Employing a Seamlessly Repeating Pattern

In my last article, I explained how to create a tessellating tile pattern—that is to say, a pattern that repeats seamlessly, with no flaws and with guaranteed results. Here’s the spoiler: It all hinges on the Offset filter. Really, that’s all there is to it. Choose Filter > Other > Offset, and everything falls into place. For more information, check out the previous article.

At the end of that article (honestly, how many links do you need to it?), I promised to share with you some interesting ways to employ your seamlessly repeating pattern. And true to my word, that’s precisely what I’m going to do now. Two ways to use a repeating tile pattern. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing more to say.

The Scalable Pattern Layer

You can fill an image, the whole thing, with a repeating pattern in one of two ways: Either as a static fill or a dynamic fill layer. The latter is always better. Select the region that you want to fill with the pattern. Click the half-black, half-white icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Then choose the Pattern command and, in the next dialog box, select the desired pattern from the far left pop-up list (as illustrated below). Move your cursor outside the Pattern Fill dialog box and drag the pattern to move it inside the image. Set the Scale value to an even fraction or multiple of the pattern’s original size. By that, I mean, one of the following: 25, 50, 100, 200, or a higher multiple of 100 percent. Other percentages produce fuzzy interpolations that are, to be polite, ugly as hell.

Fill image

If none of those percentages quite work for you—and why would they?—select the next smaller one. Then resize the image to the desired ratio using the Image Size command. For example, let’s say a Scale value of 80 percent looks about right. Settle for 50 percent. Divide 50 by 80 and you get 0.625, or 62.5 percent. So choose Image > Image Size, turn on the Resample Image and Constrain Proportions check boxes, and reduce the Width value at the top of the dialog box to 62.5 percent. The image scales but the dynamic pattern layer does not, as pictured below.

Image Size adjustment

Next, modify your layer mask to taste (as below). The pattern layer remains independently movable and scalable. Just double-click the pattern thumbnail in the Layers palette to display the Pattern Layer dialog box. If you want to scale the pattern layer with the image or otherwise modify its pixel, right-click in the image and choose Rasterize Layer.

Pattern & image mix

Mapping a Pattern onto an Image

Another use for a repeating pattern is to watermark an online photograph that you want to protect from unlicensed use. First create a tessellating watermark pattern, which might be a copyright statement or URL. Then open the photograph you want to watermark. In my case, it’s an exquisite image from iStockphoto photographer Aleksandra Alexis. Click the half-black, half-white icon at the bottom of the Layers palette, choose the Pattern command, select the desired pattern from the left-hand pop-up list. After clicking OK, change the blend mode in the Layers palette to Multiply, as I’ve done below. This drops out the white background (assuming there is one) so you can better see what you’re doing.

Multiplied watermark

Photoshop lacks the ability to rotate a pattern layer. (How frustrating is that?) If you want to rotate your pattern, here’s what you do: Choose Image > Canvas Size, turn on the Relative check box, and change the Width and Height values to 1,000 pixels each to add a generous amount of empty space around your image. Right-click in the image and choose Rasterize Layer. Then choose Edit > Free Transform and rotate the layer as desired. Finally, choose Image > Canvas Size again and change both the Width and Height values to –1,000 pixels (see below). When you see the inaccurate alert message (in reality, nothing will get clipped), click Proceed.

Rotate pattern

Now to make the letters appear embossed from the image. Choose Filter > Stylize > Emboss. Adjust the settings to your tastes. A Height value of 2 to 4 pixels works best. (Don’t worry that everything looks gray; you’re only concerned about the black and white edges.) After you click OK, change the blend mode at the top of the Layers palette to Overlay (shown below). If you want something stronger, try Hard Light or Pin Light. Whatever the mode, you’ll have an image that a prospective client can judge without being able to reproduce.

Embossed watermark

Frankly, this is only the tip of a great iceberg of patterning options available to you in the vast Arctic Ocean that is Photoshop. You can create desktop patterns, blend texture patterns into photographs, employ patterns as displacement and texture maps, and even heal blemishes with a pattern. Perhaps one day I will be called upon to discuss such options in a future article. But for now, remember to apply your patterns as dynamic layers and rasterize them when you want direct access to the pixels. Oh, and have fun while you’re at it.

Next entry:Deke-eke-eke-eke on InDesign Secrets Podcast

Previous entry:The Art of the Seamlessly Repeating Pattern


  • copyright pattern watermark

    this is the best thing since sliced bread

    use it all the time with image processor

  • Awesome watermark pattern

    A watermark pattern seems like a good idea for protecting your images.

  • repeating patterns


    Thanks heaps for this. I have had trouble understanding this properly.

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