Affinity Designer for iPad has been a total game-changer for my surface design process. Not only does it enable you to do precise movements with the transform tool, which makes your repeat pattern pixel perfect (goodbye pixel lines and offset repeat elements!) but you can also see a live preview of your pattern as you create it, so you never have to wonder if a repeat element is in the wrong place as you’re working. This totally takes the guesswork out of pattern building!
I’m going to dive right into building a repeat pattern, but if you feel like you need to learn some of the basics like building colour palettes and creating vector shapes for surface design, check out my tutorial on Surface Design in Affinity Designer for more detailed instructions.
Let’s get started!
Not in a video mood? See the whole process in written form below. Let’s start by setting up a live pattern preview document.
Create a New Document
On the document creation page, select pixels as the measurement and enter a document size (I’ll be working at 2000 x 2000 pixels). Turn on Create Artboard then tap OK to open the document.
Create and size an Artboard
In the Documents menu, tap Artboards, then drag your stylus across the background to create another artboard. Open the Transform Studio with Artboard 2 still selected and set the size to double your original artboard (I’ll use 4000 x 4000 pixels since my repeat block is 2000 x 2000).
Create a Rectangle on Artboard 1
In the layers panel select Artboard 1, then tap the Rectangle Tool. Drag your stylus across Artboard 2 to create a rectangle. Open the Transform Studio to adjust the size to 2000 x 2000 pixels and set the position to 0.0.
Create a Symbol
Open the Symbols Studio (with the rectangle still selected). Open the Symbols menu and tap Add Symbol from Selection.
Paste the Symbol onto Artboard 2
In the Edit menu, tap Copy. Select Artboard 2 in the layers panel. In the Edit menu tap Paste four times so you have four Symbol blocks on Artboard 2. Put the four blocks on the four corners of the artboard, using the Transform Studio to be sure each square is exactly in the corner (the Position should be 0, 0 for block 1; 2000, 0 for block 2; and so on).
Select Artboard 1 (this is where you’ll do all of your pattern building), select a brush and draw something. Then drag that shape in the layers panel to the Symbols layer so that it has a glowing orange line beside it. Only elements that are on the Symbols layer on Artboard 1 will show up on Artboard 2, so double check your layers panel if you have any trouble with the preview showing your elements! The drawing should automatically show up on Artboard 2. If it doesn’t, go back and double-check the steps above.
Create a Master Doc
Rather than redoing this process every time I create a new pattern, I like to use this document as my Master Doc, and just copy it any time I want to start a new pattern. So, delete your test shape, go to your Gallery, tap the Menu symbol on the document, and tap Duplicate a few times. Name one of them ‘Master Doc’ so you will remember to only use that file to copy for making future patterns. I also add the pixel dimensions to the title and create more Master Docs at different sizes like 3000 x 3000 and 5000 x 5000, etc.
Build a repeat pattern
Create your repeat elements
Create some shapes using vector and/or raster brushes in Affinity. When you first start building patterns, it’s easiest to start with abstract or geometric shapes rather than complex forms that have to fit together in a specific way. I’m using the Pen Tool to create simple geometric shapes. Remember to drag each shape to the Symbols layer so it has a glowing orange line beside it.
Design the edges of your repeat
Put one element on the left edge of the canvas, then tap the Edit menu and tap Duplicate. Open the Transform Studio, tap the X position and type + 2000 (there will already be a number there, but rather than deleting it, just add +2000). This moves the duplicated element to the exact opposite side of the canvas.
Fill the edges
Repeat the same process around the edges of the canvas. Since you type +2000 on the X-axis to move something to the right, you’ll type -2000 to move something to the left. Things you need to move up and down rather than left to right can be adjusted on the Y-axis. If you put something on the corner, it has to be duplicated three times, then moved to each of the four corners using the Transform Tool.
Fill in the centre
Fill the repeat with shapes and filler elements like dots or lines, being sure not to draw on the edge of the canvas. Play around with the placement and colours to get the repeat exactly as you’d like it to be. Check Artboard 2 to see if your repeat is spaced nicely and make adjustments if needed.
Export the file
When you’re ready to export, tap the Documents menu and tap Export. On the export page, choose Artboard 1 as the Area and PNG as the file type, then select a save location.
Now you can share the pattern on social media, add it to your online portfolio, or even upload the pattern to print on demand sites like Society6, Spoonflower or RedBubble! If you share the pattern on social media tag us @lizkohlerbrown and @affinitybyserif so we can see your pattern!
Patterns don’t have to be complex. You can create a beautiful pattern out of simple lines, brush strokes or dots. I made this pattern with the vector brush tool:
When I want to create complex patterns that contain a ton of layers, masks, or raster brush effects, I often make my repeat elements in a separate document, save them as a PNG with no background, then import each element onto my repeat canvas.
When you’re feeling ambitious, start creating complex patterns by fitting pieces together like a puzzle.
Create a whole collection! Choose a cohesive colour palette and stick to it for 4, 10 or even 20 patterns. Working in collections can help you develop your style as a designer and give you a cohesive set of patterns to show off in your portfolio.
About the creator
Liz Kohler Brown is an artist and designer who creates unique lettering projects, surface designs, and illustrations. After earning a Master of Fine Arts degree, she followed her passion of teaching workshops and classes around the world, online and in person.
Liz is a Top Teacher on Skillshare, a designation for the top 1% of teachers. She has created 40+ Skillshare classes on iPad Art & Design and cultivated an online community of artists and designers from every background and skill level who share their work, provide feedback, and offer support to help each other improve and advance their creative goals. You can connect with Liz on Instagram @LizKohlerBrown and get loads of resources for iPad art and design at LizKohlerBrown.com.