The Right Way to Repeat

The Right Way To RepeatThere’s a trend emerging in the textile design industry, and as much as I’d tried to, I just don’t like it.

Over the years the industry has become more competitive, and along with that an increasing number of agents and studios are requiring that patterns be in a seamless repeat. Why? Each studio has their own reasons, but the most common reason is that it makes the artwork more marketable and offers more value to the consumer.

So why my dislike? It’s not that I’m opposed to this trend because I don’t want to offer value to my clients or because I am anti-repeat in anyway. However, I do appreciate efficiency, which means that I struggle to invest hours on a professional repeat only to have to start the entire process over again if:

  • The client requests a scale change
  • Factories are switched—which sometimes means a new screen size requirement

My Experience

In my work as an in-house designer I used to work with hundreds of patterns purchased from print studios around the globe. While most patterns were not purchased in repeat, a few were. I was always excited about the prospect of already having my work done for me. These dreams of quickly transferring the artwork to a colorway form and sending it off to the factory were delightful. And always quickly crushed by the reality of the industry.

Truly, the only constant is change. I would estimate that I had to update the repeat on about 99% of the patterns we purchased. Some reasons for this include:

  • The product designer requested a scale change, which meant that I had to completely recreate the repeat so that it fit into the factory’s screen sizes
  • The design needed to be changed to appeal to the sales, merchandising, or executive teams
  • The original repeat was of poor quality and needed to be less obvious to avoid stripes or tiles on the final product

Having this perspective on the industry is why our Pattern Observer Studio patterns are not sold in repeat and why we never waste our clients time (aka budget) by investing time in putting a pattern into repeat, before the client has approved the initial artwork. It’s great for our clients, and definitely good for our sanity.

When Repeats Are Required

But for those of you who are currently being asked to put all your work in repeat or looking to apply for representation from an agent or studio that has this requirement, what should you do?

Basically, you need to learn how to create higher quality repeats in less time. If you try to save yourself time (and I don’t blame you) by creating quick repeats, you run the risk of losing out on sales and getting lackluster responses from agents, studios, and clients.  None of us want that for you.

You’ve got to do repeats the right way, because if your agent or studio sells your work in repeat, your repeat must be as beautiful and as professional as your concept.

Time Saving Repeat Tips

Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips:

Fusion Studio TIFF File
This repeat mockup showed me that a half-drop repeat would be a better option

1. Get comfortable with half-drop repeats. Half-drop repeats are a great way to create a professional repeat that flows easily with no apparent “lines”. Adobe Illustrator’s Pattern Making Tool and Photoshop’s Offset Filter tool are both great options to start using this essential repeat style.

2. Try creating larger repeats. I know it seems counterintuitive, but sometimes I find it more time consuming to create smaller repeats than larger repeats. While smaller repeats require less motifs and layout development, it can often be difficult to disguise the repeat and get rid of unwanted lines and stripes. If you are struggling with a smaller repeat try creating more artwork and working with a larger repeat dimension.

3. Create a repeat mockup. Before spending hours of time painstakingly developing your repeat only to realize “d’oh! I should have created a half-drop repeat,” or, “oops! I should have used a larger repeat size,” create a quick repeat mockup. This is the best way to see what issues you may encounter within your repeat. Be on the lookout for possible lines, holes, or other balance issues that you may encounter.

4. Learn to self-critique. Sometimes we work on a repeat for so long that our objectivity fades. Not sure if your repeat is ready to send to an agent, studio, or client? Put your repeat to the test in this free training video.

















  1. Hi Michelle, nice post! This is definitely the direction the industry is going in. At, we do sell all designs in true repeat and offer separate services if the customer wants edits. It does take more work, but this is what the customer needs. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights about this! -Thea

  2. Thank you for this post!! Out of curiosity what is the average or range of the cost of having a print put into repeat by an artist?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Julie! It really varies based upon the complexity of the artwork. A simple repeat could take 30 minutes, but for more complex pieces I usually estimate about 4 hours.

  3. Hi Michelle
    The subject is being very much discussed, in many ways I agree to the arguments in the post. Scaling, number of colours, size of repeat etc. needs to be adjusted to the technic and purpose. The difficult thing is, if the artist find that the customer is “spoiling” the artwork. Often I have seen that the final result is far away from the original idea, I find that OK, if the manufactorer bought the artwork, if licensed, the question gets more complicated if the work to adjust the artwork is not done by the artist.

