Creating seamless, repeating patterns in GIMP is now super easy thanks to the additions of the Offset Tool, which was introduced with GIMP 2.10.12. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to take any design and turn it into a seamless pattern using this tool. You can use these patterns to create dynamic digital backgrounds or integrate them in any design to add dept and creativity. Let’s get started.
Step 1: Create a New Composition
First, we’ll need to create a new composition based on the size we want our pattern to be. In my case, I want this pattern to be fairly large, so I’ll go with a 250 pixel by 250 pixel square. I should note that this is pretty large by traditional standards as patterns are typically 75×75 pixels or 100×100 pixels. In the end, the size of your composition will depend on whatever size you want the pattern to be.
I’ll create my composition by going to File>New (shown in the image above).
I’ll set both the Width and Height to 250 and make sure my units are set to pixels (red arrow in the image above). I’ll click OK to create the new composition (blue arrow).
Step 2: Import Your Design
Now that I have a new composition open, I’ll need to import the design I want to use to create my pattern. I recommend using a .PNG file or another file type that allows for transparent backgrounds so that you can place your pattern on any color background.
To import my design, I’ll go to File>Open as Layers (red arrow in the image above).
I’ll then navigate to the location on my computer using the Places section (red arrow in the photo above) where my design is saved (in my case it was in my Downloads folder).
Once I have located my file (blue arrow in the photo above), I can double click on it or click the “Open” button to open it as a layer in my current GIMP composition.
In our composition, you’ll notice the design is much too large at the moment. To scale it down, we can use the scale tool by clicking on the scale tool in the GIMP Toolbox (red arrow in the photo above) or by using the shortcut key Shift+S.
This will bring up the Scale dialogue (blue arrow), as well as transform handles around our design layer that allow us to manually scale the layer.
I’ll click on one of the transform handles in the corner of the design (green arrow) and drag it inwards to scale the design down. If I hold the ctrl key (cmd key on a MAC), it will ensure that my design scales from the center. (Note: make sure your chain link icon is locked in the Scale dialogue to ensure your design scales proportionately).
Once your design is the size you want, click the “Scale” button in the Scale dialogue (red arrow in the image above). Your design will now scale down.
I’ll hold the ctrl key (cmd on a MAC) and use my mouse wheel to zoom in a little bit on our design. It may look a little blurry when you do this, but that’s OK. It will not look as blurry when it is at its full size.
Step 3: Use the Offset Tool
Now that our design is imported and scaled, we can use the offset tool to offset the design to the corners of the composition. This will allow the design to be seamless be perfectly aligning the design elements in the pattern (this will make more sense in a minute).
If you want the pattern to be more dense (by having more instances of your design), I recommend first duplicating the original design layer by clicking the “Duplicate Layer” icon (red arrow in the photo above).
I’ll double click on each layer name for my design layers (red arrow in the photo above) and name one “Skull” and the other “Skull Copy.” (Hit the enter key to apply each layer name when you are done typing).
Currently, the layer boundary for the Skull Copy layer only extends a little bit beyond the design. We need the layer to be the full size of our composition. To fix this, with the Skull Copy layer selected, I’ll go to Layer>Layer to Image Size (red arrow in the image above).
Next, go to Layer>Transform>Offset to bring up the Offset tool.
If you want the pattern to repeat on all corners of the composition, click the button marked “By width/2, height/2” (red arrow in the photo above).
You’ll see that when I clicked this my Offset value for X and Y automatically updated to half of the width and height of the overall composition (125 pixels – outlined in blue in the photo above), and my design was placed at each corner of the composition. The “Edge Behavior” option should also be set to “Wrap Around” (green arrow). This setting is what allows the design to seamless continue as a pattern without any portion of the design getting cut off.
You can also choose different settings if you want your pattern to repeat in a particular way (including only cutting the width in half, only cutting the height in half, or setting completely custom values). In this case, I am just going to stick with the X and Y offset values of 125 and click “Ok.”
Step 4: Export as a Pattern and Import Pattern Into GIMP
With my pattern finished, I now need to export the design as a GIMP pattern file.
First, I’ll want to hide the background layer of the composition. Simply click the “Show/hide” icon next to the “background” layer (red arrow in the above photo). This will display a checkerboard background by default on the composition, which represents transparency.
Next, go to File>Export As (red arrow above). This will bring up your Export dialogue.
Choose a location on your computer to save the file to (any location that is easy to find will work for now). Name your file, and make sure the file ends with “.pat” (red arrow in the above photo) which is the filetype for GIMP patterns. Click “Export” (blue arrow).
A small window will pop up asking you to customize the display name of the pattern. This name is what will show up in the Pattern section of GIMP for your new pattern (I just stuck with the name it provided by default). Click “Export” again (red arrow).
Open your File Explorer (or Finder Window on a MAC) and navigate to the location where you just saved your pattern (red arrow in the above photo).
Next we will need to locate the patterns folder in GIMP (which is where we are going to drag and drop our custom pattern file we just created). To do this, go back to GIMP, then go to Edit>Preferences (red arrow in the image above).
Scroll down to the bottom where it says “Folders,” (red arrow in the above photo) and click the icon to expand the Folders. Click on the “Patterns” folder (green arrow).
There will be an address on your computer where your Patterns folder is located. Click on that address (red arrow in the photo above).
This will populate the blank field at the top of the Patterns folder dialogue (outlined in green in the photo). Next to this field is a small icon that looks like a filing cabinet (blue arrow). Click that icon, which will open up a new File Explorer window where your Patterns folder is located on your computer.
Double click on the Patterns folder in the File Explorer (red arrow) window to be taken inside the Patterns folder.
Reopen the File Explorer window that contains your custom pattern file. Click and drag your pattern file into the Patterns folder (follow the red arrow and blue dotted line in the above image).
Step 5: Refresh Your Patterns and Enjoy!
Your custom pattern is now in your GIMP Patterns folder, but you’ll need to refresh your patterns for the changes to take effect.
Navigate back to GIMP and close out the Preferences dialogue by clicking “Cancel” (red arrow).
In the bottom right corner of the GIMP window, you should see your “Brushes, Gradients, Patterns” window. Navigate to the “Patterns” tab (red arrow in the photo above).
(Note: if you don’t see your Patterns tab, you can manually bring it up by going to Windows>Dockable Dialogues>Patterns – denoted by the blue arrow in the photo).
At the bottom of the Patterns window is a little green arrow icon (red arrow in the above photo). Click this icon to refresh your patterns.
You should now see your custom pattern (mine is at the far right end of the first row – denoted by the green arrow – yours may be in a slightly different location depending on how many patterns you already have and how you named your pattern).
You can use the pattern with the bucket fill tool if you like (just make sure the Fill Type is set to “Pattern” in the Tool Options). You can see a full demonstration of how to use the pattern in the video version of this tutorial.