Sunday, April 20, 2014

GIMP Tutorial Lesson 3: Patterns


      Seamless patterns are patterns that repeat indefinitely when they're tiled side by side. So, if you have a square pattern and you surround it in copies of itself, the elements will match up. Since January, I've been experimenting with GIMP to learn how to make these patterns, so I thought I'd add a tutorial to the blog. If you want more help, you can visit here, here, here and here for more information.

     I'm going to demonstrate with a very simple polka dot pattern:

1. Open GIMP and create a new image. It doesn't have to be really large because you'll tile it in a bigger image later. I made mine 500 x 500 pixels so that when I "fill" a 3000 x 3000 image later, my pattern will repeat 6 times across and down. I also set it at 300 ppi because I'm making it for Zazzle, and that's the standard there:

GIMP Repeating Pattern How To

 2. You now have a blank white image. Go to Layer -> New Layer -> Transparency -> OK. On this new layer, make your pattern. But first, you'll need to change some settings. Go to Image -> Configure Grid. Under "Spacing," change the width and height pixels to 50 (or 100 or another even number, depending on how far apart you want the grid lines). I also changed the foreground color to a red shade because my design is black and I wanted the grid to be easier to see:

GIMP Repeating Pattern How To

 3. Select View -> Show Grid. Then View -> Snap to Grid. "Snap to Grid" will help you position your elements / motifs so they repeat evenly, but I do have a warning about it: sometimes it lines things up a little unevenly, so be sure to pay close attention.

GIMP Repeating Pattern How To

4. Using a black foreground color (html 000000), make your first polka dot right in the center of the grid. Select "pencil" out of the toolbox, with the hardest brush set to size 50. Notice that when you position the dot in the image's center, the "snap to grid" feature sort of acts like a magnet to help you position it:

GIMP Repeating Pattern How To

5. Make the rest of the pattern, allowing the dots to snap in place. If you're doing a more complex design, copy and paste your motifs to move them around. I often have another image open, where I have the motifs already made, and I copy from there. You can also make brushes out of design elements so it's easier to work with them.

GIMP Repeating Pattern How To

 6. Now check and make sure your pattern is seamless. Click Layer -> Transform -> Offset. Click the button that says "Offset by x/2, y/2" and then "Offset." This moves all the edges of your design to the center so you can make sure they line up. If you did this polka dot pattern right, you shouldn't notice any change.

In this example, I accidentally put some polka dots in the wrong place. "Offset" shows what needs to be fixed:

GIMP Repeating Pattern How To

You can hit "offset" over and over until you get your pattern right. Then uncheck "Show Grid" under "View" so you can see the final design more clearly.

7. Now it's time to save your design as a "Pattern" file. Right click the white background layer and "Delete Layer." You'll see a gray checkered background, which means it's transparent. I save as an "xcf" file first because that preserves any layers I have if I decide to edit the pattern later. Then click "File -> Export." Name your pattern, followed by .pat, and select Gimp Pattern (*.pat) from the drop-down menu. Save it to GIMP's pattern folder. In GIMP 2.8,  it's at C: -> Program Files -> GIMP 2.8 -> share -> gimp -> 2.0 -> patterns. Now close GIMP and restart it.

8. Make a new image that is 3000 x 3000 pixels at 300 ppi. Add a new transparent layer just like last time. Select "Bucket Fill Tool" from the toolbox. Select "Pattern Fill" and choose your polka dot pattern from the alphabetical list. Then, click anywhere on your image and watch it fill up with your seamless pattern. Now you have lots of polka dots!

GIMP Repeating Pattern How To

 9. Experiment with different motifs. Try more complex patterns. Look at the world around you for inspiration. You can also fancy up your polka dots by selecting them and changing their color, changing their background color, using gradients, etc. Have fun!
Here are a few of my items on Zazzle that have seamless patterns on them:

on Zazzle
on Kindle
All images copyright MK Hess


  1. You probably won't see or read this but it keeps saying denied permission when I try to save it as a .pat

    1. Hi Jovone,

      I've never experienced that issue in GIMP. I did some searching around, and you might find some help on these sites:

      I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by and following the tutorial.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Please, write more GIMP tutorials when you have time. I checked out several Google search results and, your's was the best and the easiest of all to understand and to follow.

    I am trying to figure out how to make the background black and the polka dots in a different color.


    1. Thanks, Sara! I need to make more tutorials.

      To make the background black, on the white background layer you can either select "Colors -> Invert" from the top menu or you can use the "Bucket Fill" tool to fill the layer with the foreground color.

      To change the color of the polka dots, go to that layer and use "Alpha to Selection" to select all the dots at the same time, and then use the Bucket Fill (set to "fill whole selection") to fill them all with the foreground color. You can also go to Colors -> Colorize on the top menu if you want to try out different colors more quickly.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  4. Thank you for the extra help. I do appreciate that very much!
    Looking forward to your future GIMP tutorials!