Pattern design on Illustrator
SymmetryWorks Tutorials

Symmetry Diagrams and Creating a Geometric Pattern in Illustrator with SymmetryWorks

by Iaroslav Lazunov, Vectorboom

In this tutorial, you will find diagrams of patterns of all the primary symmetry types. The diagrams will help you to better grasp the nature of symmetry, which is a good starting point for the creation of complex seamless patterns. We also create a simple geometric pattern, in Arabian style, using Artlandia SymmetryWorks. This Illustrator plug-in produces all symmetries and makes the job of constructing geometric patterns much easier. So let's get started!

There are exactly 17 possible types of symmetry of surface patterns. This number is determined strictly mathematically. Types of symmetry, or symmetry groups, differ by the presence of reflection, rotation, and the shape of the repeating unit. Instead of describing each symmetry type, we simply portray them as diagrams. The basic repeating unit is shown in blue, with the white letter F depicting the source element of the pattern or the pattern seed (motif). Gray figures and letters F show the distribution of repeating units. In the upper-left corner of each diagram, you can find an icon that corresponds to the symmetry in the SymmetryWorks panel; and in the part on the right, we give an example pattern of that symmetry type.

Diagrams of primary symmetry controls

Simple shift (p1)

Glide reflection (pg)

Mirror (pm)

Mirror & glide (cm)

Perpendicular mirrors & glide (cmm)

Half-turn (p2)

Double glide (pgg)

Parallel mirrors & glide (pmg)

Double mirror (pmm)

Pinwheel (p4)

Quarter-turns & mirrors (p4m)

Quarter-turns & rotated mirrors (p4g)

Three rotations (p3)

Three mirrors (p3m1)

Three rotations & mirrors (p31m)

Six rotations (p6)

Kaleidoscope (p6m)

I hope these diagrams will help you create many wonderful patterns. Illustrator's own pattern maker offers only the Simple shift (p1) symmetry, but, with SymmetryWorks, all the 17 symmetries are instantly within your reach. To open the SymmetryWorks panel, choose Window > SymmetryWorks.

Creating a geometric pattern in Arabic style

1 Now we are ready to tackle our first pattern. Open a new Illustrator document (Cmd-N on Mac OS or Ctrl-N on Windows). Choose the Rectangle tool in the Illustrator toolbox (M) and draw a square with a black fill and no stroke.

2 If Illustrator's Smart Guides are not active, turn them on now (Cmd/Ctrl-U). Then choose the Line tool (\) and draw a horizontal line from the lower-left corner of the square (point A) to somewhere on the right of the square. The color and the stroke width of the line do not matter.

3 Keep the line segment selected and choose the Rotate tool (R). Then hold down the Option/Alt key and double-click point A. This opens the Rotate dialog. Set the angle to 30 degrees and click OK.

4 With the Rotate tool still selected, hold down the Option/Alt key again and double-click the center of the square. In the dialog, set the angle to 90 degrees and click Copy.

5 Choose Object > Transform > Transform Again (Cmd/Ctrl-D) twice to repeat the last action two more times.

6 Select all objects in the artwork (Cmd/Ctrl-A), open the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder), and click Divide.

7 You have a group of 9 black objects. Apply the white fill color to every other object as shown in the next figure.

8 Now create a seamless pattern. A suitable symmetry is the Double mirror (pmm). Select everything in the artwork again (Cmd/Ctrl-A), click the Double mirror symmetry button in the SymmetryWorks panel, and click Make.

A simple geometric pattern appears.

9 If you decide to change the distance between the tiles in the pattern, you can use SymmetryWorks' control path, whose sides you can move. Click the Select Control Path button in the SymmetryWorks panel, then choose the Selection tool in the Illustrator toolbox (V), and move the sides of the control path as you see fit. But in this pattern, the automatically created control path happens to be just right so we leave it alone (Cmd/Ctrl-Z).

10 With SymmetryWorks, you can also add new objects to the pattern and modify already created parts. Your changes instantly apply to all repeating units as you edit. In this case, I have added a star.

11 As of SymmetryWorks 6, you can also quickly add color reversals to your repeating units. The necessary controls are provided in the Color Symmetries pane of the SymmetryWorks panel. To enable color reversals, select the Alternate Colors box.

By clicking other buttons in the Color Symmetries pane, you can generate many interesting variants of the pattern... but that is a topic for another tutorial.

12 And for now, we finish by adding our new pattern to the Swatches panel. Click the Save Pattern Swatch button in the SymmetryWorks panel.

You can then apply your new SymmetryWorks pattern to any Illustrator object.