Using Templates in Illustrator

  1. Swatch library menu
  2. Choose a template library
  3. Applying a pattern fill
  4. Scale a pattern fill without resizing the object
  5. Rearrange a pattern fill within an object
  6. Rotate a pattern within an object
  7. Use the example, fill in with a stroke
  8. Fill text with a template
  9. Using a custom template
  10. bundle

Swatch library menu

Pattern fills can bring objects and text to life, and patterns in Illustrator are easy to use. They can be applied to fills, strokes, and even resize, rotate, or move within an object. Illustrator comes with a wide variety of preset templates and you can create your own templates based on symbols or your own artwork. Let’s take a look at applying templates to an object and then see how easy it is to resize, move, or even rotate a template within an object.

Template fills are available in the Swatches panel, Window > Swatches † When you first open Illustrator, there is only one template in the Swatches panel, but don’t let that fool you. The Swatch Libraries menu is located at the bottom of the Swatches panel. It includes many pre-installed color swatches, including commercial palettes such as Trumatch and Pantone, as well as color palettes that reflect nature, kids’ stuff, vacations, and more. In this menu you will also find preset gradients and patterns.

You will need Illustrator CS3 or higher to use the templates successfully.

Choose a template library

Select Swatches from the Swatch Libraries menu by selecting any object on the drawing board. You can choose from three categories:

  • Basic images, which consist of libraries of lines, points or textures

  • Decorative, consisting of classical, geometric, decorative or primitive libraries

  • Nature made up of animal skins or foliage libraries

Click on the library in the menu to open it. Open samples appear in a separate floating panel on your workspace. They are not added to the Swatches panel until they are used on an object in artwork.

To the right of the Swatch Library menu icon, at the bottom of the new Swatches panel, you’ll see two arrows that you can use to browse other swatch libraries. This is a quick way to see what other samples are available without having to select them from a menu.

Applying a pattern fill

Make sure the fill icon is active in the fill/stroke tokens at the bottom of the toolbar. Click on a template in the panel to select it and apply it to the currently selected object. Changing a template is as easy as clicking a different swatch. As you try out different swatches, they are added to the Swatches panel so you can easily find them if you decide to use one you’ve already tried.

Scale a pattern fill without resizing the object

Patterns don’t always scale to the size of the object you apply them to, but they can be scaled. Select the Scale tool on the toolbar and double-click it to open its options. Set the desired scale percentage and make sure “Patterns” is checked and “Strokes and Scale Effects” and “Objects” are unchecked. This allows the template to fill the shell, but keeps the object at its original size. Make sure “Preview” is checked if you want to preview the effect on your object. Click OK to install the transformation.

Rearrange a pattern fill within an object

Select the selector arrow on the toolbar to change the position of the pattern fill in the object. While holding down the tilde key (~ below the Escape key at the top left of your keyboard), drag the pattern onto the object.

Rotate a pattern within an object

Double-click the Rotate tool on the toolbar to open the options and rotate the pattern fill in the object without rotating the object itself. Set the desired angle of rotation. Check “Templates” under “Options” and make sure “Objects” is unchecked. Check the preview box if you want to see the rotation effect on the template.

Use the example, fill in with a stroke

To add an image fill to a stroke, you must first make sure that the stroke icon is active in the fill/stroke controls at the bottom of the toolbar. This works best if the stroke is wide enough to see the pattern. My turn on this object is 15 points. Now just click the swatch swatch in the Swatches panel to apply it to the stroke.

Fill text with a template

Filling text with a fill pattern is an extra step. You need to create text and then go to . to go Type > Create Outlines Make sure you are sure of the font and that you are not going to change the text before doing this! You can’t edit text after you create the outlines, so you can’t change the font or spelling after this step.

Now apply the fill as you would any other object. It can also have a filled stroke if you like.

Using a custom template

You can also create your own templates. Create the artwork you want to draw from, select it and drag it to the Swatches panel and paste it. Use it to fill in an object or text after using the Create Paths command. You can also use the seamless patterns created in Photoshop. Open the PSD, PNG, or JPG file in Illustrator ( File > Open ) and then drag it to the Swatches panel. Use it as a fill, just like with any other drawing. Start with a high-resolution image for best results.


Patterns can be layered using the Appearance panel. Click the Add New Fill button, open the Swatch Libraries menu, and select a different fill. Experiment and enjoy! There really is no limit to the patterns you can create.

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