How to Use Any Image as a Pattern Fill in Photoshop

the original image, the Pattern Fill dialog box and a selection filled with a pattern are shown.
Patterns can be created from any Photoshop image.

Using patterns in Adobe Photoshop is a technique for adding repeating elements to a selection or layer. For example, patterns are commonly used to change the fabric in a clothing item or to add subtle detail to an image. You may have noticed the use of a carbon fiber fill in a lot of mobile and website button designs or page components. These items are not meticulously worked on they are simply a selection or an object filled with a pattern.

Another common use for patterns is creating the "wallpaper" backgrounds for web sites or your computer. Though they may appear complex, on the surface, they are relatively easy to create.

What Is a Pattern in Photoshop?

A pattern, as defined in Photoshop, is an image or line art that can be tiled repeatedly. A tile is the subdividing (or tiling) of a computer graphics selection into a series of squares and placing them on a layer or within the selection. Thus, a pattern in Photoshop is essentially a tiled image. The use of patterns can speed up your workflow by cutting out the need to create intricate objects that can otherwise be constructed using a repeatable image template. For example, if a selection needs to be filled with blue dots a pattern reduces that task to a mouse click.

You can make your own custom patterns from photos or line art, use the preset patterns that come with Photoshop, or download and install pattern libraries from a variety of online sources.

You can define any image or selection as a pattern that can be used as a fill in Photoshop. These instructions apply to all versions of Photoshop from 4 up.

How to Use a Pattern Fill in Photoshop

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 5 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Open the image you'd like to use as a fill.
  2. If you want to use the entire image as your fill, go to Select > Select All. Otherwise, use the rectangle marquee tool to make a selection.
  1. Go to Edit > Define Pattern. This will open the Define Pattern Dialog box and all you have to do is to give your selection a name and click OK.
  2. Go to another image or create a new image.
  3. Select the layer you want to fill or make a selection using one of the selection tools such as the Rectangular Marquee.
  4. Go to Edit > Fill to open the Fill dialog box.
  5. In the Fill dialog box select Pattern from the Contents pop down.
  6. Open the Custom Pattern pop down. This will open a selection of patterns that are installed with Photoshop and any patterns you may have created previously.
  7. Click on the Pattern you wish to apply.
  8. Leave the Script check box deselected. In Photoshop CS6 and later, scripted patterns were introduced. These scripts are JavaScripts that randomly place an item defined as a pattern either in the selection or on a layer. 
  9. Choose a Blending Mode to have your pattern, especially if it is on a separate layer, interact with the colors of the pixels of the image it is placed over.
  10. Click OK and the Pattern is applied.

Tips:

  1. Only rectangular selections can be defined as a pattern in some very old versions of Photoshop.
  2. Check the box to Preserve Transparency in the Fill dialog if you only want to fill the non-transparent portions of a layer.
  1. If applying a Pattern to a layer, select the Layer and apply a Patten Overlay in the Layer styles pop down.
  2. Another way of adding a pattern is to use the Paint Bucket tool to fill the Layer or selection. To do this, select Pattern from the Tool Options.
  3. Your pattern collection is found in a library. Select  Window>Libraries to open them. 
  4. You can also create content using the Adobe Touch Apps and have them available to you in you Creative Cloud library.

Edited by Tom Green