What Is Surface Pattern Design?

A Quick Guide to Surface Pattern Design

Surface pattern design is the design and application of patterns and illustrations to a surface. Applications vary from greeting card, wallpaper and fabrics, to home decor, ceramics, and even architecture. If you were to take a look around you right now, you would notice nearly everything in sight has some sort of surface pattern design applied to it. This gives you an idea of the immense opportunities available to you as a surface pattern designer.


There are many different types of pattern design to try out and explore, and I’m going to try and break these down for you today to help you get to grips with this wonderful world.


Floral: a design that is made up from flowers or nature and other botanical elements.

Geometric: a design in a grid like format made up from basic shapes like triangles, circles and lines.

Ditsy: a design made up from tiny little icons, normally flowers. Very pretty effect.

Conversational: is a design that is made up of recognisable icons. These can be anything you like. It's a personal favourite of mine due to it's potential to tell stories.

Croquis: a design that is not in repeat but hints at one. Some people sell these like sketches and a studio will normally be able to put it into repeat in-house.

Stripes and checks: this is a design made up of lines or bands in any width vertically, horizontally or a mixture of both.

Abstract: unlike conversational prints (see below), these designs are made from unrecognisable design motifs. They are not objects and are generally shapes or mark making designs.

Half Drop: this can be used for post designs in their list, and is when the repeat is dropped half way down the main pattern on the vertical

Diamond Repeat: a pattern made up of any motif or icon laid out in a recognisable diamond design. This particular example is actually referred to as a Diaper which retains the diamond form ( the blue crosses) but is also a tightly meshed geometric design.

Spots: spot Designs can be just dots, but can also be small icons in a regular spot pattern. Essentially anything can be a spot design

Hero Design: This is a more contemporary description in the SPD vocabulary. It refers to the single stand out design in a collection. It’s normally more detailed, uses most of the colour palette and tells the story. The rest of a collection is generally inspired by the hero.

Coordinate: the BFF to the hero pattern. You can have between 2-4 coordinates in your collection. Their design usually comprises of elements taken from the hero or directly inspired by it, which is the case in my leopard print example below. The colour palette is a little more limited.

Blenders: these are pattern designs in a collection that hold everything together. Normally they are extremely simple designs and 2 colours.

This list is just a fraction of the different types of pattern design out there. Here are some links to my favourite textile reference books that can really help with your design work on the future and will help broaden your knowledge:


  1. Textile Designs: 200 Years Of Patterns for Printed Fabrics arranged by Motif, Colour, Period and Design from Thames & Hudson

  2. Spectrum: Heritage Patterns and Colours by V&A

  3. Pattern Design with over 1500 Illustrations, Edited by Elizabeth Wilhide by Thames & Hudson

Make sure to connect with me over on Instagram if you have any more questions about pattern design, my 1:1 portfolio reviews, illustration, business etc. I love meeting new people.




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