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10 Tips to Make Your Surface Pattern Designs Look Good

There are so many elements to consider when you’re creating a surface pattern design.

But what exactly is it that makes a design successful? Why do some designs seem to just work while others miss the mark? What are those key elements?

Let’s demystify the process. I’ve created a checklist of 10 tips to make your surface pattern designs look good.

10 Tips to Make Your Surface Pattern Designs Look Good

1. Select a successful colour palette 

Colour is one of the most important elements within a surface pattern design as it can determine the mood and feel of a design. Your choice of colour palette can make or break a design so it’s important to really take the time to consider what colours you are going to use.

So what is a colour palette?

A colour palette is a group of colours that have been chosen to work together. The colour palette you choose will be greatly determined by your target market or end product so make sure you have a good understanding of these before you start designing.

Click here to find out more about the basics of using colour.

2. Make sure your design is balanced

Balance will help your design feel visually complete and harmonious. You want the elements within your design to work together as a group. 

Balance within a design can be considered in many ways including:

  • Colour- making sure your colours are well balanced and work together
  • Texture- make sure your choice of textures work together
  • Layout- choose a layout that works with the motifs you are using and desired outcome
  • Size- think about the size of your motifs and their relationship to each other


3. Add contrasting elements

Adding contrast to your design will help create depth and interest.

Contrast can be used in many ways including:

  • Colour e.g. brights versus dull colours
  • Texture e.g. textured areas versus plain areas
  • Size e.g. large versus small motifs

4. Create a focal point

It’s a good idea to have some areas of your surface pattern design that have more focus than others otherwise your design can appear too busy and difficult to read.

A focal point could be created through your choice of motif e.g. a really decorative motif with more simpler elements around it will become a focal point. It can also be created through your choice of colour, texture or size of your design elements

5. Try altering the repeat type

If your design isn’t working or doesn’t feel quite right, consider changing the repeat type you’re using. By changing the repeat type,  you can drastically change the look of your design.

For example, if you change your repeat type from a full drop/block repeat to a half drop or brick repeat, your design can appear less formal. It will also be harder to find where the repeat starts and finishes.

Click here to find out more about the different types of repeats


6. Ensure you create a seamless repeat

One of the most important jobs of a surface pattern designer is to be able to create seamless surface pattern repeats. In a seamless repeat, you will not be able to see where your design starts or finishes. It should appear flowing and seamless.

Click here to learn step by step how to create seamless repeats in Illustrator.

7. Add in areas of texture

Texture can be a really simple way of adding interest to your design. One of the simplest ways of adding texture to your surface pattern designs is by using line texture techniques. Consider changing the thickness of your lines, alter the directions of your line or use line to create patterns within your design.

Click here to read more about using line to create texture.

Texture can also be created with printed techniques such as block printing, lino printing, and stamping.

Click here to read more about using printed techniques to create texture.


8. Add a sense of depth to your designs

Creating depth to your design is a really great way of creating interest.

The easiest way of creating depth is to overlap your design elements. This will allow you to have some elements in the background and some in the foreground.

When using this technique you need to really consider your colour palette so that your design remains harmonious.


9. Consider both the positive and negative space of your design

We’re often guilty of spending all our time creating beautiful motifs that we forget to consider the space around our designs. The negative space (or the background space) is just as powerful as the positive areas. Stop to think about those areas and make sure you use the negative space to enhance your design.


10. Think about the size of your motifs

Consider the size of your motifs and how they work together as a whole. Sometimes by simply changing the scale of the elements within your design, you can create more interest. Try making some elements larger and some smaller.


Make sure you take the time when you’ve finished your design to stand back and critically review what you’ve created. Is it working? Is it successful?

If not, consider the checklist above so you can turn your design into a standout.

10 Tips to Make Your Surface Pattern Designs Look Good

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