the purpose of this tutorial, I'm going to work with a design size of 600x500 pixels, which is obviously much smaller than a print design.

So the next step is to add your design elements. These can be vector graphics (most of mine are), or scanned sketches/ephemera (which might be a better place to start if you're inexperienced in computer graphics), or even a combination of both.

The way I generally start is to set out the design area by positioning an element in the corners (the black rectangle is to show the 600x500 design area).

These four duplicate cats will combine to make a single cat in the final, tiled design, so they have to be precisely placed. As the design size is 600x500 px, these are the measurements you use - there should be 600 pixels separating the cats on the x axis, and 500 on the y axis. Are you with me so far?

Then you can just fill in the space with more elements, remembering to "wrap" them to the other side if they spill over the of your design space.

Once you crop to the 600x500px area and tile the design, this is what you end up with:

A little recolouring and layering, and a striped background later (here's one I made earlier)...

(soon to be available through my spoonflower)

But what about that half-brick repeat?

I was coming to that. It's exactly the same principle, but every design element will appear twice in the design area, once for the basic repeat, and once with the x and y distances halved. As this also effectively halves the size of the design, it's best to give yourself a slightly larger area (for this example, I've just used smaller elements). I'm also going to switch from cats to hats (ha!), just for a bit of variety.

So as you can see, the corner elements are spaced 600px on the x axis and 500px on the y, as before. The elements in the centre are spaced 300px on the x and 250px on the y from the initial instances. Still with me?

Fill in the rest of the space (remembering to duplicate each element on the half-size repeat), crop to size, and you'll end up with something like this:

Which tiles seamlessly into this perfect half-brick repeat:

So there you are - if you managed to follow all that, you're now ready to start designing fabric!

It's really quite easy when you know how, but it's quite hard to explain in simple steps, so I hope it's clear. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I'll do my best to address them (I'll do a follow-up post if there's demand for any particular topic).


  1. Your cat fabric is really cute. I just might have to buy some when it comes available, to make a dress for myself :)

  2. The kitty fabric is SO ADORABLE!!!

  3. Thank you so much for this tutorial!

  4. We are working on a design that is not so much an all over repeat as a pre printed small pattern, and the work is being done by hand. I'll be scanning the artwork and working out how to place them for maximum use of the fabric. Have you ever tried it this way, and if so how did it go?

    1. I can't quite picture what you mean - if you email me pictures and more info I'll see if I can help.

      xx Charlotte

  5. Thank you for this!! I'm definitely bookmarking it for future use :)

  6. Fantastic tutorial, thanks! I might have to try creating some fabric of my own now ;)

  7. What a wonderfully helpful, easy to understand tutorial. It was really sweet and thoughtful of you post this for us, Charlotte, thank you!

    ♥ Jessica

  8. In the seamless tile repeat, how can you tell how many pixels apart they are in photoshop?

  9. Wow charlotte. Is it really this easy. I shall go and buy the software you are useing, I am a fabric converter. I maybe interested in buying some of your designs, may I have your email address please.many thanks helen.


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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