How To Use Illustrator Step and Repeat

One of the leading vector graphic editors on the market, Adobe Illustrator, offers many useful tools. Transform and Align are two that make it easy for the user to create step and repeat patterns for photo backdrops.

How To Use Illustrator Step and Repeat

Although easy to apply once you get used to them, knowing the basics of these tools can be of tremendous importance for your projects. Here’s how to use Transform and Align to effortlessly create step and repeat patterns.

The Transform Panel

The main role of the Transform panel is displaying an object’s width, height, location, shear angle, and rotation angle. This Illustrator tool can be used to calculate any single one of these values, with or without the live preview.

To start things off, find the desired starting point and drag the graphic that you want to use to it. Select the graphic and activate the Transform panel by navigating to Object -> Transform -> Transform Each.


First, you’ll want to determine how many graphics you want to place on the artboard. Once you’ve decided, you need to calculate the space they’re going to occupy.


Here, you’re going to use some basic math. Let’s say that you want to use 4 graphics per row, each one 5 inches wide, and you want them to be 5 inches apart from each other. On a 40 inches wide canvas, the calculation would be as follows: 40 inches wide / 4 graphics across = 10” between each of the graphic’s center.


Once you’ve placed the first graphic onto your canvas, select it and press Ctrl+D, which is the shortcut for the Transform Again command. Keep on pressing Ctrl+D , until you’ve filled up the first line of graphics.

Now, select all the graphics in the completed row by pressing Ctrl+A and group them together by pressing Ctrl+G. With the entire row still selected, go to Object -> Transform -> Transform Each again. Use the formula from the previous section to calculate the target space between rows. Move the first row down by adjusting the Vertical slider until it hits the calculated distance. Repeat this until the canvas is filled.

The Align Panel

If you’re really not happy about having to calculate stuff, or if you’re dealing with weirdly-shaped graphics, there’s a better way to approach this. Dragging and dropping items around the canvas by hand could work better for you.

Placing the Graphics

Place the graphic in question in position. Now, simply copy and paste the duplicates until you’ve hit the end of the row. Drag each graphic copy to its position according to your approximation. You don’t have to be precise.

Aligning the Graphics

To select all the graphics, press Ctrl+A. The Align panel should appear towards the top of your workspace. Now, navigate to Vertical-Align-Center and Horizontal-Distribute-Center. This will evenly distribute the graphics on your canvas and align them automatically.

Use the Ctrl+A and Ctrl+G commands to copy and paste duplicate lines. Align them approximately and use the alignment tool until you’ve got the perfect canvas.

Scaling, Rotating, and Reflecting

You can use the Transform panel to tweak the duplicated graphic’s scale, rotation, and reflection. In order to scale (resize) the object, use percentages and change them in increments. To rotate an image with a different reference point, use the small white squares (the icon above the Preview checkbox). Finally, use Reflect to reflect the image on X or Y axes, or both.

Scaling, Rotating, and Reflecting


Trying new cool stuff is the best way to get better at editing in any piece of Adobe’s software. Follow the guide from above, but don’t be afraid to experiment on your own.

Do you have any cool tricks to share? Hit the comment section below and share your ideas!

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