Textile Design Lab

Developing Marbleized Patterns in Photoshop


Hi everyone, this is Chelsea von Hasseln, and today I’m going to be showing you a few different ways to create a marbleized pattern, and my method for putting one of these patterns into repeat.

Swirling, marbleized patterns are a popular style in activewear and swim as they naturally contain a lot of movement. Here you can see a few patterns we have worked on in the past through Pattern Observer Studio. For each of these patterns our clients provided us with the initial artwork, and it was then our job to put the patterns into seamless repeats and to make sure they had a nice all-over flow to keep the eye moving around the design.

Our agent, Melissa and I recently returned from Premiere Vision, which is a major trade show for surface pattern design, with buyers particularly concentrated in the fashion industry. We had a number of requests to see tie-dye inspired patterns and soft, flowing abstracts, like these you see here that I pulled from WGSN’s trend reports for Spring/Summer 2020. As you can see this is a great time to get in on this trend and there are a variety of interpretations and directions to take as you are designing around this theme.

For marbleized patterns I often look to water as inspiration. If you’ve ever paid attention to the flowing movement of water over rocks in a stream, or the reflections of clouds on a lake, you’ll notice the swirling, waving movement forms beautiful natural patterns. Fire can be another inspiring place to look, with the swirling movement of flames or smoke giving a marbleized effect. We can replicate these looks using several different Photoshop tools, which I’ll show you today.

To start off, let’s explore some of the filters you can apply to a design to help give it the feeling of movement. I recommend playing around with these and seeing how they can be used in tandem to achieve the effects you’re looking for. Try using them in different combinations, and changing up the order in which you use them to get different results.

A few of my favorite filters for adding movement to a design are found under Filter > Distort. I particularly like to play with Polar Coordinates, Twirl, Wave, and Zig Zag, but feel free to experiment with anything in this menu and see what happens! Let me quickly show you a few of these effects.

Another fun thing you can try is creating a small-scale ripple effect and then blowing it up larger to bring out the details. One way to do this is with Filter > Distort > Ripple. Even with the largest setting, the ripples are quite small and would not show up that well when printed. But if you select a small section of the design, and then scale it way up, you can then see this beautiful marbleized texture emerge. One thing that’s important to note when using this technique, is that scaling a design way up like this is typically not good for image quality and will add a lot of blur to the design. So often my solution to this is to index the design so that it becomes more crisp and graphic. This also allows for the design to be wet-printed which is what most manufacturers will require for their production process. Here you can see how the design looks after I’ve indexed it down to 5 colors. You could try two colors, or ten colors, or whatever gives you the look you desire, but keep in mind that if you intend for the design to be printed using the wet printing process, it should have 18 colors maximum.

Another fun option if you want to use the scaling up method is contained within the Filter Gallery, and can be accessed under Filter > Filter Gallery… then Distort > Glass and then you can play with the different textures, the distortion, the smoothness, and the scaling. You can see that this gives a nice marbleized, liquidy look that would be especially impactful if scaled way up.

Sometimes Edit > Transform > Warp can help you add some wavy movement to a design, and allows you to move areas of your design by clicking and dragging on different parts of this grid. You can also use Edit > Puppet Warp. You click to make an anchor point for the design and then can warp the design based around these points. I’ll click in a few different places and show you. The warping is more dramatic than the regular Warp tool and you may need to make sure you are not warping so much as to pull your design away from the edges of the page.

Another tool you might want to play around with is the Smudge tool, which can be found under your tool bar along with the Blur and Sharpen tools. Just click and hold down to open up this menu and select the Smudge tool if it is not appearing in your tool bar. The settings for this tool can be adjusted at the top of your Photoshop window. I like to set the Strength on the lower side as I feel like it gives me more control but you can play with the settings and see what works for you or for that particular design. Since this tool does blur your design quite a bit, this is another instance where I might choose to index the design in order to get the shapes crisp and color separated.

Now I’ve saved my favorite tool for last…the Liquify filter! This is the best way I’ve found in Photoshop to really get that true marbleized look. Now, the Liquify filter doesn’t work if your pattern is indexed, so your file will need to be in RGB in order to use this tool. But you can always index the design afterward if needed, or leave it RGB if the design is going to be digitally printed. The swimsuits I showed you at the beginning of the video were digitally printed, so we were able to send the Photoshop files to the client without indexing once we had completed the repeats. So let’s take a look at what you can do with the Liquify filter.

This finger icon is the Forward Warp Tool, which allows you to push the image around the page. You can change the brush size and brush pressure over here. The Reconstruct Tool will reverse whatever warping has been applied to the image in case you want to back-track and tone down the amount your design has been altered from the original. Next we have the Pucker Tool which sucks in the image wherever you place it. The opposite of the Pucker Tool is the Bloat Tool, which blows up an area of the design. The longer you hold your mouse down and move it around an area the more dramatically it will distort. Next we have the Push Left Tool, which has different effects if you move it up or down, and side to side. And the Hand and the Zoom tools just help you navigate around the page, although I typically just use the spacebar hotkey as a shortcut to the Hand Tool, and the Command + or – hotkeys to zoom in and out.

So now that we have a sufficiently swirly, liquified texture, let me show you how I would put this into repeat. We’re going to click OK and head back to our main Photoshop workspace. Now let’s put this into centimeters and go for a 64cm repeat, which is a common size. We’re going to start by making our canvas height a little larger than 64cm so that we can see more of what we’re working on as we’re doing it. Now we’re going to go to View > New Guide, and put a new Horizontal guide at the 64cm mark. To duplicate my artwork I’ll type Command Option and then click and drag my design down to the 64cm mark. Now I just need to fill in this empty space with more of the pattern. I’m going to type Command E to merge my pattern onto one layer, and then show you a very quick way to fill in this gap in the repeat.

