The Spoonflower help desk gets frequent emails from folks who want to try their hand at creating seamlessly repeating designs without spending a small fortune on Photoshop or Illustrator right off the bat. Fortunately, there are ways of getting around that $600-$700 price tag! Today Sally Harmon, aka Boris Thumbkin, offers a tutorial on how to use Picmonkey to create a seamlessly repeating design below. Read on for the details, and never be afraid of seamless repeats again!
Years ago,whenever I was on the phone or watching TV, I would doodle with a fine-line Sharpie in an 18" x 24" sketchbook.
These were drawn without plan or preliminary sketch so while there are parts that don't work for me, there are sections that I think could serve well as fabric. The challenge will be to transform these busy line drawings into satisfactory repeating designs.
Step 1: Because these 18 X 24-inch doodles are way too big for my scanner, I photograph them to turn them into digital files. Then I do as much editing of the photos as possible in iPhoto (the basic photo management program that ships with Macs). I crop, straighten, de-saturate, and increase the exposure and definition.
Then I upload this image file to Spoonflower.
Step 2: After uploading, I try out the mirror repeat option on Spoonflower because it's the easiest way to make a design repeat seamlessly. Mirror repeat reflects an image along both the x- and y-axes and for certain small sections of my drawings, I like the way mirror repeat looks.
But for many sections it's not the best solution. Part of the appeal of these drawings is their interocking density which is lost here.
I also don't like the reversed text.
I will need the basic, half-brick, or half-drop option. However, because my drawings go all the way to the edge of the paper, there will be discontinuities where the design sides come together.
Luckily, there's a way to create a seamless basic repeat using PicMonkey's "DIY Sticker" feature. It's a bit fiddly and involves a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing, but it works!
Step 3: First, I'll need to create my stickers in Picmonkey. I'll be making two kinds of overlays–"bridging motifs" and "precise quadrants." Let's talk about bridging motifs first. Bridging motifs are small elements within my design that may prove useful to bridge gaps between design edges. In this example below, I'm going to select a flower as a bridging motif.
I go to "Edit with PicMonkey" and I crop around a flower I want to use.
Now let's talk about "precise quadrants." To demonstrate these, I've put colored dots on each quadrant of the design below. I start like this:
I take the full design from Spoonflower to PicMonkey. I go to "Basic Edits," then "Resize" until the numbers in each box are even. Then I jot down these dimensions and save the image to Spoonflower. This particular image measures 3648 x 2736 pixels.
I then return to PicMonkey–yes,again!–and I crop the red quadrant. Sometimes I find I need to check the "Scale Photo" box to get the numbers precise. My cropped height is exactly half of my original image's height; my cropped width is exactly half of my original image's width. In this case, that's 1824 x 1368 pixels.
I repeat these steps with the remaining three quadrants. On my desktop I now have all four quadrants (red, yellow, blue, and green) plus the bridging motif (a flower).
Step 4: To lay it all out, I return to Spoonflower. I click on "Custom fabric" from the "Create" tab. Under "Other Design Options" I click "Fat Quarter." [Please note that you must be logged in to Spoonflower to see the "other design options" feature.]
I go to "Overlays," then "Make Your Own."
I upload all four quadrants from my desktop and I re-arrange them like so:
In this way I've brought the image motifs from the outside edges to the inside edges, essentially turning the image inside-out.
I do not completely fill the blank fat quarter. I keep the quadrants congruent and leave a narrow white cross between them (like the mullion and transverse elements of a window).
Here, before my final crop, I've used a light pink geometric rectangular sticker stretched between the edges to check my precision:
Oops! The red arrows show where I'm ever so slightly off. I adjust the red quadrant so that the tops of the indicated circle will line up better.
When I'm satisfied, I merge all the elements.
Step 5: Now I want to bridge the gap created by the blank cross. There are several ways I can do this.
I can draw lines (using "draw") between different elements:
I can also erase elements that don't want to connect (again using "Draw"):
Another option is to add geometric stickers:
Or I can use my own "bridging motif" stickers:
When I'm done bridging those blank cross areas, I save my design to Spoonflower.
Step 6: I check my image in different views to be sure that it repeats seamlessly. If I want to add some color, I run my design through the Spoonflower color changer. Then I return the design to PicMonkey for any final editing.
Prior to proofing, I like to try reducing the size of my image by increasing its DPI sufficiently so that I can check the repeat in the Spoonflower preview window.
A Few Notes About Repeats:
What I'm doing here is very similar to the offset filter plug-in available on Photoshop and elsewhere. Dr. Andy Mathis explains how to create a seamless repeat in Photoshop using the offset filter on YouTube.
My technique is also very similar to the technique Julia Rothman explains in a Design*Sponge tutorial on how to create a seamless repeat the old-fashioned way, using paper, scissors, and tape.
Making This Simpler:
Lest you feel intimdated by all the steps I've outlined above, please note that only rarely is it neccessary to go through the whole process above.
If my image "falls off the edge" in only a few places and if these are straight lines, I can simply match the lines up using geometric stickers.
Sometimes I just need a little more space to "tie up loose ends." In this case, I just turn my whole image into a sticker, float it on a fat quarter, merge, and draw in anything missing.
Sometimes I can suggest continuity by simply matching color from edge to edge.
Sometimes only one axis is problematic. If that's the case, I work with halves rather than quadrants.
Certain motifs–like stairs, ladders, roofs, stems, and signs–are particularly helpful when connecting edges.
Making This Trickier:
Now for some extra-credit questions!
What if I wanted my design to be in half-drop or half-brick repeat?
What if my axes were off-center (i.e. my quadrants were not congruent)?
What if my axes were angled? Or curved?
What if I were to use mirror-image along one axis and basic, half-drop, or half-brick along the other?
What if i laid one kind of repeat over another?
Most of us study repeats only as a means to an end. However, if you're interested in learning more about the mathematics involved you might want to check out the seventeen wallpaper groups and orbifold notation or a great book called Symmetry, Shape, and Space: an Introduction to Mathermatics Through Geometry, particularly chapter 5.
Hope you all found this a useful technique for designing seamless repeats!