  4. I know where I work, I make my boss decide on the size he wants on the print before
    I send it to the lady who puts the print in repeat. It would cost him $700.00 if he
    decided to have it redone. In the future if everything goes digital printing it won’t
    matter much but now with the screens and resizing it is costly. And, whew!, on
    some of these prints it a lot of work to put into repeat. And who wants to do that again.
    I’ve done lots of repeats but the really hard ones are the ones that give us a headache.
    Nice article and I did not know that that is where the industry is going. The prints we
    buy right now are not in repeat.

  5. Very helpful post Michelle, thank you! I am getting back into the business after a long
    break and keep debating if I should take the time to put patterns in repeat.
    Now I am swayed not to, unless a customer requests it.

  6. The biggest mistake I see with repeats is that the designer failed to view the repeat on a full width of cloth.

  7. This is an issue I struggle with Michelle. I tend to feel the need to design in repeat, and that definitely restricts some of my design choices. I also wonder if the rise in popularity of creating mock-ups also encourages designers to create repeating patterns to better ‘fill’ the blanks.
    A related question is that of colours. I sometimes feel the need to limit the number of colours, or to again consider the printing process when designing. This, for me, causes particular problems with painted or dyed designs. These are neither perfectly repeating or limited to 6-8 colours.
    What are your views on this issue?

    1. That’s a really great point Annette! I hadn’t considered the influence of mockups or print-on-demand services.

      My thoughts on colors and indexing/color seps are that I usually try to index or minimize the number of colors within my pattern before sending it to a client or to our studio because it makes it easier for me to change the colors. I also find that clients get less “freaked out” by these patterns because they don’t have to be digitally printed and most our clients still use a wet printing process and are very conscious about the number of colors/screens that they are using. BUT, if I create a pattern that is stunning, has hundreds of colors, and then really loses it’s interest when indexed I will leave that pattern as an unindexed file that I recommend be digitally printed. I think it is fine to have a balance within your portfolio, some patterns that have 6-8 colors and others that have more and need to be digitally printed.

      Thanks for the great comment/question!

  8. Working in the print production side of the wallpaper industry, I never once saw a print come through that was properly in repeat. It was my job to educate artists how to make their pattern work for our screen size and color process. As well as charge hourly to “magically” put their drawing into repeat and make a pattern. What was shocking to me is that most people who make wallpaper and call themselves textile designers actually have NO CLUE how to make a repeat! They would just hire someone like me at $75-150/hour to mock it up for them and send it off to production. But, it was through doing other peoples’ patterns that I learned to do my own. Now everything is a half drop for the most part, and I understand where to hide seams between colors.
    Thanks for this post!

  9. Hi,
    Nice post! But I have to disagree in some parts…I think when you work your design repeat (after you designed all the elements you will use in it) I am already thinking of scale motifs, colors, balance of colors in each part of the print (so you will not create “stripes” of the same color or motif in your design), it´s so much easier when you do the repeat instead just tossing the elements all around your screen… I perfer to worry about the quality of each motif I am using and designing, the resolution, if they are not “screwed” (I mean, I already got beautiful prints from a studio to put in repeat, but ALL the elements was in so bad shape or “dirty”, I think the designer who did use them in 72dpi….) etc…Because the repeating part doesn´t take too much time (even if it´s a more complicated print, I don´t take more than 30-40 mins).
    I already worked at a place where I did repeats most part of the time, specially files from international studios who sold the prints to my boss…Most part of them is not in repeat, but there is some studios that just “crop” all the extra area around the canvas, so you have “cropped” elements on each side of your canvas area, and not the whole element to rework the print…it´s a nightmare…
    But I agree 100% when you say about indexing…it´s so much easier for us and for client, in case he wants to change colors…but some of them just lose interest and it´s better to show as they are, so digital printing would be a better choice.

