Patterns and Alleys

Creating a balanced pattern can be quite challenging. Especially when the repeat is obvious or we see "alleys". What are these? In this blog post, I'll tell you a bit about them and show you ways of fixing or avoiding them.

Line-ups & Alleyways

Line-ups happen when the elements of the patterns are aligned in a way that form an unintended -and most of the time unwanted- line. You'll be able to see these lines when you zoom-out, when the pattern is seen in a smaller scale or when you squint. The line-ups can be vertical, horizontal and even diagonal.

Alleyways are like line-ups but formed not by elements but by the negative space created by them.

How to fix them or avoid them

Rotate, mirror or variate motifs

Having fewer motifs can lead to create line-ups if they're placed identically in the repeat. Try rotating or mirroring them. It's also not the same if you have a single motif, let's say a flower and two leaves than if you have the same type of flower drawn in 3, 4, or 5 different ways and positions.

Pay attention to "pointy" motifs

Pointy motifs, such as certain leaves, vertically or horizontally-positioned motifs and plain shapes like circles, squares, triangles, etc make the eye get fixated and create lines. Besides, they make the repeat more obvious. Try rotating them or mixing them up with other motifs and avoid to align them (see last point).

Try a half-drop repeat

Sometimes, all you need to do to avoid alleys and an obvious repeat is doing a half-drop repeat instead. Martina from Hello Matze Illustrations made some magic with this lovely leaves pattern.

Try new/different ways of making the repeat

This will depend on how you usually create your repeats. Is it with the Pattern option or manually in Illustrator? By hand with paper? Procreate? Do you start from the center or from the edges?

Make the repeat tile bigger

I don't mean changing the scale of the motifs, but the size of the repeating tile.


When creating the repeat, try to pay attention to the alignment of the motifs. Don't worry, this takes lots of practice and it will get better with time. It will get to a point where you instinctively know where and how to place the motifs. Straight vertical or horizontal motifs are tricky, so consider rotating them to a bit. Your eye will get better at playing with motifs and negative space, you'll see!

What do you think about this?

What were your experiences with patterns and alleys before?

Do you have any questions?

Drop them in the comments!

Receive more advice and industry insights in your mailbox each month!

Would you like to have the freedom to ask anything you want about the industry?

Write a comment

Comments: 1
  • #1

    Frances Poff (Wednesday, 25 May 2022 08:57)

    This is very helpful, it can get quite frustrating when you keep seeing these 'lines' created by pointy motifs, but rotating usually does the trick