My Favorite Adobe Illustrator Tools for Surface Pattern Design

My Favorite Adobe Illustrator Tools for Surface Pattern Design

Illustrator Tools For Surface Pattern Design

Being a pattern designer my workflow takes many forms in the creation department. Sometimes I sketch by hand on paper or on my iPad. Sometimes I draw directly in Adobe Illustrator. And there are rare occasions where I will paint with acrylics or watercolors on paper. No matter which way I create, I always end up in Adobe Illustrator to finish my designs and motifs and then put them into repeats. Today I’m going to share with you may favorite (and my most used) Adobe Illustrator tools I use when creating or finishing off my designs and putting them into repeat.


1. Pen Tool


The pen tool I will use when drawing directly into Adobe Illustrator. It works by creating (or defining) anchor points as well as allowing you to create curves in relation to the anchor points. To create or manipulate the curves you move or adjust the handles of each anchor point.  I love that I can get very detailed with my designs using this tool. It’s a great tool to use if you don’t want a hand drawn look to your design. It’s also a great tool for cleaning up your hand drawn designs that are scanned into Adobe Illustrator.

Truth Bomb! - In the beginning of learning how to use this tool I must admit I was very resistant. However the more I practiced and the more I used it the more I loved it and it has become one of my “best friend tools” in Adobe Illustrator. 


2. Smooth Tool


I can’t talk about the pen tool without introducing pen tool’s bestie - The Smooth tool. For me, they go hand in hand. The smooth tool does exactly what it’s name says it does - it’s smooths. This is perfect for those hand drawings that have been scanned in and you want to smooth out some of the line work or edges. I also like it when drawing with the pen tool as it speeds up curve design when manipulating the anchor handles just aren’t doing the trick. TIP: Use keyboard shortcuts to quickly  switch between the Pen tool and the Smooth tool when creating.


3. Image Trace

This tool is an absolute must when importing your hand drawings or photos into illustrator. Image Trace lets you convert raster images (JPEG, PNG, PSD etc.) to vector artwork. Using this feature, you can easily base a new drawing on an existing piece of artwork by tracing it. For example, you can convert the image of a pencil sketch you've drawn on paper into vector artwork using Image Trace. You can choose from a set of tracing presets to get the desired result quickly.  Once you have done this you are able to work with and manipulate your newly created vector drawing the way you would like.


4. Pencil

    Want to create a freeform line like you were actually drawing with a pencil? Then select the Pencil tool. The pencil tool allows you to create/draw freeform lines and shapes and automatically puts in the anchor points and curves as you draw. The pencil tool has several options to choose from with regard to smoothness, fill and pixels. I used this tool a lot with my Wacom tablet.


    5. Blob Brush

    The Blob Brush tool works similar to the Pencil tool in that you can draw freeform with it. The difference is instead of lines it creates filled, compound paths. New shapes painted with the Blob Brush tool will merge with existing shapes with the same appearance settings. 

    This tool is great when creating calligraphy or other shapes.


    6. Shape Builder

    The shape builder tool allows you to combine shapes into one.  All you have to do is select the shapes you want to “merge” into one shape, select the shape builder tool and click and drag through the selected items and then viola! You have your new shape. 

    Another way I use this tool is to colorize existing shapes. I do this by selecting a color from my palette, then selecting the shape or shapes that I want to color. Next select the shape building tool and click on each shape and instantly it is colored in. I have to admit that this tool is one of my absolute favorites for its versatility when creating.


      7. Live Paint Tools

      The Live Paint tools works similar to the shape builder tool for coloring shapes that are overlapping. There are 2 tools in this tool family:

      - Live Paint Selection Tool

      Allows you to select one or more shapes (hold down shift key during selection for more than one shape) and then click or select the color you want those shapes to be and the shapes will be filled with that color.

       - Live Paint Bucket

      Allows you to fill each shape with the color you would like as you click on it. 


      These are just a few of the many tools Illustrator has to offer. These are my most favorite and the one's I use the most when creating my patterns.

      I also have my favorite keyboard shortcuts I use when utilizing these tools. I would love to share it with you. Click here to get my FREE Adobe Illustrator Keyboard Shortcut Cheat Sheet!