Creating Patterns from Bitmap Images in Adobe Illustrator

Can I create pattern in Illustrator from bitmap (raster, pixel based) image was question on where I am contributor. My answer was: yes, you can. In this tutorial I will provide some more details how to create, save and use pixel based patterns in Adobe Illustrator.

Create bitmap pattern in Illustrator
First off course you must place bitmap image in Illustrator, do not link file because Define Pattern.. Comand in Edit menu will be dimmed out. Take a look at Options bar and press Embed button if its active to embed image. Pay attention and to image resolution before placing image in Illustrator.
Embed image in Illustrator
Embed image in Illustrator
To create seamless tiling pattern you can use any size of bitmap image but you must define which part of the image you want to use as pattern. Use Rectangle Tool and draw square or rectangle, set color and stroke to none and send unfiled rectangle to back (right click on rectangle with Selection tool active and choose: Arrange > Send to Back).
Set fill and stroke to none in Illustrator
Set Fill and Stroke to None in Illustrator

Next step is to select both, image and unfiled rectangle using Selection tool and to Define Pattern from Edit menu. In New Swatch dialog give a name to your new swatch and click OK to confirm. Your new pattern will appear in SWATCHES panel.
Define New Pattern in Illustrator
Define New Pattern in Illustrator

You can start using pattern immediately or to save it (choose Save Swatch Library as AI ) from Swatches panel menu for feature use.
Apply bitmap pattern to shape in Illustrator
Apply bitmap pattern to shape in Illustrator

Converting pixels to vector outlines
Another interesting question is whether saving pattern or any bitmap image in vector formats like ai or eps will convert pixels to vector outlines? No, it wont. Actually there isnt any file format which can convert pixels to vector outlines, you can do that using Illustrator tracing feature or some other softwares and services like Vector Magic.

Templates, Actions, Patterns, Styles, Frames

Scaling bitmap patterns
I do not recommend you to scale bitmap patterns in Illustrator, esspecially pay attention to not upsample (make bitmap pattern bigger). When scaling object with bitmap pattern applied double click Scale tool to open Scale dialog with options for this tool. Uncheck Patterns then change values.
Scale dialog in Illustrator
Scale dialog in Illustrator

Create pattern from Photoshop's bitmap patterns
If you want to create bitmap pattern in Illustrator from some of Photoshop's patterns then first check pattern size in Photoshop. To check pattern size open Preset Manager dialog, choose Patterns from Preset Type drop-down list. Navigate mouse over pattern thumbnail and you will get feedback with pattern name, size and color mode.
Check pattern size in Photoshop's Preset Manager dialog
Check pattern size in Photoshop's Preset Manager dialog

Next step is to create blank file with size of saved pattern and off course to apply patten from Edit > Fill or from Layer > New Fill Layer > Pattern. Save file and place it in Illustrator then follow instructions above, actully just draw shape (rectangle or square in same size as pattern), remove fill and stroke then align centers of image with center of shape. Send shape to back ( Shift + Ctrl + [ ), select both: image and shape and go to Edit > Define Pattern.

Adobe Illustrator *Patterns

Products used in this tutorial: Adobe Illustrator CS5, Adobe Photoshop CS5


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