Using Illustrator Patterns for Raster Fills


Various patterns etched onto clear acrylic using the heavy raster setting.

Illustrator patterns are an easy way to generate interesting raster fills that can then be etched successfully onto acrylic and wood. I’ll touch on some simple steps you can use when modifying and converting patterns for use within Ponoko ready files as well as suggest some free pattern packs available online that you can incorporate into your own projects.

Opening a new pattern set:
When you want open a pattern set that was downloaded from the internet you start by opening the swatch menu and
selecting 'Open Swatch Library/Other Library...' then browse to the location of the illustrator file containing the new swatch set
and open it; doing so will add the new swatches onto your workspace.

Modifying Patterns:

Rotate, Scale, Move, Reflect, Shear.
All the transform options in Illustrator can be applied independently to objects or the patterns they contain. You just have to
uncheck the object check box before saying ok.

Hint: Once you transform a pattern, changing the pattern will apply the previous transformations to the new pattern. To reset this, fill the object with a
solid color first then apply the new pattern.

Note: Patterns fill an object in relationship to the rulers, not the object itself. If you want a pattern to move with the object, make sure you have ‘transform pattern tiles’ checked in the general Illustrator preferences.

Expand Appearance: Now that you have your pattern re-sized and adjusted just the way you want it, you’ll need to do an additional step so the laser cutter can see the fill properly.

Select the pattern filled object and select from the top menu: Object/Expand...
You'll then have the option to expand the fill, doing so will make the pattern compatible with Ponoko's system.           

Pattern Resources:

These patterns are for the most part one color and make for easy conversion to the colors required for upload to Ponoko’s system.
I've found medium/heavy raster settings contrasted with the natural color of the material works best. Light, Medium and Heavy raster settings lack the contrast to stand apart from each other and using all three in one pattern will often result in a muddled looked.

Note: If you plan to use these for a commercial project it’s always best to double check the license the creators have released a pattern under.


For starters Illustrator has some default black and white patterns you can find in your swatch palette under ‘Open Swatch Library/Patterns/Basic Graphics/’ and you’ll find black and white lines, dots and textures. There’s also some useful patterns under the Decorative sections as well.

100 black and white patterns for illustrator. These patterns were also used in the image at the top of this article.

Fudge graphics has two packs of patterns available. Both contain black and white patterns useful in

A collection of crosshatch patterns, keep in mind that very thin lines of raster fills do not turn out.

A collection of interesting geologic map patterns.

52 Halftone Patterns.
Note: The file is a .pdf, if you have issues getting the swatches to open correctly you can rename the file
with an .ai extension.


Tinted acrylic with a heavy etched houndstooth pattern.

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  • 0
    Glenn Slingsby

    If I follow these steps what I end up with is an object (when viewed in Outline mode) that has a pattern that spills outside the object's boundries. Not a problem if I'm cutting this object out but the fill now flows into neighbouring objects... Is there a way to control this?


  • 0
    Josh Reuss

    That's a good question Glenn as that was a step I didn't touch on and is indeed helpful in keeping your files tidy.

    There's a few ways to crop an expanded pattern fill but the easiest way is to use the crop option in the pathfinder tools. I've included a few images to make it clear for everyone what the issue is.


    In preview mode both the patterns shapes look the same to us, but the laser can only see the one on the right. Going into outline mode will show why.



    In outline mode we see that the non expanded fill doesn't give the laser cutter any actual filled objects to work with and the expanded fill pattern is being shaped by a clipping mask; patterns are made of tiling repeating blocks so there's always left over tile hanging off the outside of a filled path. Kinda a mess.


    Select your object and click on 'crop' in the pathfinder tools; the result is the pattern shapes are cropped using the object as a guide.


    The end result is a cleaner and smaller illustrator file.

  • 0
    Glenn Slingsby

    Sorry, doesn't work me. I still end up with a fill that - when viewed in Outline mode - spills over the object. Like I said, that's okay if there is nothing nearby but if there is then the fill will be lasered into that object as well.

    Here are the steps I'm taking.

    • Create shape with stroke and plain fill
    • Change fill to vector texture
    • Object / Expand (Fill only option)
    • In Layers panel select the Object Path
    • Using Pathfinder select Crop
    • View / Outline....  texture is still not cropped.
  • 0
    Josh Reuss

    What version of Illustrator are you using?

  • 0
    Glenn Slingsby


  • 0
    Josh Reuss

    Just checked it out in CS1 and the pattern shapes also need to be selected along with the object path; after expanding the fill

    they should all be selected automatically so try cropping then and see what results you get.


    In CS1 it looks like above after expanding the fill, cropping without deselecting anything worked in my test.

  • 0
    Glenn Slingsby

    Yes, it would seem my mistake was in selecting the path in the Layers panel. If I go thru all my steps as listed and leave that step out it works fine... So, yes, as you pointed out, cropping without deselecting anything is what must be done. All my previous steps had me selecting and deselecting this and that, expanding, CTRL-Zing to backtrack, etc. Obviously somewhere along the line this affected what I was trying to do.

    Thanks for your patience.


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