Using Illustrator to Create Patterns for Craft Projects

This article will teach you how to use Illustrator’s Create Object Mosaic command to transform your digital designs into a geometric grid-based pattern, for output using any analog media. Anything that can be constructed using tiles or a grid-based structure, can be charted and planned out in Illustrator using this technique. I am a knitter, so I used this technique to create a charted-color knitting pattern (a knitting technique known as intarsia). Here is a simple color charted pattern I made using tables. While InDesign tables are a handy tool for creating charted-color patterns, as the table gets larger, it can grow unwieldy.

 

For years, I have been on the hunt for a simple solution to convert images into a grid-based pattern that I could knit. The challenge was finding a solution that met a few requirements:

  • I needed a non-square rectangle for each stitch (knitting stitches have a ratio of approximately 4W x 3H). In other words, they are squatty little rectangles.
  • My knitted designs only have a few colors, so I needed to be able to easily edit all the individual rectangles to reduce the number of colors to match the yarn colors I’m working with.
  • I needed to be able to add vertical and horizontal lines to the design, delineating each row and column.
  • I wanted the process to be somewhat automated, because I didn’t want to have to colorize each cell by hand. I want the computer the do most of the work for me.

The solution? Illustrator’s Object Mosaic. Now, let me me say that I had been using Illustrator for over a decade before I even knew that this feature existed. I discovered this feature in a book about using Illustrator for fashion design. 

1. Start by choosing a simple piece of artwork that you want to turn into a grid pattern. Choose something that has just a few colors. I chose the logo for my beloved Raleigh InDesign User Group.

2. Simplify the colors. I removed all the gradients and converted it into a plain 3-color design.

 

3. Calculate the required proportion for rectangles. You’ll need to do a little math here. Knitting patterns generally use a term called “gauge,” which is usually done in a 4″ x 4″ swatch. My 4″ gauge switch was 20 stitches W and about 25 stitches H (which equates to 5 sts/inch wide x 6.25 rows/inch high). 

4. Calculate how many rectangles you’ll need. I wanted my finished piece to be about 36″ wide x 36″ high.

Width: 5 sts/inch x 36 in = 180 sts

Height: 6.25 rows/inch x 36 in = 225 rows

5. Select your artwork and try to apply Create Object Mosaic. I say “try” because as you’ll notice in the screenshot below, the Object Mosaic command may be grayed out. 

Maybe you figure, as I did, if you start with a vector object and you’ll be ending with a vector object, then you can work with vector objects all throughout the process. Not so! Apparently, Object Mosaic only works on raster objects.

6. Rasterize your artwork. Choose Object > Rasterize. My artwork was about 5.9 inches square and I rasterized it at 300 PPI.

7. Select your artwork and apply Create Object Mosaic.  Choose Object > Create Object Mosaic. This is where you’ll plug in the numbers you calculated in Step 4.

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Posted on: July 29, 2013

Mike Rankin

Mike is the Editor in Chief of InDesignSecrets.com, InDesign Magazine, and CreativePro.com. He is also the author of several lynda.com video training series, including Font Management Essential Training, InDesign FX, and InDesign CC: Interactive Document Fundamentals.

1 Comment on Using Illustrator to Create Patterns for Craft Projects

  1. Kelly,

    Great column! Two things to consider.

    I find the Recolor Artwork dialog box very confusing. (Rumour is that the engineer who created it originally left after the first version and no one has been able to clean up the interface.)

    Illustrator has a Magic Wand tool that can have a tolerance amount set to select more than one color. That might be an alternate to the Recolor Artwork.

    Second, when you apply the Object Mosaic command, you can also go and feed the cat.

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