Placing a Pattern on Paper Doll Clothes in Photoshop: A Brief Tutorial

Several readers have, over the years, asked about how I do pattern placement on my paper doll clothes. I actually use several different methods depending on the complexity of the pattern and the shape of the underlying garment.

Today, I am going to show you how to place a pattern onto a garment in Photoshop where the garment does not have folds, pleats or ruffles of any kind.

Garments like that include pencil skirts, most pants, most coats, many knit tops and suits. Really anything made of fairly structured fabric or style.


That you have a working knowledge of Photoshop. I use CS5, but this should work in other versions. Nothing I am doing here requires fancy tools, but it does require the use of layers, the Magic Wand selection tool and the eraser.


Motif: A Motif is the individual pieces that make up a pattern. A single pattern might have lots of motifs.

Repeat: The spacing between the motifs that make up a pattern. All patterns have a specific motif size and each time the motif (or motifs) duplicate that is a repeat. This rarely matters in paper doll clothing, but it’s an important thing to think about when planning your pattern.

Directional Patterns: A pattern with a clear direction, the most obvious example is stripes, but a lot of patterns have a “top” and “bottom”.

Non-Directional Pattern: A pattern without a clear direction. (I know, you couldn’t have guess that one, huh?)

Pattern Matching: How well the pattern has been matched across the seams or different parts of a garment.

Distortion: Okay, so this term is one that I made up, but I use it when I am thinking about how the fall of the fabric or the shape of the body beneath the fabric distorts the pattern. Since our example romper has no folds or pleats or other things, we get to ignore this right now, mostly. Not entirely mind you, but mostly.

And Now, A Few Words about Fabric & Clothing Construction:

This paper doll romper is made from two different fabrics. One is the trim around the neckline and belt, along with the ribbons. The other is the main body fabric.

Because fabric is flat and humans are not flat, clothing is made up of various pieces of flat fabric which, once joined together along seams, make up garments. Take, for example, a t-shirt. There is a front, a back, two sleeves, and likely ribbing around the neckline. If the fabric making up that t-shirt is patterned, than the pattern has been cut to make each of those five pieces.

That means that where the pieces of fabric meet the pattern may not line up perfectly. This is known as “pattern matching.” Pattern matching is generally well done on more expensive garments and often poorly done on cheap garments. On paper dolls, it sometimes looks better to “badly” match your pattern, since that provides a reminder that the garment is made up of different pieces.

The pattern we are making (which is polkadots) will be applied to our romper. The romper is on the right. I highlighted each section of the romper in a different color to illustrate the number of different pieces that make up this garment.

Having some idea of which parts of the garment were cut from different pieces of fabric will tell you where the pattern should be broken up. It will also allow you to decide where you don’t necessarily want pattern. On this romper, I am going to leave the trimming plain.

Step One: Setting up Your File

So, to begin with you have to draw something you want to give a pattern and you need to also draw your pattern motif separately.

This is the romper I’ll be working on. It is on one layer in Photoshop.

It works best to have your “design” on one layer and your motif on a layer above it. So, copy your motif and remove any background that might be there and then past it onto a layer above the romper layer.


Next you will want to copy your motif several times to create a large swatch of your pattern. I could have just drawn one polka-dot and copied it, but I find it works better if you draw several of simple motifs, like polka-dots, hearts, stars, ect. It keeps the pattern from looking too mechanical, I thin

Step Two: Building Your Pattern


As you copy and paste your motif (or motifs) repeatedly, eventually you will end up with a large swatch of pattern. I like to make sure that my pattern swatch is large enough to cover the garment or at least most of the garment before I stop.


Now, technically, I could stop right now. Clearly, I have enough polka-dots to cover the whole romper. However, if you stop here, than your garment will look flat, because this takes into consideration neither the distortion of the body nor the multiple pieces of fabric in play.

Step Three: Pattern Placement

At this stage, I always copy my pattern layer. I like to have a “back-up” pattern swatch in case I end up really disliking how the whole thing turns out. Doesn’t happen often, but it certainly has happened.

You can see the two layers of pattern on the side of the screen shot.


Now, using the magic wand selection tool, select which areas of the garment you want to apply pattern to first. To do this, you will have to be on the “garment” layer. In my case, I started with the shorts and the bra cups. After you have made your selections, return to the pattern layer and inverse your selection as shown in the image above.

Then hit delete to remove the parts of the pattern NOT in the selection area.

Here is how the romper looks now.

For each section of garment you add pattern to rotate the pattern slightly in order to capture the sense of different pieces of fabric.

Checking for Pattern Gaps

Even after you have filled the entire garment with your pattern, there maybe places that there is a strange gap or a misplaced motif.


After careful examination of my finished patterned piece, I decided there were a few spots which needed additional polka-dots to look right. I’ve marked them in red on the image above.

After filling in those spots, I cleaned up the edges of the additional dots with the eraser tool.


The last step is to merge the pattern layer with the garment layer and then we are done!

Big round of applause everyone.

A Few Things to Watch For:

Patterns wrap around and therefore many motifs maybe cut off on the edges of the garment.

The more complex or larger the motif, the larger the garment, or you may not be able to see the whole motif.

With more complex motifs it is also sometimes best to put them on simpler garments, or only on parts of complex garments.

Lastly, the more complex the garment, the more time consuming the coloring process will be. (As I often complain about.)

Now, the next steps to make this line-work into a finished product are to clean up the line work and then color the garment.

Questions? Please feel free to leave a comment.


  1. I’ve made patterns using a similar method. It really lends itself to a more organic look.c Have you experimented with clipping masks at all? I’ve just started using them and it might work well with this type of pattern.

    I love these how-to posts — it’s great to see how other artists work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.