This tutorial will teach you how to create moderately complex patterns in Photoshop, using hexagons as a base. This technique is particularly useful for creating floral kaleidoscopic patterns and keeping them looking natural, since hexagons are very often found in nature. However, it all depends on what you choose as your building block—something with more fluid lines will result in an organic-looking patterns, while sharp edges and straight lines will help you create a more abstract and mechanical look.
Start by importing a photo of your choice by dragging and dropping it directly onto a blank canvas in Photoshop.
Make sure you rasterise the photo by right-clicking the layer and clicking on Rasterise Layer in the menu. This will allow you to cut the photo as you like, which is necessary for the next step.
Depending on how abstract you’d like your pattern to be, the next couple of steps (using the Liquify filter) are optional. You might decide you’d like to keep some elements from the photo recognisable in the final piece, or just to keep the colours and the general feel of it. If your choice is the latter, click on the Filter menu in the top bar, and select Liquify… (shortcut Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+X).
A Liquify filter window will open. There are different kinds of brushes on the left hand side; you can use them to smudge, bloat, shrink, etc. different parts of the photo. On the right hand side you will find Tool Options that you can use to customise brushes, by changing their size, density, pressure, and rate. This is the part where you can afford to be playful and make mistakes—without them looking like mistakes in the final piece—so relax and have fun playing with the photo.
There’s no need to spend to much time on this part, as it’s really just a preparation for the next step. Just gently moving some parts of the photo around will do the trick.
Close the Liquify window and save the progress you made so far by clicking OK. Using the Rectangular Marquee Tool, draw a square over the distorted area of the photo (hold Shift while drawing for the perfect square). Invert the selection ( Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I) and delete the background by pressing Backspace key.
Go to Edit>Free Transform or press Cmd/Ctrl T, and rotate the square by 30°.
By using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (set to ‘add to selection option’ or by holding Shift while adding selections), select everything apart from a triangle that would start from the bottom corner and end with the right one of the square, like in the screenshot, and delete the selection by pressing Backspace.
At this stage you should have a triangle left like in the screenshot ( its angles being 90° + 30° + 60°). The ‘complex’ part of the tutorial is behind us, and it’s all copy/paste/rotate from now on.
Duplicate the triangle by clicking and dragging it while holding Alt + Cmd/Ctrl keys, then go to Edit>Free Transform or press Cmd/Ctrl T, right click on it and select Flip Horizontal.
Align the triangles like in the screenshot, and then merge the layers by selecting both in the Layers window, right-clicking one of them and selecting Merge Layers.
Copy this newly created triangle, repeat the Transform step from above, but this time rotate it by 60°. Align the two triangles like in the screenshot and merge them in the same way you merged the previous two.
You’re probably starting to see the pattern here. Duplicate the newly created shape, repeat the Transform step and rotate it by 120°. Align like in the screenshot.
There’s no further merging of shapes at this stage, so just copy the previous shape one more time and rotate it by 120°. Align the shapes to create a hexagon. Be very careful and make sure it’s as perfect as possible, because small misalignments will add up when tiling the pattern, making them very noticeable in the finished effect.
Now that you have your building block ready, you might want to play around with some light adjustments to Saturation, Brightness, Contrast, etc. You can do that once you tile the whole pattern as well, but by doing it now, you'll get a better insight into how the adjustments affect the smaller details.
Before tiling the pattern (and possibly scaling the hexagon down), duplicate all the layers and convert one set (the hexagon and the adjustment layers) to a smart object, by right-clicking the selected layers and clicking Convert to Smart Object. This way you can always go back and switch some of the adjustment layers off if you decide you don’t like what they do in the bigger picture, while preserving the original size of the hexagon as well. Hide this smart object layer, and use the other hexagon to create the pattern.
Tile the hexagons carefully. Be extra careful if you tile them by two or more to save time, as small gaps will repeat and result in a messy look.
Once you’re done tiling hexagons you can experiment with scale and orientation. You can see the examples of more and less complex patterns in the screenshots, as well as the white lines that tend to appear if you don’t take great care when aligning the hexagons.
Ben Richardson is director of Acuity Training an IT training business based in Guildford, UK and is sharing some of the tips that delegates have found more useful from their Photoshop courses.
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