The Power of a Repeat

* images via: Alexander McQueen Pre-Fall 2013,

The life cycle of a print has many stages: trend research, concept development, artwork creation, tweaking, adjusting, coloring, finalizing and putting into repeat. This last step, the repeat process, is often the step that is overlooked or rushed through, although it is one of the most important parts of the design process.

As designers, we spend countless hours developing the right concept, the perfect flower, or the draw-dropping texture, only to rush through the one step that can make or break a print: the repeat. We are so enamored with the elements, or so excited to move onto the next concept, that we forget that our job is not yet done.

We forget to cultivate the beauty of the repeat.
We forget that a repeat is more than a production tool.
We forget that an uninspired repeat can make the most beautifully illustrated flower look unprofessional and lackluster.

In today’s competitive design market, developing thoughtful repeats is one of the easiest (and least expensive!) ways to take your business to the next level. So instead of treating your next repeat as an afterthought, take a deep breath, enjoy the process and see how you can improve your artwork through your repeat. Here are three tips to help get you started:

1. Create multiple elements. If your elements are irregular or hand-drawn, consider drawing more than one version to give the print variety. Many designers illustrate one element, such as a flower or bird, and then copy and paste it until the page is filled. Instead, try creating a second or third flower with a similar look and feel, but with slightly unique elements. One flower petal could be folded ever so gently or one leaf could be blowing in the breeze. These details will give your print a much more professional feel.

2. Flip and rotate. If you don’t have the patience for tip #1, then try flipping, rotating or scaling your main element as you duplicate it within your layout. This will add variety to your print and will help to avoid any unintentional directionality that may be created by your elements. For example, if you have a leaf that is slightly tilted to the right and you use this leaf throughout your print, your entire print is going to feel like it is slightly tilted to the right. By flipping and rotating this leaf you will give the print a more balanced, even feel.

3. Think bigger. One of the most frequent mistakes that many designers make is creating a repeat that is too small. I understand that creating a layout is time consuming, but drawing a four inch square of artwork and then using Illustrator’s pattern tool is not always the right solution. Unless you are developing a very small scale print, I encourage you to create at least 32 cm (12.5”) of artwork.

I’m celebrating the power of repeats in my five week group study course: The Ultimate Guide to Repeats. The course is filled to the brim with fantastic tutorials which will take your patterns from lackluster to razzle-dazzle. This course is now a part of our Textile Design Lab e-learning community. Learn more here…

Lots of love –Michelle

  1. I think one hindrance to more creative repeats I’ve noticed is that most in-house studios aren’t looking at quality, rather quantity. You can chuck out hundreds of repeats a week when they only measure 4″-6″ each. Many companies simply don’t have the time to allow their most creative people to linger over perfecting a repeat.

  2. Thank you for this post. It reinforces something I’ve been thinking about for months but can’t quite put my finger on just yet. I just know that you just told me I’m on the right track!

  3. Love this post, beautiful photograph, workshop sounds very informative and great value. Thank you 🙂

  4. I think another aspect of repeats that is often forgotten is to “check the repeat” for unintentional line-ups or patterns. When designers spend so much time working up close on a design just to get everything to fit, they sometimes forget that their patterns are not usually going to be viewed that closely. So after making a pattern block, one should tile it out more than a couple times to verify no weird line-ups have formed. It happens more than you would think!

  5. I love the sincerity of your posts Michelle. After struggling to sort out the business for a few years on my own, it is nice to read your words and feel like we have a friend to talk it through. Thanks.

  6. My background has been in quilting and paper cutting (think Matisse, not collage) and I have a certificate from Otis in LA in Pattern and Surface Design. All of my work is hand designed in different media (I can do repeats), and I’m wondering if it’s even possible to enter the competive market, or better to have my work printed via one of the new print-your-own-design companies and make, say, an accent pillow cover and sell through a website like Etsy. Any info will be highly appreciated. SBSoloff

    1. Hi there, so sorry we missed this! These are both viable options and it really just depends on where your interests lie and how you want to spend your time and run your business. If you want to focus on creating artwork you might look for an agent or studio to represent your work or if you enjoy the business side an etsy shop might be a good fit! This post covers some of the different textile career avenues and might be of interest to you: Hope this helps!

  7. Great images and thorough detailed information on analyzing your repeat options. In response to inquiry from SBSoloff: it is a good
    idea to step through the production process with one the “print-your-own-design” with companies who provide the service. You will get
    hands on experience as to the limitations of detail in you artwork and end result in final coloring. If you are satisfied with the services
    of a particular company; you can forge ahead with more designs and introduce your product to the public MCarroll

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