Designing Repeat Patterns for Digital Print

Author: Kristen Dettoni, Design Pool LLC

Designing in repeat is a unique skill. Though it is something that almost anyone can do (thanks to simple repeat applications), it often isn’t done well. Designers take years of practice perfecting this skill. One group of skilled “Repeat” designers is textile designers. Any textile application, whether it is apparel, upholstery, carpet, or window treatments, has to be in a clean and seamless repeat. This is because most printed goods are produced on a roll, with a full-width printed design. Fabric is then cut and sewn from a roll to make the final product.

As a textile designer of 27 years, my brain is constantly thinking in repeat and tiling out motifs in my head.

Straight Repeat Pattern Sample
Half Drop Repeat Pattern Sample
Pattern Repeat Basics

Most types of pattern designs are made with one of five basic repeat layouts.

Straight Repeat:

The easiest is the straight repeat. Essentially you are taking the motif and tiling the image left, right, up and down.

Half Drop:

The ½ drop repeat is taking the motif, placing it halfway up / down or left / right.

All-over Repeat:

The last basic repeat is the all-over repeat. This is the most challenging for designers because it is giving the illusion that there is no obvious repeat. These tend to be leaf and floral motifs or large geometric patterns.

Directional or Landscape:

These types of layouts have a definite direction in them, and the design will have to be used in a final product with that direction factored in. Think of a print of a house: the house will always have to appear with the roof on top.

Mirrored Pattern:

Most common in stripe and plaid patterns, these types of designs have a point in them from which they mirror out in opposite directions.

All Over Repeat Sample Pattern
Directional Repeat Pattern Sample
Mirrored Repeat Pattern
Determining Width Repeat
Pattern Repeat Software

There is an abundance of software and plugins to help you design in repeat. When a design is created “in repeat”, a designer is working out the layout with the design repeating out. This is different from creating in a box and then repeating out that design. Designing in repeat helps with more complicated patterns, especially an all-over repeat. Though the software does a lot of the complicated work, you still need to have an eye for design and know what to look out for to keep that design repeating seamlessly.

CAD software such as EAT by Design Scope Company, Ned Graphics and Pointcarre were born out of the necessity for industry designers to design in repeat. These programs are great solutions, but can often be prohibitively expensive for an individual. They have very intricate design software packages that include woven simulations, product mapping and manufacturing equipment interfacing. All amazing options, but you may be paying for parts that you might never use. These programs are ideal for small to large businesses, especially those who want to be able to send files directly to a manufacturer.

For individuals, there are more reasonably priced programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Both programs have some very basic tiling options, but there are also useful plugins. Artlandia for Illustrator allows you to work in repeat and offers a variety of repeat functions. Adobe also has a beta version called Textile Designer for Photoshop.

As a textile designer, and knowing how important scalability is, my design weapon of choice is Illustrator with the Artlandia plugin. I love that vector-based designs allow me to easily scale my designs without losing any resolution. Ideally, software choice comes down to a designer’s needs and the types of image files that the client and their manufacturer require.

Understanding Math for Repeats

Many manufacturers have repeat limitations that need to be taken into consideration when you are designing. First there is the width of the rolled goods, which can be anywhere from 36” – 72” depending on the width of the equipment. There may be times when your design needs to be divisible into the fabric width. For example, 54” is a standard width for commercial upholstery fabric. In this case, the width of a single repeat will need to be divisible into 54. You may also want to inquire if it needs to be evenly divisible as well. For example, both 9” and 10.8” are divisors of 54, but only 9″ is evenly divisible.

As far as the height of the repeat, there typically is not a general “cut off” point, but it may come down to file size in megabytes and if there are any limitations with the machine. End use would also be a consideration. A design intended for a throw pillow would be better suited to a smaller repeat, as opposed to a tablecloth.

If you are working with textured swatches within a design, you need to be aware of the repeat sizes of those swatches as well. They will also need to be divisible into your single repeat size.

Repeat Marks

“Repeat Marks” is a textile industry phrase. It is an obvious mark that is created simply by tiling your motif. A great designer cares about repeat marks and goes to great lengths to resolve them. There are a few tricks to see repeat marks. The first is to zoom in on your design on your monitor. This is usually your first indication, but don’t zoom in too much because that will produce false marks; remember you are not printing the design that small.

Second is to do a test print with more than one repeat. Lay the text print on a table or pin it to the wall and look at it from all angles, maybe squint your eyes. This will show any lines or marks that are not intentionally part of the design.

In some very complicated designs, especially textured patterns, sometimes when you fix one repeat mark you may unintentionally create another one. So the process goes of fixing, printing and fixing again. This can go on for several trials and definitely takes persistence, and often a fresh set of eyes.

For additional information on repeat types check out our page.

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