  10. I work as a textile designer for an apparel company and I’ve noticed lately that more of the art we buy is in repeat. This is a new trend and I’ve been in this industry for 30 years (9 as a textile designer). I pick out the art for purchase, so I always avoid anything that’s not in repeat. Art can almost always be scaled to fit screens, but it takes hours to fix a repeat that doesn’t “quite” match. Designs that are the hardest are very small patterns and precise geometrics that have a mathematical drop or horizontal/vertical bands of repeating patterns that don’t line up. Yesterday I worked on a vintage textile painting that we bought when I wasn’t here and never used (now I know why). There is no digital file, so I had to scan it and reduce colors. It is horizontal bands of patterns overlay-ed with a tiny grid (like a weaving). I can usually take portions of a repeat like this and scale them to repeat with the other bands, but because the little grid overlay will also scale, this design should be entirely redrawn in repeat. This business is fast paced and I am always overloaded. I can’t afford the time to fix art that should be ready to go. Anyone who knows what their doing will pick a repeated pattern over one not in repeat, no matter how fabulous.

  11. I´m a Textile Designer and repeat a pattern to make it look perfect is THE most important thing for me.
    You can design the most unique pattern, but if you can see that fine line gap or that spot that shows up every 10cm all over the design, the client won´t see how fabulous your design is…the client eyes will go first to this mistakes and stuck there.

  12. Hi,
    I agree with Linde, as a Surface Pattern Designer with over 25 years of experience, and teaching the same topic, I have to disagree with the repeat issue. I guess – and this may anger some of you, but sorry, real is real, this is the difference between being a designer and an artist. Yes, artist’s work can be used for repetitive patterns, but in the end someone (designer) has to have the skills and talent to develop the repetitive design effectively. In the HF field, repeats have always been expected and used, as the end-uses have standard sizes, Wallcovering is a perfect example, as far as I know a wall is a wall. Designs for apparel were never put into repeat until purchased, then put into repeat based on the manufacturer’s specs, this makes sense due to the numerous end-uses of patterns for the apparel market. Designs for other areas have also traditionally been in repeat.
    A few terms such as “seamless” ( Which I’ve never liked, a seam in most cases is created from sewing two pieces of material together), “tile” ( A tile is a ceramic product that can be patterned or not and used for wall or floor coverings, when teaching this topic I use the word Main Module and always have – WHY – Using the term repeat to define repeating a design, gets confusing and technically does not make sense), among others have crept into the language to explain and/or define repetitive pattern designs.
    Any designer working on a project should ALWAYS ask their client what the specs are, including repeat size, type of production, color limitations etc. before accepting the job. AI and PS are useful tools yes, but if you do not know what a good layout is to begin with ( A layout is not the same as a repeat) these tools, which have limitations, will only help you to create alot of ugly quickly. If Digital printing takes over the traditional printing methods, which I don’t think will be happening anytime soon – There will still be a need for repeats, unless you want to buy a drum scanner to capture that huge artwork/design that you have created, cuz it has to be put into a digital format.

    There is a design process that should be followed in order to insure that what you are designing will not be a complete failure once you are finished. To start, I think it is easier to start with rough sketches with the repeat in mind, then develop in B&W, no color.
    Of course there are the next steps but I’ve rambled enough. FYI – A mirror is not a repeat, it is a layout usually used for engineered designs. Anywho – EMBRACE THE REPEAT !
    Best – M. Dorfer

    1. Thanks for your comment Marion! I just wanted to clarify that the post was not about me being anti-repeat or not embracing repeats, it’s that I don’t like the practice of putting designs into repeat before I know what specs a client or factory need.

  13. I agree with you, creating higher quality repeats is the right and better way to save time. You’ve got great time saver tips. Being open to clients ideas also help a lot in order to avoid repeating designs all over again. Well written!

  14. I am confused…I thought the definition of a “pattern” was the repeat quality. How does one design a fabric pattern without the repeat???

    1. Great question! Many designers choose to design the concept and layout of the design before putting it into a technical repeat. Factories require different repeat sizes so it’s often times more efficient to know the required repeat size before creating the repeat.

  15. I am honestly just starting out at pattern design. I wandered in here to look for strategies for avoiding lines and obvious tiles. Half drop repeat. Loud and clear. I’m going to play around with that, stat.
    What’s super helpful here is finding industry insights. Challenges & headaches of those further down the chain. I want to aim for efficiency and economy before I get to my goals. Great article.

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