Go to Edit > Fill > Content Aware, and now Photoshop will automatically generate artwork to fill in this space. You may still notice a faint seam in the design where Photoshop joined the original artwork together with the new artwork, but you can make adjustments using the Liquify tool, or any of the other techniques we discussed earlier in the video. Once your repeat seam looks good and is blended in, you just need to copy and paste the corrected seam back to the top of your image so that it will seamlessly tile out when you crop it down to the repeat tile. So now this artwork and this artwork are the same, and the bottom of your print will align perfectly with the top of your print when tiled out and repeated on a long length of fabric. Your vertical repeat has now been completed.

Next we want to do our horizontal repeat. So I want to crop this back down to our 64cm repeat. Now we’ll extend the canvas so we can see what we’re doing. I’m going to show you how I would do the repeat if you are working with an overlap instead of a gap in your repeat seam. So let’s make this a 32cm repeat. Now we’ll duplicate this artwork with Command Option, then drag the artwork over to the 32cm mark. And type Command E to merge everything onto one layer. Now we need to blend the seam, and my favorite method is to go back into the Liquify tool and blend it there, so let’s do that now. I’m going to speed you through the process of using the Liquify tool to show you how I blend in this seam to disguise the repeat.

Great! Now this looks seamless and I’m going to click OK and return to my main workspace. The final step is to copy and paste this section of the artwork back over to this side of the design so that my edges match up and will tile out perfectly. We can now crop down to our repeat tile with Image > Crop, then Select All using Command A, and go to Edit > Define Pattern. Now I will show you how the pattern tiles out seamlessly by enlarging the canvas and filling it with my pattern. Image > Canvas Size…we’ll increase the height and width, and now Command A to select all, Edit > Fill, choose “Pattern,” and find the last pattern in your palette which will be your most recently defined pattern. Now you can see that the pattern will repeat seamlessly no matter how large the surface that you are printing it on. Before sending to a client I would crop this back down to the exact repeat tile of 32x64cm.

I hope you have fun experimenting with these techniques and create some beautiful marbleized patterns, whether for the activewear market or other markets. Thanks for watching and enjoy!

January 21, 2019

16 Responses on Developing Marbleized Patterns in Photoshop"

  1. Laura Olivia says:

    I had never heard of ‘Content Aware’, thanks so much Chelsea!! am working on marbling designs for interiors so this is really helpful 🙂

  2. Thanks, Chelsea – looks like a whole lot of fun!

  3. Jacqueline says:

    I never realised that these filters were useful for patterns. Thank you for sharing the tutorial!

  4. AlexM says:

    I loved this tutorial, thank you Chelsea!!!
    I have been wanting to get into marbling papers for years!
    And I love how you make your seamless repeats. I will put it into practice.

  5. Thank you so much for this tutorial, Chelsea! So very helpful and clear explained! I just did a repeated liquefied artwork, following your instructions! Thank you!!

  6. Meg says:

    Hi Chelsea. What’s he best way to add colour to your marble patterns?

    • Hi Meg! There are lots of ways to do this but a few ways include 1) Starting out with a colorful design and then marbling it 2) Indexing the design (Image > Mode > Indexed Color) and then changing the colors by going to Image > Mode > Color Table 3) If your file is in RGB, going to Image > Adjustments and then changing the colors with any of the variety of tools found in this menu, such as Hue/Saturation, Color Balance, Replace Color, Selective Color, etc. 4) You could use the Magic Wand tool to select areas of the design and then go to Edit > Fill and fill in new colors. Hope this helps!

  7. @lolivia @estheremma @victoriamlady @jacqueline @alexm @milena-zdravkova thank you all for the lovely comments, made my day! 😀 So glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

  8. Lisa Rivas says:

    Whoa! Absolutely fascinating, specially the “liquify tool” in blending the 2 tiles to make the repeat seamless.
    I have been using “content aware” but it is tricky. Any more tips with this tool?
    Can’t wait to try this out. Thank You!

  9. Maria Sauze says:

    Thank you , for this tutorial love it

  10. Marci says:

    Yay! You make it seem so easy and quick to put into repeat! So happy to see content aware put into play. I have been applying it to a few projects, and wondered/hoped it was an okay tool to be using. It kind of feels like cheating : ), because it’s simplifies the process so much.

  11. @marci isn’t it funny how some of these handy digital tools can feel that way?! I totally felt like it was cheating when I first used it too, but if it gets a beautiful end result, doesn’t really matter the method used to get there! 😉

  12. Jarmila says:

    Hi there, great tutorial!! I have a question:
    at the end you say to crop it back to 32×64 cm,. Is that done in the “Image Size”? and if so does the aspect rasio needs to be constrained, or can i force in the size.

    If I do it with “CROP” how is it done?

    and one more question: I would like to submit my first pattern, but don’t know where to get the mockups
    Thank you _Jarmila 🙂

    • Hi Jarmila! In order to crop your canvas size back down to 32x64cm I would recommend going to Image > Canvas Size, and then entering in the new dimensions for your canvas. Depending on where your design is oriented on the canvas, you may want to click one of the arrows to anchor your design to a certain corner of the page, for instance, if you increased the canvas size to add more canvas to the bottom and the right of the image, you could click the top left arrow to crop back down to 32c64cm from the left corner of your page (give it a try and you’ll see what I mean!)

      If you were to use Image Size it will change the scale of the whole design rather than just cropping, so it’s better to go with Canvas Size for this purpose.

      Can you clarify what you are trying to submit your pattern for? Is it for one of our classes, or Chelsea’s Challenge, or the Speedy Design Challenge?

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